The Stingers certainly ended the regular season with a bang. Their matchup against the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks was one of their most dominant showings of the season.
From the first drop of the puck, the Stingers came to play in a game with major playoff seeding implications. They went up 2-0 in the first, outshooting their opponents 12-4 through the first frame. They kept the Ridgebacks under 20 shots throughout the game, even doubling them 24-12 midway through the third.
It was a fast-paced style of play for the stingers. Their quick transitions from smothering play in the defensive zone to speedy breakouts, turning into offensive chances, had them controlling the play for much of the game.
Even the rare shifts when the Stingers were being outplayed showed off the team’s talents. When the Ridgebacks came with an extended push in the Stingers end that lasted several minutes, it only resulted in a single shot. The bits of pressure didn’t bother the Stingers or throw them off.
“You’ve just gotta weather the storm,” said forward Jake Fletcher. “We’re gonna get that puck out. We’ve got guys that are gonna block that shot on every line. They’re gonna lie down and block that shot. That’s huge, especially to go deep in the playoffs.”
There’s that keyword: playoffs. It’s every player’s favourite time of the year now.
“You think about the playoffs, not the regular season,” said Stingers star rookie Tyler Hylland. “When you go to bed thinking about hockey, you want to win in the playoffs.”
Hylland and his teammates are coming into the playoffs as hot as any team could want. They had a rough first half of the season with a collection of injuries and consistency issues but have looked like a different team since the winter break.
They’ve won seven games, lost three in regulation, and two in overtime since then. That’s points in nine out of 12 games—despite a schedule filled with some of the division’s top teams.
Leading the charge, and perhaps serving as the best symbol of the team’s season is captain Philippe Sanche. The winger missed almost all of the first semester’s games with a wrist injury. Since returning, he hasn’t just been producing, he has been a force of nature.
He has scored 11 goals in his last 12 games, along with a strong defensive presence and that pestering of opponents he’s known for around the league.
“He’s probably one of the best players in the league,” said coach Marc-André Élement. “We missed him in the first half.”
The team has also found consistently strong goaltending from Kyle Jessiman, the rookie goalie who had to come in and replaced not only the starting goalie Marc-Antoine Turcotte but the original backup Anthony Dumont-Bouchard, after both went down with injuries.
As much as the Stingers can be proud of the stats and performances players like Jessiman and Sanche have established throughout the season, none of them are focusing on that. Especially not rookie superstar Hylland.
“We want to win,” said Hylland. “That’s why we’re here. I’m not here to win rookie scoring [titles]. We want to win the Queen’s Cup.”
A trip to the cup will depend in great part on a combination of the team’s ability to keep this momentum they’ve built, particularly over the four-game win streak that they have put together recently, and some continued health luck.
At some points in the season, the Stingers were missing up to eight players at a time. They’ve brought that down to two starting players, one of which, Félix Lauzon, is practicing with the team already.
“We battled some injuries and suspensions [in the first half of the season]. I think we came back strong after Christmas,” said Sanche. “We [always found] a way to win.”
The return to a mostly-full lineup at this time of year is a huge change for the team and the differences have been stark. The depth on offence, in particular, has been key to the recent success.
Players like Fletcher and Colin Grannary (who scored twice against the Ridgebacks) contributing like they have been the last few matches is a gamechanger for the Stingers. When healthy, the Stingers lineup has its stars but can produce offence from any line.
All of these factors are lining up at the right time to make the Stingers one of the most interesting and dangerous teams heading into the playoffs.
The Stingers will open the playoffs Thursday night against their crosstown rivals, McGill who are a nationally ranked top 10- team.
“We’ve had hard games, we’ve come back in games, we’ve battled against great teams,” said Hylland. “We showed we’re a team you don’t want to play in the playoffs. Maybe we’re in the middle of the standings but I don’t think any of the top teams want to play us. We won’t be favourites but we like that.”
Photos by Cecilia Piga