After a collection of tight games and surprising many with a wild run to the OUA East finals, the Stingers fell in a 7-2 blowout to the now division champions, the Ottawa Gee Gee’s.
There was no time to sit and sulk though. There is still work to be done.
“It’s a tough loss but we’re not done, that’s what’s fun,” said Stingers head coach Marc-André Élement.
After a playoff run that included a victory over their most bitter rival, a sweep of the league’s top team, a triple overtime win, and eventually being swept themselves, the Stingers have one last challenge to face on their way to pushing for a berth at the national championship in Halifax.
They will be one of two teams vying for the bronze medal of the OUA and the final spot at nationals. They take on the loser of the OUA West final in a winner takes all, one game elimination battle later this week.
“It’s a game seven right away. So we have to be on our toes and play Stingers hockey,” said captain Philippe Sanche.
Because of new rules, regardless of the opponent and prior seeding, any Quebec team is not eligible to host such a game, so they’ll be traveling down to Ontario for the matchup.
The Stingers will need to work to get back to the team that toppled both Carleton and McGill as opposed to the one that showed up against Ottawa. The Gee Gee’s got them to lose their composure, taking penalties that simply hadn’t been a problem before this series. The vicious forecheck of the visitors left the Stingers scrambling and giving up turnovers in game two.
The Stingers’ offensive creativity that had gotten them so far seemed to dry up in the game after an intense first period in which both teams scored twice, including a late shorthanded goal by rookie Tyler Hylland.
The Stingers have liked playing with their backs against the wall this season and situations like that have provided some of their best hockey this year. It’s that exact scenario that they find themselves in now: Win and you’re in.
The team is refocusing themselves already and setting their eyes on where they can still get to.
“Obviously it’s hard because you want to win the league but you still have a chance to go to nationals,” said Sanche who went to nationals two season ago. “In my experience, even if we lost [at nationals two years ago], it was a great experience.”
There may be some doubting that they can get there now. They were a low seeded team heading into the playoffs, are now coming off of a blowout loss, and have to travel into enemy territory in Ontario.
That kind of adversity and underdog mentality is what the team has thrived on all season though. Whether it was injuries, suspensions, officiating trouble, the players reminded themselves that they had something to push back against.
“It’s been kind of our story the whole year,” said Stingers defenceman Carl Neill. “We didn’t play to our best capabilities throughout the season, so coming into the playoffs we ranked a bit lower. It might be the case next week now. It’s familiar territory for us. I’m sure the boys will be ready.”
They’re back to embracing that idea and certainly aren’t feeling scared of the new challenges this last chance game is going to bring them.
“It’ll be good for us to go down there and just work,” said Sanche. “We don’t have pressure. We’re just gonna play hockey and get a win.”
Some players have been in this exact spot before. Neill, Sanche, defender Alexandre Gosselin, and centre Jean-Philippe Beaulieu were all on the Stingers team that fell to McGill in the playoffs two years ago before beating the York Lions and earning a spot at nationals.
These players and their coach are reminding the young team that, regardless of the loss, their goal is right there for taking because they’ve seen it before. That’s certainly rubbed off on the rest of the Stingers.
We’ve been going through adversity all year, this is just another stepping stone,” said Hylland. “We’re going to take the sting of this loss with us and we’re going to carry it into the next game [as motivation].”
Hylland and his team feel they can make some noise and upset the country’s best. Now they just need to earn the chance to do so with one more win.
Photos by Ora Bar