By Ron Guillet
The Laurentian Voyageurs hosted the UQTR Patriotes and Ottawa Gee-Gees this past weekend but were unable to pick up any points in the standings.
The Voyageurs find themselves one point removed from the eighth and final playoff spot, held by the Nipissing Lakers, who have a game in hand.
On Friday, Jan. 17, the Voyageurs took on the Patriotes at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex. UQTR (16-4-0) currently have the best winning percentage in the Ontario University Athletics and sit one point behind McGill, with two games in hand, as the top-ranked team in the East. So the Voyageurs’ task was not a simple one, especially considering the Patriotes were riding a seven-game win streak entering the match.
Laurentian, though, could not have drawn up a better start to the game.
The Voyageurs limited the Patriotes’ offensive zone time by forcing them to dump and chase before Dylan Fitze backhanded the puck over Marc-Antoine Gelinas’ glove to put the home team up 1-0. But the Patriotes would reply with a shorthanded goal as Pierre-Olivier Morin came in on a breakaway and went high glove on Alain Valiquette. The Patriotes finished the first period with only a slight 12-11 edge in shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots and opponent blocks at even-strength).
In the second, the Patriotes tightened their grip in puck possession, leading 21-10 in shot attempts, and were rewarded as Billy Lacasse made it 2-1. Nick Esposto replied for the Voyageurs moments later as he hammered home a powerplay marker from the right faceoff circle. Then it was Valiquette’s turn as the Patriotes began to double their lead in shots but couldn’t beat the former Sudbury Wolves goaltender, whose best save came when he dove across the crease to snatch the puck from Guillaume Asselin.
The Voyageurs picked up the pace in the third period and limited their time in the defensive zone. It paid off in the form of a go-ahead goal from Fitze, who scored his second of the game, at 10:47. The lead was short-lived, however, as Asselin got some redemption when he blasted the puck over a sprawled Valiquette. The Patriotes then delivered the death knell when Tommy Tremblay shot the puck through a screen and gave his team the 4-3 victory.
“We’re playing against a nationally competitive team and we competed and had opportunities, but they just seemed to be more opportunistic,” Head coach Craig Duncanson said of the game. “We’re going to have to learn to be that way.”
Duncanson said Valiquette’s hard work with the Voyageurs (he faces an average of 36.2 shots per game) may help him attain new heights in the future.
“Valiquette is as good as they get,” Duncanson said. “Two years ago he was within a breath of playing in the National Hockey League so we’re very fortunate to have him. He’s focused, he’s doing well in school, and we’re excited. He keeps performing like that and working like he is, with a good state of mind, we may have him work back toward the NHL with a degree in his pocket someday.”
On Saturday, Jan. 18, the Gee-Gees were up next on the schedule. Ottawa (13-8-1) sit fifth in the East and boast an offense that has scored 79 goals—20 more than the sixth place Concordia Stingers.
Laurentian opened the scoring once again as captain Vincent Llorca scored his fourth of the season at 15:39 in the first period. The Gee-Gees doubled the Voyageurs in shot attempts 12-6 but Valiquette stood tall once again.
Ottawa would eventually find the twine, however, when Matthieu Tanguay-Theriault tied the game 29 seconds in the second as he unloaded a blast from the right faceoff circle that beat Valiquette blocker side. Laurentian then got another go-ahead goal as Joel Senecal converted on a two-on-one break, but the lead evaporated once again when Taylor Collins scored on a breakaway. Valiquette was again sensational between the pipes as Ottawa lead 21-10 in shot attempts in the middle frame.
Valiquette, however, who made 33 saves in the game, had a rare mishap in the third period when he went to play the puck in the final minute but had it taken from him and shot across the goal line by Tanguay-Theriault.
The Voyageurs dropped to 5-16 and have seven games remaining to leapfrog the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot. They play another homestand this weekend against the McGill Redmen and Concordia Stingers, respectively.