Too Little, Too Late

Stingers Fall to Varsity Blues, Narrowly Miss CIS Playoffs

  • Concordia’s Olivier Hinse takes the puck down the ice as Toronto’s Ernesto Valente gives chase in last Saturday’s Stingers-Blues game. Concordia lost 2-1 to finish three points shy of the Ontario University Athletics East division’s last playoff spot. Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

With 41 seconds left in the third period, Concordia’s men’s hockey season was on the line.

They lined up for an offensive-zone faceoff against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, down 2-1. Without a win last Saturday afternoon—the last game of their season—coupled with a regulation loss by the Ryerson Rams to the Carleton Ravens later in the day, the Stingers would miss the playoffs.

The linesman dropped the puck.

It came back to the far point. Defenceman Youssef Kabbaj bobbled the puck; a Toronto forward swatted at it and it bounced just past the blue line. As the Stingers headed for the neutral zone to regroup, the Blues managed to force the puck deep into Concordia’s end.

Though the Stingers managed one last rush, the clock ticked down to zero with both teams battling for possession in the corner of the Toronto end. And just like that, it was official. The Stingers finished ninth in a 10-team league this season.

They aren’t going to the playoffs.

“We came out hard, we played hard,” said team captain left winger Kyle Kelly. “It’s definitely a tough game to lose, especially by one goal. You know, a lucky bounce here or there could make all the difference.”

The game, like the season, had started terribly for Concordia’s men’s hockey team; in both cases, a late surge was too little, too late to secure them a playoff spot.

After missing a fantastic chance in the opening seconds, the Stingers ran into serious penalty trouble as centre George Lovatsis was given a game misconduct for a check to the head near the three-minute mark. Fifty-five seconds later, assistant captain left winger Corey Garland took a 10-minute misconduct of his own.

Though the Stingers managed to kill the penalties, they were still down three of their strongest players for most of the opening frame, said head coach Kevin Figsby, as Kelly was forced to serve one of the misconducts.

“We lost George Lovatsis, Kyle Kelly’s in the box, Corey Garland… That’s three of your top players—your captain and your two assistants—all in the first five minutes of the game,” said Figsby.

He said he thought Kelly had ended up in the penalty box to serve one of the misconducts because of a refereeing error.

“It’s frustrating from a coaching perspective,” Figsby continued. “You can’t even get upset because then you change the tone and mood of your bench. I think I got a few verbal shots in there. I think the word ‘horseshit’ came out a few times.”

Not long after that, the Blues struck. Two seconds past the halfway mark of the first, forward Cassidy Preston passed the puck to teammate Michael Markovic, who sneaked it past Stingers goaltender Antonio Mastropietro.

A little under two minutes later, defenceman Lane Werbowski pounded a shot past the Concordia netminder from just inside the blue line to double the Toronto lead. From that point on, Concordia teased the sparse home crowd with a series of close calls and blown opportunities.

After Toronto forward Kevin Deagle got a double minor for head-butting Garland in the final minute of the first, the Stingers were unable to capitalize on either side of the first intermission.

In fact, despite having the game’s final six power plays, the Stingers weren’t able to turn any of them into a goal; their lone tally came at even strength at 3:54 of the second period, when left winger Dany Potvin banged in a rebound following up on a deke-filled rush by right winger Jessyco Bernard.

The best chance for a tying goal for the Maroon and Gold came around the midway point of the third, when right winger Alexandre Monahan rang a shot off the post behind Blues goaltender Brett Willows.

Keeping the Stingers’ comeback hopes alive throughout the final two periods was Mastopietro, who absorbed nearly every shot directed his way without allowing a rebound and finished the game having saved 31 of 33 shots.

It was a praise-worthy performance given the Stingers’ unfortunate luck at the position this season. After losing starting goaltender Nicholas Champion to injury in the early stages of the season, it went from bad to worse in the Stingers’ crease when back-up Loic Boivin also suffered an injury in December.

“We had a young goaltender who was our third goalie last year who had to step up into the number-one role [and] a first-year guy who had to step up into the number-two role,” said Figsby. “Loic Boivin stepped up and right before Christmas he tore his hip abductor.

“He shouldn’t even be in the lineup,” the coach continued.

“The doctor told me he didn’t [even] want him on the bench and I didn’t have an option. We had to dress a goalie who’s got a torn hip abductor, who’s waiting on an operation, and he was our back-up and people are figuring out—because he’s not taking shots in the warm-up—[that we’re playing a] number-one goalie who should be our rookie number-three.”

Bowing Out With Their Heads Held High

Despite the tough season—more than half of which was swallowed up by two lengthy losing streaks, one of which reached 10 games—Figsby is looking forward to next year. He has great reason to, given the team’s strong play to end the season—they went 3-1-2 in the final six games—and the wealth of rookies returning in 2013.

“If you take a look, we got Olivier Hinse, Jesse Bernard, Dany Potvin, you got the two big studs on the back end with Kabbaj, with [Alex] MacDonald; we got Antonio Mastropietro, the Great Antonio, in the pipes… You come back looking at those six kids, that’s a foundation you can build around.”

Kelly, who played his final game as a Stinger, was optimistic about the team’s future as well.

“We faced a ton of adversity this year,” said Kelly. “It only brought us closer together, in the end, and we were able to battle through, and that builds character, you know, and that character is going to help this team be successful in the future.”

It’s success Kelly expects to see sooner rather than later. “We got 14 rookies this year and all of them are just great additions to the program,” Kelly said. “We’re going to be getting stronger moving forward; the next two, three years you’re definitely going to see this team accomplishing some serious goals.”

For now, the Stingers will have to content themselves with setting the goal of nailing down one of the top eight spots in the Ontario University Athletics East Division next year.

An hour after the final horn, the stands of Ed Meagher were empty of all but a few friends and family. At the time, in Ottawa, the Ryerson Rams were wrapping up a 5-2 win over the Carleton Ravens, giving the Rams 24 points on the season to the Stingers’ 21.

Even if Concordia had tied the game and won in overtime, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

“I gotta look back and say, ‘Hey, we peaked at the right time, we did all the right things when we had to do ’em,” said Figsby. “We just had that…” He trailed off.

“You know, we came up [just] shy. [Just] shy.”

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