Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week across Canada West, the OUA, RSEQ and the AUS.

Men’s hockey

Gryphons pick up win at sold-out Steel Blade Classic

The Steel Blade Classic OUA pre-season game has been a decades-long tradition, and the 2017 and 2018 instalments between the host Brock Badgers and the Guelph Gryphons both saw strong turnouts and exciting games. This year’s edition (held at at St. Catharines’ Meridian Centre, home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs) delivered another one, with a sold-out crowd of 4,752 fans turning out for the 21st edition of the Steel Blade Classic Friday.

The Steel Blade Classic game has been a hotly contested one in recent years, with Guelph winning 5-3 in 2017 to snap Brock’s streak of six straight titles and the Badgers bouncing back with a 3-1 win last year. This year saw the Gryphons regain the on-ice edge, as they picked up a 4-1 win. That victory came thanks to second-period goals from Connor Bramwell, Stephen Templeton and Giordano Finoro; Brock’s Jordan Sambrook pulled one back in the third, but Andrew Dodson then added some late insurance for Guelph.

Afterwards, both head coaches had plenty of good things to say about what the atmosphere meant for their teams. First, Badgers’ head coach Marty Williamson spoke about what the event meant to his players:

"It was a great atmosphere and that gives you chills when you get out there. If you put 4,700 fans in a building cheering on two teams, the emotions are going to go through the roof. They're going to give it their all."

Meanwhile, Gryphons’ head coach Shawn Camp said this was an important part of his team’s preseason preparations. 

"The Steel Blade Classic sets the tempo for the hockey season. This game means so much to us because it's historical and it's a privilege for our team. There's an education piece to this game."

The Steel Blade Trophy came into existence over 20 years ago thanks to an idea from long-time Brock fan Ed Werner, who wanted to illustrate Brock University’s historical connections and promote the Badgers’ hockey program. The trophy, donated by the Werner family, is an 1803 pattern, non-commissioned officer's "hanger," the sword carried by sergeants of the Upper Canada Artillery Units and Royal Artillery during the War of 1812. It’s inscribed with the names of each year’s champion. And this year, that would be the Gryphons.


No. 3 Carabins take down No. 1 Rouge et Or

The reigning RSEQ and Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, falling 23-18 on the road to the Montreal Carabins. Montreal entered this game ranked third in the latest U SPORTS Top 10, while Laval was first. But the Carabins were the ones who came out on top this time.

This was a game dominated by the wind, and one that saw the defences making a lot of big plays. Montreal entered the third quarter up 16-12, but left it trailing 18-16, and all six of those points came on conceded safeties (three of the four safeties the Carabins gave up on the day).

However, Montreal head coach Danny Macocia said afterwards his plan was to press the attack in the fourth quarter while the Carabins had the wind at their backs. And that worked to perfection; Montreal started the quarter mid-drive on the Laval 45 while facing second and five, but quarterback Dimitri Morand threw to Kevin Kaya for four yards, then converted a third and one himself. Running back Ryth-Jean Giraud was key from there, rushing for nine yards, 28 yards, and two yards on the next three plays before Morand punched it in himself on a short second-and-goal situation. And that would prove the decisive score.

The Carabins’ run defence may have been the biggest star here, though. Laval entered this game averaging 294.5 rushing yards per game, but Montreal held the Rouge et Or to 85 yards on the ground Saturday. And that proved critical to their victory, especially given the wind’s influence on the passing game. It also improved their record to 4-0, and dropped Laval to 2-1.

Of course, this victory doesn’t necessarily mean Montreal’s on top of the RSEQ standings for good. While Laval won this game 12-7 on the road last year, the Carabins beat the Rouge et Or 21-16 at home in 2017, but that season ended with Laval winning the rematch on their home turf, beating Montreal again in the Dunsmore Cup, and then advancing to the Vanier Cup (where they fell to the Western Mustangs). So a narrow home win for the Carabins won’t necessarily mean they’ll dominate the rest of the way. But this was another chance for them to get a win over the Rouge et Or, and to improve their position in the conference standings. And we’ll see what happens when these teams collide again at Laval on Oct. 20, and then again if they run into each other in the playoffs again.

Elsewhere in U SPORTS football, another Top 10 clash this week in AUS saw the No. 7 Acadia Axemen pull off a 51-32 road win over the No. 10 Saint Mary’s Huskies. In other Top 10 action, the No. 2 Western Mustangs got a 40-23 home win over the Carleton Ravens in OUA play, while the No. 4 Calgary Dinos beat the UBC Thunderbirds 47-13 on the road, the No. 5 McMaster Marauders took down the York Lions 27-9 on the road, the No. 6 Guelph Gryphons earned a 39-13 road win against the Waterloo Warriors, the No. 8 Manitoba Bisons lost 29-26 on the road to the Alberta Golden Bears, and the No. 9 Saskatchewan Huskies beat the Regina Rams 44-9 on the road.

Women’s field hockey

Thunderbirds open Canada West play with close wins over Dinos

The women’s field hockey season got underway in Canada West this week with the UBC Thunderbirds heading on the road to face the Calgary Dinos. UBC emerged with a pair of wins in the end, but they weren’t easy ones.

On Saturday, the Thunderbirds picked up a 2-1 victory, but they were robbed several times by Dinos’ keeper Tayler Guy. However, Sara Goodman was able to walk between two Calgary defenders for a first-half goal. Jennifer Wishart responded for the Dinos to tie the game heading into the half, but Margaret Pham’s second-half goal for UBC would prove decisive in the end.

On Sunday, UBC emerged with a 4-3 win. Pham scored on a penalty in the first minute and Hannah Eborall added another goal in the second quarter, but Nicole Brown struck twice for Calgary to tie the game ahead of halftime. In the third quarter, the Dinos kept up the pressure, but Thunderbirds’ keeper Hanna Rumble came up with some big saves. Jordan Faiczak and Sara Goodman then scored for UBC to give the Thunderbirds a 4-2 lead heading into the final frame, and they were able to hang on for the win despite a late Calgary goal from Lauren Hayes.

Next week, the Dinos will host the Victoria Vikes, the defending conference and national champions. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds will have a bye. Elsewhere, OUA field hockey continued this week with a series of games at Queen’s; notable results there included the defending conference champion York Lions getting a 3-0 win over Guelph, the Gryphons winning their other two games (against Western and McGill), and the Toronto Varsity Blues going 3-0 on the weekend (with wins over McGill, Queen’s and Western).

Cross country

Martlets and Rouge et Or shine at McGill Open

The U SPORTS cross country season kicked off this week, and one notable event came in RSEQ. That would be Friday’s McGill Open, which saw the host Martlets take home the women’s team title and the Laval Rouge et Or win the men’s team title.

On the women’s side, McGill’s Elizabeth Hirsch finished first overall, posting a time of 14 minutes and 30 seconds for the four-kilometre race. Teammate Chloe Fleurent-Gregoire finished second with a time of 14:48, while Elodie De Coene of the Montreal Carabins finished third in a time of 14:49. The Martlets finished with 23 points, first overall, followed by the Montreal Carabins with 68 points and the UQTR Patriotes with 96 points.

On the men’s side (a six-kilometre race), the Laval Rouge et Or took the team title with 51 points, followed by the Ottawa Gee-Gees (52) and Sherbrooke Vert et Or (72). Laval runners Christopher Busset, Antoine Minfray, David Girardin, Alexandre Levesque, and Mathieu Ladouceur finished third, sixth, seventh, 15th and 20th amongst the university competitors.

Social media posts of the week

One of the biggest stories this week in U SPORTS women’s rugby came in RSEQ, where the No. 2 Laval Rouge et Or took down the No. 8 Sherbrooke Vert et Or 43-3 at home:

In women’s soccer, the No. 8 Western Mustangs recorded a 1-0 home win over the No. 6 Guelph Gryphons:

In international action, the UBC Thunderbirds men’s rugby team are one of eight teams set to take part in the second annual World University Rugby Invitational in Japan. They’ll face teams from South Africa (University of Cape Town), France (University of Bordeaux), and New Zealand (a combined team) this week.

And there were some cool women’s hockey exhibition games this weekend, including the Regina Cougars posting 3-1 and 4-1 wins over the Minot State Beavers (who participate in U.S. ACHA hockey). Interestingly, both teams had players from the bantam AAA Westman Wildcats, which led to a notable pre-game photo:

Elsewhere in women’s hockey, Hockey Canada held a Fall Festival week-long training camp for 47 top players this week in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Several U SPORTS alums took part, including McGill’s Ann-Sophie Bettez and Melodie Daoust. And some former national team players now working with U SPORTS schools took part as coaches, including Danielle Goyette (the head coach of the Calgary Dinos since 2007) and Caroline Ouellette (an assistant coach with the Concordia Stingers since 2012).

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Andrew has been covering university sports in Canada since 2005 at outlets such as The Queen's Journal, The CIS Blog, and Yahoo Canada, where he also served as the editor of the Canadian football blog 55-Yard Line. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree from Queen's University with a major in history, and currently works as a staff writer and editor for Awful Announcing and The Comeback.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewBucholtz