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Hockey Gaels ready for big weekend

January 9, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

A coach can generally tell whether his players are eager to play a big game, or anxious about it.

If he’s reading his tea leaves correctly, Queen’s Golden Gaels hockey coach Brett Gibson believes his team is ready for its most important weekend of the Ontario University Athletics season.

“Practices these last three days have been really sharp,” said Gibson, whose team will host the No.9-ranked Carleton Ravens Friday night and the No. 5-ranked McGill Redmen Saturday night at the Memorial Centre.

Both games will start at 7:30 p.m.

“They’re really focused,” he said of his players. “You can tell. They’re at the rink a little earlier and in the video sessions there have been a lot more questions.”

Queen’s, the seventh-ranked team in Canada, goes into the weekend as one of just two teams in the land — No. 1-ranked Calgary is the other — not to have suffered a loss this season in regulation time. The Gaels, 12-0-5 and winners of six in a row, hold a four-point cushion over McGill atop the East division standings.

It’s been a quiet juggernaut, though. Though they’re undoubtedly the most entertaining hockey team in town this winter, the Gaels are still carrying around the baggage of being a .500 team, at best, for the past 30 years. In other words, many people remain unconvinced this Queen’s team is for real.

Gibson believes that his team is a genuine contender — “seventeen games with no (regulation) loss is no fluke,” he says — but he’s pragmatic enough not to get ahead of himself. In that regard, he sees this as a no-lose weekend.

“These are the two teams you compare yourself to at the start of the year,” he said. “If you’re going to win in the OUA you’ve got to beat McGill and you’ve got to beat Carleton.

“(This weekend) is really going to show where we are. McGill is a national contender every year so let’s see where we stand. Let’s see how we match up with the best and at the end of the day if we win, then we’ve determined we are that team (that we think we are). If we don’t, we’ll know where we have to go to get there.”

Good hockey teams, Gibson said, want to play in this type of game. He believes that’s true of this group, one that he says is playing with a lot of confidence.

“They’re going to find out if we need some work to take that next step or are we there? If it’s a close game, we’re right there. If they beat us by a few, we’ll have a lot of work to do.

“I have confidence in this group, that they’ll rise to the occasion. It’s a lot like the Windsor weekend, when Windsor came in here and everyone was wondering what we were like and we swept them.”

That weekend Queen’s not only beat Windsor — 9-2 and the seventh-ranked team in the country at the time — twice, the Gaels allowed the visitors to score just one goal in the two games.

Since that late November weekend, the Gaels have played with the wind at their backs. Once upon a time the Gaels would have looked for a rabbit in the hat to beat a top team, fashion new approaches in the hope that surprise would confound a superior opponent long enough for them to steal a win.

That’s no longer the case.

“We’re not changing anything,” Gibson said. “Usually, when we had to play McGill or Carleton, I’d have to adjust our forecheck and stuff, but we don’t have to do that anymore.”

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