Two years ago, the Ottawa Gee-Gees Men’s Hockey team wouldn’t have dreamed of being playoff bound, let alone being in a position to qualify for a Queen’s Cup semifinal. Two years ago, there was no Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s hockey program, period.
In the 2013-14 season, two members of the Ottawa Gee-Gees hockey team were charged with sexual assault after an alleged off-ice incident that occurred on a road trip. The school took immediate action, firing head coach Réal Paiement and making the decision to suspend the team indefinitely.
The ice at the Minto Sports Complex wouldn’t see OUA men’s hockey action for two years. In June 2015, it was announced that the suspension would be lifted. In rebuilding the team, a huge onus was placed on newly-named head coach Patrick Grandmaître, to ensure that the culture would be different.
Grandmaître represents a new wave of coaches in U SPORTS hockey. He is young, had a U SPORTS playing career of his own, and spent several years playing professional hockey in Germany. His experience makes him relatable to players, while his background has prepared him for the adversity that one faces in trying to rebuild a program from scratch.
From scratch is the only way to describe the rise of the Gee-Gees. Any University hockey coach can tell you about the challenges of recruiting five solid recruits, so recruiting a full roster of players—that would be competitive in a notoriously challenging OUA East division—is a dilemma within itself. The Gee-Gees opened their inaugural season with a roster of 26, with three players having university or NCAA experience. The majority of the freshmen were recruited from Junior A leagues across Canada, with a handful coming from Major Junior or higher.
A perceived lack of experience, combined with a hard-nosed, gritty style of play allowed the young Ottawa team to silence critics and tally unlikely victory after unlikely victory. They finished the regular season 15-8-5. Despite their success, they would go on to lose in the first round of playoffs to a Queen’s Gaels team that would go on to the Queen’s Cup final and a U Cup berth.
Though their Cinderella story was cut short last year, this year’s Gee-Gees are determined to make the shoe fit. Coming into the 2017-18 season, they lost the element of surprise, but made up for it with elevated team chemistry and a strong sense of identity. Their finest moments of the regular season came against some of the best teams in the league, going 2-1 against top seed McGill in their season series. They finished this year’s regular season as a solid middle-of-the-pack team and were rewarded with a tough draw against cross-town rival Carleton.
Once again, the Gee-Gees proved they play better under pressure. After dropping a tough game one in overtime, they bounced back, silencing Carleton with a decisive 5-0 victory at home. With the series even, they went back into the Raven’s Nest and hammered out a 4-2 win. Despite the feel-good bonus of beating a cross-town rival, the Gee-Gees’ road to the Queen’s Cup wasn’t about to become any easier. Next up, they would face the top seed in the conference: the McGill Redmen.
Though Ottawa has done an excellent job of shedding their underdog reputation and reclassifying themselves as a genuine competitor, to say that they would be favoured against such a dominant McGill squad would be a stretch.
That’s okay though, the Gee-Gees like it better that way.
They proved their ease in the underdog persona by taking game one 3-2, an upset that would only be rivalled by Brock eliminating top seed in the OUA West, the Guelph Gryphons, just one day later.
With the chance to complete the upset at home in game two, intensity was high. The Gee-Gees smothered the Redmen in the first period, forechecking hard and forcing turnovers from a normally composed McGill blue line. Ottawa broke open the scoring, but McGill battled back, hammering Gee-Gees netminder Graham Hunt with countless shots until they tied it up in the second period. They would go on to take the lead off of a beautiful Yamamoto goal in the third. McGill would pot two goals on an empty net, tying the series and providing the Gee-Gees with a necessary gut check.
Post-game, head coach Patrick Grandmaître alluded to the level of intensity going in. “It felt kind of like we had some pressure to end it tonight,” he reflected. “But if you really think about it, they’re the team [facing] the pressure. They’re supposed to beat us.”
Ottawa forward Kevin Domingue took a hard shot to the wrist in the first period, dropping to the ice, but returned quickly. His forechecking and play-making have been a huge factor in this year’s Gee-Gees offence. Post-game he was adamant about what needed to be done in game three. “We can’t give them any space. We need to be man-to-man,” Domingue said. “We want them to get mad at us because they can’t do anything. Hit them, win battles, play single-mindedly. We have nothing to lose.”
That tenacity and determination has led to Gee-Gees’ success all year, but it is an unrivalled hunger to be better that ultimately drives them. When Grandmaître looks back at his first year at the helm, he recalls the expectations.
“We wanted to be competitive. Did we expect to be here in year 2? No, but after last year, we expected to be here,” reflected Gradmaître. “With the additions we made, we have a lot of confidence in this team.”
When it comes to McGill, Domingue is emphatic.
“We’re not scared at all. We won the first game there. The players have continually said that if we play our game, we’ll win,” he said. “Carleton was a harder series, so yeah. We’re not scared.”
With a game three on the line tonight, Ottawa will look to cement their reputation as an OUA East powerhouse.
There is no greater narrative in sport than one of redemption, and the Ottawa Gee-Gees have all the tools to make theirs one to remember.