All-time Classic: Oxford stun Tabs 7-6 in overtime after last-minute rally
Posted on Fri 5th March, 2010
Thirty more seconds, and the book was ready to close on one of the most dominant dynasties in Varsity Ice Hockey history in front of a capacity crowd at the Oxford Ice Rink on Saturday afternoon. Fortunately for the defending national champion Dark Blues, forward Jarrad Aguirre had other plans.
Positioning himself to the right of Cambridge goaltender Carl Mazurek, Aguirre deftly netted a rebound off a slapshot from Oxford player/ coach Landis Stankievech to tie the game at 6-6 in the last desperate moments, sending the 800-strong crowd into paroxysms of celebration as the Dark Blues clawed back into the game and forced overtime.
The pressure could not have been higher for the home team on this rain-soaked "Olympic" weekend in West Oxford. Burdened with the expectations that come with home ice, a five-year run of Varsity success, the 100th anniversary of the 'Oxford Canadians' (arguably the first ever Team Canada), and a crowd packed with team alumni from as far back as the 1950s, the pre-game tension in the dressing room was palpable. This was compounded by the fact that the team had been dogged by injury over the course of the previous few weeks, and the knowledge that this was perhaps the strongest Light Blue side to be iced in over half a decade.
An instant classic being hailed as one of the finest ice hockey Varsity Matches in memory, the excruciating tension of the game, in which neither team ever held a two-goal advantage and in which the lead changed five times, came to a sudden and dramatic end when Canadian MBA student Parker Carney scored three minutes into overtime to secure Oxford's 62nd Varsity victory.
The shock of the reversal of fortunes in the closing seconds was etched on the faces of the visiting team as Oxford's squad burst into celebration at centre ice.
The Light Blues had come into the game with clear intent, and despite an early goal by the home team, they held a 2-1 advantage after 20 minutes. The Tabs set the tone for the match from the outset, playing a physically punishing game that left Oxford reeling."They outworked us for a lot of the match, they played physically, and they didn't give up any more than we did" said Oxford captain Ruben Leavitt after the game, adding "they were the best opponent we've played in my time at Oxford". Forward Julian de Hoog concurred: "Cambridge played smart, tough hockey, and won many of the individual battles."
A brace of penalties by the Light Blues early in the second period allowed Oxford's powerplay unit to go to work, resulting in a tying goal by Tennessean sharp-shooter William Bruce. The visitors regained the lead with a smart wrap-around goal less than a minute later by Daniel Tavana, who in scoring completed a hat-trick. A perennial clutch performer, Oxford's Stankievech was quick to redress the balance, potting two even-strength goals by playing with characteristic tenacity around the goalmouth. After the smoke had cleared at the end of 40 minutes, the score was level at 4-4, despite a dramatic late surge by Cambridge during which they rang a shot off the post.
Throughout the season, Oxford's top line of Carney, Bruce and Stankievech have dominated the league scoring charts, and been pivotal in every one of the Dark Blues' victories. On this night, the line combined for 6 goals and 14 points. "Landis' performance was the single most outstanding individual performance I have seen by a hockey player in any game, ever" said de Hoog. "He left it all on the ice, and we would never have won this game without him"
However the damage could have been far worse, with Oxford's big guns being denied more often than they are used to by the often sublime goaltending of Mazurek for Cambridge, who put on a show with his quick glove and faultless positioning to keep the game close, making one brilliant save after another.
The overtime victory marked the end of an era for Oxford, as only two of the current squad are eligible to play in 2011. For de Hoog, who was playing his fifth and final varsity match in front of family who had flown in from both Germany and Canada, it was clearly a good note to end on: "the best crowd I've played in front of, and it was fantastic to receive such support" he enthused. Leavitt was equally exuberant: "raising the Cup over my head with a huge roar from my teammates and the crowd... I won't ever forget it. Best match of my life."
Oxford outshot Cambridge 51 to 37 in victory.
Match MVP went to Landis Stankievech, who had two goals and four assists. Cambridge's Man of the Match was captain Luc St-Pierre, with his Oxford counterpart being goaltender Calum Nicholson.
With the win, the Oxford Blues secured second place in the BUIHA southern division, setting up a semi-final match-up with, ironically enough, Cambridge.