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For Montreal hockey fans, these are heady times. While the Montreal Canadiens are vying for top spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference, they're not the only game in town. This weekend, both McGill hockey squads are on their own championship quests.
The Martlets will vie for their first Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) title at the national championship tournament in Ottawa from March 6-10. Like their mythological namesake, the nation's top-ranked university women's team is flying high heading into the tourney, having just won their third consecutive Dr. Ed Enos trophy as Quebec champions and finishing the regular season a perfect 18-0.
Despite that lofty record, the Martlets have their skates firmly on the ice, knowing all too well the pressure that comes with being the nation's No. 1 team. Last year, the squad was the top-seeded team going into the CIS championships only to be shocked 4-0 by the University of Alberta Pandas in the finals.
The loss, devastating as it was, has made this year's team that much stronger. "It was a hard lesson to learn," said coach Peter Smith, "but our players took something away with them. Now we know what to expect going into the national championships. We're ready."
On the men's side of the rink, the Redmen are gearing up for a one-game tilt with the Brock Badgers for the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Queen's Cup Men's Hockey Championship on March 8 in St. Catharine's, Ont.
The Redmen are fresh off of their upset victory over archrival Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) in the OUA Eastern conference finals this past weekend.
The 10th-ranked McGill squad swept the nation's fifth-ranked team in the best-of-three series, a feat that surprised many observers – but not Redmen coach Martin Raymond.
"If there is one quality that stands out on this team, it's the ability to rise to the occasion in big games," he said. "We beat [UQTR] 2-1 on their rink in January, so we knew we could compete with them."
The Redmen's grace under pressure will be tested from here on, as the rest of the season will be marked by pressure-cooker intensity. Win or lose the Queen's Cup, the squad will begin preparations for the six-team CIS University Cup Championship to be held at the University of Moncton March 20-23.