The No. 1-ranked Toronto Varsity Blues got shootout goals from McKinley Kennedy, Rebecca Carvalho and Alicia Lung as they outlasted the No. 2-ranked Victoria Vikes 1-1 (3-2) in Game 1 of the U SPORTS Field Hockey Championship at Toronto’s Back Campus Fields on Friday evening.
Both the Blues and Vikes opened the contest with scoring opportunities, utilizing very different strategies throughout. For the visitors, pressure came from dominating possession of the ball through the opening two quarters. This was showcased especially by the play of 2023 U SPORTS All-Canadian Libby Hogg, who was able to control much of the middle of the park. Meanwhile, U of T responded with fast breaks which resulted in the teams registering two shots on goal apiece. However, the top two teams in the country remained deadlocked 0-0 at the halftime break.
Coming out of the intermission, the home crowd spurred on the Blues in a strong third quarter for the home side. Toronto began with an early chance as they nearly found the net from a short corner deflection. But then with another opportunity courtesy some nifty passing which set them inside the circle, third-year forward Mia Zurkovic was able to knock in a rebound to lift the Blues into the lead at the 36-minute mark.
Entering the final frame down by one, the Vikes put the pressure on the Blues as the clock counted down. The duo of Nora Struchtrup and Julia Boraston both tallied a shot on goal for the Vikes in the back-and-forth contest. However, it was Hogg who found the equalizer with a straight shot from a short corner with under 60 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the match to a shootout.
In the shootout, Toronto was able to come out on top 3-2 as U of T goalie Deepi Gill turned aside three Vikes shooters, including a spectacular effort from a penalty stroke. Both goalies were exceptional in the national championship opener with Gill and Victoria goalie Anais Chace finishing the night with two saves during regulation.
“We will lean on the six kids who were here two years ago when we were in a similar situation, and we will go and take the positives from this game playing a full 60 minutes to tie it up,” mentioned Vikes head coach Krista Thompson after the game. “We worked hard all year and our goal at the beginning of the year was to improve a little each day, and that will be no different as we look to improve heading into tomorrow.”
Following the match, Toronto’s fifth-year veteran Rebecca Carvalho earned player of the game honours for the Blues after converting her shootout opportunity and serving as a key defender throughout the night. On the other side, Hogg picked up the recognition for the Vikes following her dramatic last minute goal and brilliant midfield play.
“It feels really good, our plan was to play our best and that was what we were able to do,” said Carvalho after the match. “Tomorrow we just need to do the same thing and come out hard and try and take it.”
Toronto has a chance to clinch the series, and what would be their first national championship since 2010, in Game 2 of the series on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Victoria must win the game to force a deciding Game 3 on Sunday. Tickets are on sale now for Game 2, and all matches in the series are available to be seen online via CBC Sports digital platforms.