Badgers first up for No. 1 Hawks
In their third-best ever season, the No.1 Wilfrid Laurier University women’s hockey team proved why they were a force to be reckoned with.
With back-to-back wins against the Brock Badgers and Guelph Gryphons, the Golden Hawks closed out their season on the weekend, finishing with a near-perfect record of 25-0-1.
Finishing on a 14-game winning streak, the Hawks clinched first-place overall in the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) standings with 51 points, 13 points ahead of the second place Gryphons.
As well as clinching the top spot in the OUA, the Hawks also finished the season number one in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) top ten poll.
On Jan. 24, Laurier moved ahead of the McGill Martlets to be declared the top team overall. The Martlets held this ranking in 71 of the last 73 polls dating back to November of 2008.
Laurier welcomed the Badgers Friday night in a preview of the opening round of the playoffs, where Brock fought a tough 60-minute battle, but fell to the Hawks 3-1.
The following night, Guelph visited Laurier in what was anticipated to be an exciting finish to the regular season.
But the game was anything but a challenge as the Hawks defeated Guelph 5-0.
“It feels really good [to finish with a win] and I think we finished strong,” head coach Rick Osborne said. “It’s another terrific season.”
Allowing just 39 goals against, the team didn’t lose a game in regulation, and played one less game than in years previous, where Laurier finished with records of 26-0-1 and 26-1-0.
Along with the change of extracting one extra game also came the addition of an extra playoff series.
The first-place team no longer has a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
As a result, Laurier will now face the eighth-seeded Badgers in the opening round.
When asked about the Badgers, Osborne stressed the need for quick puck movement.
“We’re going to face [a battling Brock team],” Osborne reflected. “Puck possession is great but not when you’re playing a team the size of Brock and they want to battle you on the wall all night long.”
Laurier started shaky against the Badgers Friday night, over-playing the puck and making too many passes.
“I would have liked to see us drive the net and use the space behind their defense a little bit more early on,” Osborne said. “Their aggressive, assertive penalty killing gave us a lot of trouble early and we just didn’t move the puck really quick.”
In head-to-head matches, Laurier defeated Brock in all three meetings with a combined 13 goals for and 2 against.
“I think our team is in a good position and I think we’re peaking,” Osborne said. “The highs can’t be too high at this time of the season and neither can the lows be too low.”
This will also be the first OUA playoffs for rookie goaltender Erika Thunder. Thunder has recorded a 19-1 record and a .930 save percentage. She let in only 27 goals all season, recording a 1.30 goals against average and produced seven shutouts.
“Erika has just had a real nice improvement curve on her development this year and I do believe that she’s playing the best she’s played all year right now heading into the playoffs.”
In addition, this will also be the last playoffs for graduating players Alicia Martin, Katherine Shirriff and captain Abby Rainsberry.
Rainsberry has been the captain of the Golden Hawks for the last two years and has played 104 games with Laurier. All three players have won 100 or more games.
“I think the playoffs are just a whole new season,” said Osborne. “So whether they were close games during the regular season or blow outs, anything can happen.
“Look what happened last year. We blew out Queen’s 8-0 or something two weeks before the playoffs then just couldn’t buy a break so we’re certainly not going in overconfident.”
The first round opens tonight as Laurier hosts the Badgers at the Waterloo Recreational Complex at 7:30 p.m. Game two will be at Brock on Saturday and if needed, game three will be back at Laurier on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.