‘Bigger, faster and stronger’

Women's hockey will look to recapture the OUA title after an early exit last year. (File photo by Kate Turner)

Women’s hockey will look to recapture the OUA title after an early exit last year. (File photo by Kate Turner)

Rewind to Feb. 24, 2013.

The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey team was eliminated in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) semifinals by the Western Mustangs and failed to advance to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships for the first time since 2002-03.

Nevertheless, head coach Rick Osborne and the revamped women’s hockey program — that includes eight rookies — are determined to compete for hardware in Fredericton, New Brunswick this March.

“We’re bigger, faster and stronger due to off-season dedication,” said Osborne.

“We’re committed to a team-first process and have a strong desire to role model the work ethic that is a cornerstone of the women’s hockey program [at Laurier].”

Over the past four seasons, the women’s hockey program has compiled a 96-4-6 regular season record and won two OUA championships.

Expectations for this edition of the Hawks are no different after handily defeating the St. Francis Xavier University X-Women 6-1 and winning the inaugural Gaels Invitational in Kingston this past weekend. The tournament featured top-calibre CIS competition and Osborne did not hesitate to play his highly-touted rookies.

“We played the Gaels Invitational with six rookies in the lineup and it was a chance to accelerate the learning curve for them,” said Osborne. “They all played regular shifts and all are comfortable and able to play at the CIS level as we head into our home opener [on October 4th].”

Laurier boasts a 4-2-1 non-conference record heading into the regular season.

In terms of leadership, Osborne is looking at captain Laura Brooker and assistant captains Haley Baxter, Devon Skeats and Megan Howe to nurture the relatively inexperienced team on a day-to-day and game-to-game basis this season.

“[The rookies] bring a lot to the team, and are overall great people. They love the school and love being Golden Hawks,” said Brooker. “We are a new team and the result of last season is not hindering us.”

Brooker was named an OUA second team All-Star and led the Hawks with fourteen goals last season. She also eclipsed 50 goals in her Laurier career midway through the 2012-13 year.

Veteran blueliners Baxter and Candice Styles, along with Blair Connelly, will lead the defence in front of rookie goaltender Amanda Smith. Smith posted a save percentage of .970 GAA (goals against average) of 1.00, and remained undefeated throughout preseason play. Osborne has confirmed that she will be the Hawks’ starter on Friday.

“Coming to Laurier you are motivated to continue the legacy that the women’s hockey program has built over the years,” said Baxter. “This year we want to make a statement that our legacy is far from over and make a run at a national championship.”

Baxter recorded ten points through 26 regular season games in 2012-2013.

“There’s a lot more depth at every position; I believe when everyone is healthy we will be thirteen players deep at forward, seven deep at defence and strong and confident between the pipes,” concluded Osborne.

Laurier hosts the Windsor Lancers Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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