An ‘elite team in learning mode’

Photo by Paige Bush/Staff Photographer

Photo by Paige Bush/Staff Photographer

Two weeks ago, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey team were on the verge of sitting outside of a playoff spot.

They were eighth in the Ontario University Athletics conference.

They struggled with scoring, a change was necessary, a spark.

Enter Amanda Smith.

The third-year netminder stepped between the pipes, and in her last five starts earned a 0.68 goals against average and a 0.968 save percentage.

She gathered two shutouts against the Nipissing Lakers and the UOIT Ridgebacks and limited the streaking Waterloo Warriors to a single goal in a 2-1 victory on Saturday night.

After being the third goaltender for the Hawks once, Smith has found her comfort back in net.

“[Smith’s] energized the team,” said head coach Rick Osborne. “You can’t underscore her performance in the last few wins.”

In a game where every point matters, in a league that rewards teams that finish their business in 60 minutes, first-year defender Cassandra Calabreese scored the first goal of her university career when her stick found a loose puck in the slot and beat Waterloo netminder Rebecca Bouwhuis.

For a first career goal, it was huge, giving the Hawks a six-point weekend and returning to the heart of the playoff race.

Calabreese was excited to get the game-winning goal, in a game that’s leading up to the playoffs.

“I’d just get the puck on net and hope for the best,” she said. “I didn’t expect to score by any means. It was exciting.”

Smith’s return also gave first-year rookie Lauren Webber time to recover from a torn meniscus suffered in November against the York Lions and allowed the team to fully focus on the hunt for a solid playoff position.

And with a confident netminder in Smith with the team, it’s going to be a full speed ahead effort from the Hawks.

“I feel good. A little break in the first semester, but it’s really nice to be back with the girls and be doing everything I can to get the points,” Smith said.

“It’s really nice when you see the coaches have confidence in you and have confidence in you too.”

“I just want to do everything I can to help out the team.”

That regulation point put the Hawks in a three-way tie for fifth place in the OUA standings.

And while it seems like moving up a spot isn’t a lot, the Hawks could be back on track.

Osborne said Webber energized the team really nicely to get the Hawks started on the right foot at the beginning of the season, and believes since her injury, she’s ready to step up and play a game for Laurier next weekend.

And next weekend brings the No. 6 nationally-ranked Western Mustangs and the Windsor Lancers, where the Hawks could need both of their goaltenders to keep momentum going in the final stretch towards the playoffs.

“These nine points that we picked up, at least it gets the adrenaline flowing.” Osborne said. “We’re still an elite team in learning mode but we’re learning faster now.”

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