Gaels upset Hawks in OUA semifinal

For the first time in eight years, a brand new Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship banner will not adorn the rafters of the much-decorated Waterloo RecreationComplex.

The number two nationally-ranked Wilfrid Laurier women’s hockey team, the pinnacle of sporting excellence and consistency at a school known for its athletics, has finally been brought to its knees.

The culprits responsible for the momentous OUA shakeup of power were the Queen’s Gaels, emerging victorious in two identical 2-1 double-overtime thrillers to mark the first time the school has beaten Laurier in a playoff series.

Earning public enemy number one honours is Brittany McHaffie, who scored both game-winning goals in the extra frames to send the seven-time champions packing.

The Golden Hawks, who had only lost three games all year in a stretch of 27 contests, were the overwhelming favourites to win the OUA and ride that expected momentum into the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national tournament (which Laurier is hosting), as they have the past seven years.

Despite the Hawks sweeping the season series, the Gaels had played them close during the year, aside from an 8-1 thrashing on Jan. 9.

But when the stakes were highest, it was the women from Kingston who raised their game.

“We took a couple of days to sit on it and then took to the ice [Sunday] and you could feel a sense of putting the past behind us, and trying to learn from our mistakes,” said Laurier goaltender Liz Knox on Monday.

The Gaels exposed Laurier’s defence with a relentless forecheck and received spectacular goaltending from Mel Dodd-Moher who stopped 64 of 66 shots sent her way in the series.

The Gaels’ pressure-intensive game forced the Hawks to turn the puck over on multiple occasions, and a defensive zone breakdown led to McHaffie’s first overtime dagger.

The Hawks’ powerplay fizzled in the post-season, going 0-6, and the team’s seemingly endless well of goals dried up against Queen’s.

The playmaking pizzazz of Katherine Shirriff, who finished the season with a league-high 25 assists was also nonexistent as the Hawks couldn’t seem to buy a goal.

Brittany Crago and Paula Lagamba were the only scorers for WLU in the series.

Laura Brooker (who claimed OUA rookie-of-the-year honours with 19 goals, second in Canada only behind fifth-year Kelly Walker from Brock), was stymied on a penalty shot and rang a breakaway opportunity off the iron in game one.

Team captain Abby Rainsberry snuck one past Dodd-Moher but couldn’t beat the post in overtime.

In game two, Andrea Shapero almost tied the series with a late-game laser that was snatched by the catching mitt of the Gaels’ netminder.

“Give a lot of credit to Queen’s,” said Knox. “They were very well-coached, they executed well, and when it comes down to it, they had nothing to lose… they pulled it together.”

If some of those Laurier chances weren’t posts, would the story end differently, Knox?

“If we sat and looked at all the ifs, ands or buts, we’d be in a hundred different scenarios, so we had some missed opportunities, but… it’s a game of bounces at that point [in double OT] and we just couldn’t get one to go our way.”

Despite the loss, the Hawks’ 2010-11 season doesn’t have to end in heartbreak.

As the host team, Laurier gains an automatic berth into the CIS finals and will face off against representatives from the three university conferences across Canada.

And wouldn’t it be just grand if the Gaels showed up to the party?

“It would be good for a little redemption,” said Knox. “Just ask our soccer girls… we’ll be thinking of more than just our team out there.”

In November, Queen’s defeated the women’s soccer team to claim CIS gold a week after losing to Laurier in the OUA final.

Currently, Queen’s and Guelph are battling for OUA gold, with Guelph upsetting the CIS number five ranked Brock, and that’s the way things should be, says the Laurier keeper.

“We don’t want to be walking around the OUA like some of our teams used to in the past. It’s good to have this competition and see the OUA strengthen.”

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