Hawks claim OUA title

GUELPH, ON— Saturday afternoon saw the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey team break one record and tie another as they defeated the Guelph Gryphons 2-1 to clinch their seventh consecutive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship.

The seven straight titles set a new Laurier record and also ties OUA the milestone for consecutive women’s hockey championships that was set by the University of Toronto when they were provincial champions every year from 1988-94.

“It’s an incredible feeling, I can’t even put words on it,” said Hawks’ goalie Liz Knox, who has been at Laurier for four of those seven championships. “Going into that third period being up one goal, there was so much pressure and the crowd was right into it, and when the buzzer went, it was just unbelievable.”

“It never gets old,” added team captain Andrea Ironside, who has now won five straight OUA titles.

“It’s awesome. In the moment right now, it just feels incredible.”

Saturday’s game was the second in the best-of-three championship series. The Hawks had taken game one 2-0 in Waterloo on Thursday night in a contest where Knox and Gryphons’ goalie Danielle Skoufranis kept the game scoreless until 13 minutes into the second period.

The teams didn’t have to wait long for offence in game two, as both the Hawks and the Gryphons managed to find the net in the opening 10 minutes.

Third-year Katherine Shirriff gave the purple and gold the lead just three minutes into the game only to have the score evened at one three minutes later by Guelph’s Erin Small.

“Any time a team has their back against the wall, you have to expect their best game and they gave it to us today,” said Knox of the Gryphons’ performance in game two. “They showed us their best and we battled through it one shot at a time, one shift a time.”

Rookie Devon Skeats would give the Hawks the lead in the latter half of the first period off a scramble at the side of the Gryphons’ net.

“That was a little bit of a crazy one, I really wasn’t expecting it to go in,” said Skeats. “But once I saw it in the net, my heart just dropped to my feet, I was so excited.”

With the Hawks up 2-1, the vocal crowd – which featured ample amounts of purple and gold – was treated to a thrilling final two periods with the momentum swinging back and forth between the two teams and both goalies making key save after key save.

But in the end, Skeats’s goal would prove to be the difference, ending a hard-fought OUA final.

“What a great series,” said Laurier head coach Rick Osborne. “This year was our best-ever season, so there was little bit of pressure on us going into the post-season. But it’s really been the same story for us all season, Knoxy in goal, the leadership of our veterans and some great play from our rookies.”

The strong rookie presence on the roster has been integral to the Hawks’ success from the beginning of the season right up until Skeats’s championship-winning goal.

First-year forwards Candice Styles and Paula LaGamba both ranked in the top 10 in the OUA in playoff scoring, while Styles finished third on the team in points in the regular season, on her way to an OUA rookie of the year award.

The Hawks also received contributions from their rookies on the blue line as defencemen Maureen Mommersteeg and Fiona Lester thrived while seeing significant ice time, leading to Mommersteeg being named to the OUA’s all-rookie team.

“They’ve been phenomenal,” said Ironside of her first-year teammates.

“A lot of people look at our team and think that we’re young and inexperienced, but the rookies all came in and they stepped into big roles and they’ve been doing exactly what we need them to do, and that’s all of them; all seven of them have been just awesome.”

Skeats attributes a large part of the success that she and her fellow rookies have achieved to the leadership of the team’s veterans.

“It’s been huge having them there,” she said. “They’re like big sisters and people that you just look up to every practice, game and workout. You look at what they’ve accomplished and the type of people they are and you just strive to be like them.”

The Hawks won’t have long to savour their provincial championship as they begin their pursuit of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) title tomorrow night in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

“We don’t like to look too far ahead, but we do have a lot on our plates, so we’re going to start preparing for what’s next,” said Ironside.

“We’ve been there before, we’ve got a lot of experience and I think we’ll draw on that and we’ll be ready to go for the first game no matter who we’re playing.”

The Hawks go into the tournament as the number two seed and will open round robin action against the University of Alberta Pandas.

The only team ranked ahead of the Hawks is the McGill Martlets, who have sent Laurier home with the CIS silver medal two years in a row.

“We know we have a job to do,” said Knox. “We’ve come out the past couple years with the wrong colour around our necks, so we’re going to have to get the job done and that’s going to start right away.”

Pool A

1. McGill Martlets

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Reg. season record: 20-0-0

Playoff record: 4-0

2009 CIS finals: Gold medal

4. St. Mary’s Huskies

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Reg. season record: 13-10-1

Playoff record: 2-0

2009 CIS finals: Did not qualify

6. Montreal Carabins

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Reg. season record: 13-6-1

Playoff record: 2-0

2009 CIS finals: Did not qualify

Pool B

2. Laurier Golden Hawks

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Reg. season record: 26-0-1

Playoff record: 4-0

2009 CIS finals: Silver medal

3. Alberta Pandas

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Reg. season record: 23-1-0

Playoff record: 4-0

2009 CIS finals: Did not qualify

  1. St. FX X-Women

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Reg. season record: 18-2-4

Playoff record: 1-1

2009 CIS finals: 5th place