Hawks’ hopes of gold hang by a thread

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EDMONTON, Alta – Rick Osborne had a choice to make after yesterday’s 6-5 upset loss to Montreal.

The head coach of the No. 1 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey team could either return with starter Erika Thunder after she surrendered six goals on Thursday, or throw in Rachel Hamilton – the capable backup but one who had yet to see any Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship action.

Osborne chose his starter Thunder, and the Winnipeg native chose to reward that loyalty by pitching a 12-save shutout in a 3-0 win by Laurier over the No. 4 University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Panthers in Pool A action on Friday.

“I was pretty proud of the way [Erika] bounced back,” said Osborne after the game.

The coach figured the Montreal game was just a blip; an uncharacteristic black spot on an otherwise golden record for the first-year, wide-eyed rookie.

And Thunder made Osborne’s pre-game decision look easy. A much more composed and confident goaltender led the Hawks on Friday, and instead of going down early on shots or letting out rebound after rebound, Thunder proved to be the crux of a much more concerted effort by the team from Waterloo.

“This was more of a typical Laurier women’s hockey game,” said the coach. “It was three 20-minute mini-games and we won them all 1-0.”

The win keeps Laurier’s gold medal hopes alive after they were dashed yesterday by the loss. UPEI must defeat Montreal tomorrow by less than five goals in regulation to send the Hawks to the final.

The coach thinks the team his squad just put away can beat their original nemesis.

“Oh absolutely,” said Osborne. “UPEI upset St. FX (St. Francis Xavier) out east and St. FX is as good a team as any here. [UPEI’s] goaltender’s awfully good.”

His Hawks found out just how good real early on. Kristy Dobson stopped all the rubber that came her way, until Laura Brooker cut to the slot and buried a perfect wrister that beat the netminder blocker-side.

Because it took a perfect play to beat the tendy on this day. Dobson stopped 31 of 34 shots and could have faced double that total if not for the innumerable blocked shots by the Panthers’ defence.

“Until they got tired, we were having a lot of difficulty,” said Osborne.

The Panthers clogged the shooting and passing lanes and made it a chore for any Hawk to get any sort of chance within five feet of the net.

“They all collapse down low,” said standout rookie Jessie Hurrell, who has only gotten better as the playoffs have progressed. “So we tried to get the puck to the point.”

Hurrell scored a carbon-copy goal of Brooker’s in the third period that iced the contest for Laurier. Katherine Shirriff scored one in the second frame as she got a stick on a point shot blasted by defenseman Blair Connelly.

Brooker, Hurrell and Thunder led the youth movement that won the game for WLU. Hurrell has two goals in as many games during the competition and she’s not slowing down, says Osborne.

“Hurrell, we think, is a top-six forward,” said the coach. “We thought she was playing better than some of our top nine [forwards] so we moved her into the top nine [today] and that was the right choice because she scored a goal.”

“The beginning of the year started off really bad for me,” said the Palgrave native.
“I didn’t even start the first half of the season with an injury. Then I got better as the season went on.”

Now, the Hawks await the result of tomorrow’s match up.

“We don’t control our own destiny,” said Osborne. “We’re taking care of the things that we can control.”

If Friday’s game was any indication, whether the Hawks play for bronze or gold, they seemed to have gotten the jitters out of their system.

And that’s only good news for the rookie backstop, Thunder who will likely get the call again Sunday

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