Hawks reclaim top OUA standing

(Photo by Jody Waardenburg)

(Photo by Jody Waardenburg)

In the past when the Wilfrid Laurier women’s hockey team won the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship, it was a done deal early in the season.

Until a few years ago, Laurier finished atop the OUA and tore through the playoffs without much competition.

But this year, it was an unfamiliar situation.

The Hawks were seeded second in the OUA for the first time since head coach Rick Osborne joined the team and for the first time since the OUA moved into division one. They had lost plenty of games and had to work twice as hard to keep up with the growing competition.

So when the Hawks won the OUA championship Sunday night, it was that much sweeter.

“It feels really, really good. We’ve got such quality veteran players on this team and no one would know how hard they work,” Osborne said, sporting the gold medal around his neck.

“And what we put them through to get to this point in the season. The veterans, [Devon] Skeats and [Candice] Styles who have stuck around have taken everything I’ve thrown at them for five years.”

Laurier had a year off the top of the podium last year after winning the championship in 2011.

“It feels amazing,” fifth-year Skeats, who was named the player of the game, said after hoisting the cup.  “We’ve had such a history with Queen’s so it feels extra special … I said it at the beginning of the game, I’m so proud of how far we’ve come and how hard we’ve worked. It’s extra special with this group of girls.”

The Hawks capped off a challenging provincial journey with a 2-0 win Sunday night against the Queen’s Gaels in game three of the series. After dropping the first game in overtime,Laurier put on a defensive clinic, blocking shots with their bodies, playing the systems and allowing rookie goaltender Amanda Smith to play an almost perfect series.

“There’s nothing that makes my heart warmer than two shutouts to finish off the playoff series. I love those zeroes on the board,” Osborne smiled.
Smith was named series MVP after stopping all 77 shots she faced in the final two games. She was named the OUA athlete of the week Monday afternoon.

After being pulled in game two against the UOIT Ridgebacks in the first round, and not playing game two against the Toronto Varsity Blues, Smith made a statement.

“She had to battle [Toronto goalie] Kesteris and [Queen’s goalie] Dodd-Moher, two fifth-year goaltenders that are outstanding athletes and goalies. And if anyone thought there was a big edge for the opposition, it was in that position,” Osborne said.

“And you know what, that position ended up being the MVP of the series.”

“I’m so proud of these girls right now,” Smith said after winning her first OUA championship. “I couldn’t think of a better group of girls to spend this with. They were laying everything on the line. You know what, we wanted it and we just did everything we could and we were laying our bodies out there. It’s just amazing.”

A team with eight rookiews and a rookie goaltender made a leap for their 11th provincial title in program history. Included in the rookies is dual-athlete Jacky Normandeau, who became the first Laurier athlete to win two OUA championships in the same year.

“It’s just unreal. It’s more than anyone can ask for. The two teams, all of the girls are amazing and it’s so great to know all of them. There was so much hard work from everyone and it paid off.”

And fourth-year captain Laura Brooker laid her body on the line for another game, blocking shots and taking hits from the pesky Queen’s Gaels. Brooker joins a line of elite captains who have led teams to championships.

“Years before with the captains, you see them do it and you hope one day to do the same, so raising that cup with the C on my jersey, and doing it for Skeats and the ones that are graduating, it feel amazing.”

And with the top seed out of the OUA, Laurier now sets their sights on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick next week.

The final two conferences in the CIS will finish their playoff play this week.

And while they’re playing, the Hawks will be working.

“I need to get them refocused and frame the next two weeks for them. We did everything we could to prepare for this game, but I have a two-week plan in place also,” Osborne smiled.

“We need to enjoy the moment and feel really good. We beat a hell of a team down there … And now we have to get ready for the next task at hand, which is getting ready for our first shift at nationals.”

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