Women’s hockey team stunned in semifinal loss
Fiona Lester stood up tall, choked back her tears and spoke into the microphone.
“I don’t know,” the fourth-year captain managed to get out, “I really couldn’t tell you. I think everyone played as hard as they could, but it just didn’t happen.”
After coming back to tie the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) women’s hockey semifinal series against the fourth-seeded Western Mustangs one night earlier, the first-seeded Hawks came home Sunday night with every intention of winning the deciding game three and moving on to face the third-seeded Queen’s Gaels in the championship.
But after five consecutive penalties in the first period, a stellar performance by Western netminder Kelly Campbell — who was spectacular all series — and a bouncing puck in front of Laurier’s net, Western would put the series away with a 1-0 win, eliminating the Hawks from the playoffs.
“I had no idea, but, it was definitely not where I was expecting that puck to bounce which is tough, but that happens and you’ve got to be ready for it,” Lester said.
“The third period we were playing a 0-0 game and you’re playing for one bounce,” head coach Rick Osborne said.
“We had a ton of bounces around their net. They’ve got a great team and a great goaltender and they got the bounce and made it pay off.”
This is the second time in three years that Laurier has been eliminated in the semifinals of the OUA playoffs after a streak of seven-straight provincial championships. However, this will be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Wilfrid Laurier will not be at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships.
“My hats go off to them,” Osborne said of Western and their performance. “It’s their party tonight.”
Laurier gave up the first game of the series Thursday night with a subpar performance, losing 2-0 at home.
Saturday night at Western, the Hawks played a do-or-die game and defeated the Mustangs 2-0 to force game three.
Osborne stressed that the Hawks playing with only three lines throughout the playoffs was a factor in their performance.
“We probably had 60, 70 per cent of our players that were just real warriors out there and there’s still a small percentage that we kind of had a boot camp in the second half and that eventually does come back to bite you,” he said.
The Hawks have five players graduating this year. Lester will graduate after four years with the Hawks, recording seven goals and 12 assists, for a total of 19 points, and has won two OUA championships. She has been named an OUA first-team all-star twice, a CIS academic all-Canadian three times and won the Luke Fusco Academic Athletic Achievement award last year.
“It’s been amazing. I can’t believe it’s over,” Lester said of her tenure at WLU.
“But it’s been a great four years and each and every team member every year has been awesome to have as a teammate and a friend and I’m going to miss it.”
Also graduating are fifth-year Caitlin Muirhead and fourth-years Brittany Crago, Paula Lagamba and Maureen Mommersteeg.
“The people that are walking out the door have such unbelievable character. The work ethic that’s walking out the door is going to be really tough to replace. You don’t replace a Fiona Lester, a Crago, a Muirhead, a Lagamba, a Mommersteeg … you just don’t replace those players with players moving up,” Osborne said.
Osborne explained that he is looking for “well-conditioned, dedicated, fast and tough players” for next year’s edition of the Hawks.
He also mentioned that forward Megan Howe, a transfer from Oswego State in Western New York who had to sit out this season due to the CIS transfer rule, would join the team.
“You’re going to see a different type of style from Laurier next year,” he said.
“It’s going to be four lines deep and it’s going to be a pretty pesky, tough-checking team.”