Lady Hawks get a taste of top-ranked McGill

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With an otherworldly 13-0-1 record at the holiday break, the nationally-ranked No.2 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks’ women’s hockey team had seen the rest of the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) competition and had more than proven themselves time and time again.

No small feat for a team considered on the mend, and reloading after losing veteran goalkeeper Liz Knox last year.

But they had yet to face the one team considered better than the Hawks by the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) pundits who dole out the weekly rankings by year’s end; the McGill Martlets.

The defending CIS champion Martlets, boasting Olympic medalist defenceman Cathy Chartrand and goalie Charline Labonte hosted a holiday tournament shortly after Christmas from Dec. 28-30 in Montréal.

And Laurier got the invite, along with No.4 St. Francis Xavier and the University of Manitoba.

The Hawks played their way to a second-place finish, defeating Manitoba and St. FX before bowing out in a 5-4 shootout thriller to the host team, McGill last Friday.

It was a good litmus test to see how the unexpected team from Waterloo would match up against the country’s best powerhouse.

In a game that saw the lead switch hands four times, Heather Fortuna, Caitlin Muirhead, Andrea Shapero and Alicia Martin all scored on Labonte for the Hawks, an encouraging sign, said team captain Abby Rainsberry.

“It was probably the closest game we’ve played against McGill since I’ve been here,” said the fourth-year on Wednesday. “It was very good to see that we were able to score four goals against Labonte … that’s an accomplishment we’ll take with us because she does have such a good record.”

Rainsberry’s description is quite modest, considering the OIympic veteran’s 7-1 win-loss record with a 1.47 goals-against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage (SV%) this year. For Labonte, those four goals were a blitzkrieg.

The shootout ended the contest, with McGill’s Katia Clement-Heydra and Jordanna Peroff finding the twine and no shooters recording a goal for the Hawks for the 5-4 final score.

“It was pretty intimidating,” said Hawks’ starting keeper Erika Thunder. “But it was a good opportunity to play them …. It was definitely the toughest game I’ve played this year just because they’re so much faster and their shots are so much harder,” referring to the modestly-listed five-foot-ten Chartand in particular.

The Hawks have found success so far this year because of team balance, according to Rainsberry.

“The biggest difference [compared with past years] is the depth on our team,” said the captain. “We don’t have one line [or] one person scoring all the goals.”

Thunder has been a revelation in the Hawks’ cage. The rookie Winnipeg native’s 8-0-1 record has her in first place among OUA goalies with a 1.60 GAA and a .911 SV%.

Next on the schedule for the squad is a date with the Windsor Lancers at the Waterloo Memorial Recreational Complex this Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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