Men’s hockey opens preseason with 4-2 loss

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After a long wait, hockey was welcomed back to Wilfrid Laurier University on Friday night, as the Golden Hawks men’s hockey team dropped a home exhibition game to the Windsor Lancers 4-2.

The following night, the Hawks 5-1 to the Guelph Gryphons in Brantford.

The game was slated to start at 7:30 p.m., but was pushed back almost an hour due to an absence of referees. Despite the long holdover, the Hawks started the game strong before surrendering three third period goals en route to their first loss of the preseason.

“No, I don’t think [the delay] threw anyone off really,” said Hawks rookie goaltender Brandon Foote. “We already got the first goal and we were playing well, and then halfway through the second period it kind of fell apart. We didn’t really rebound from that second goal they got, and it kind of went downhill from there.”

The Hawks held a 2-1 lead midway through the third period on goals by first-year Andrew Henry and third-year centre James Marsden.

But a late collapse saw the team surrender 21 shots in the third, and left the team knowing there is still a lot it can improve on.

“I think really we maybe had about 15 good minutes out of 60 tonight,” said assistant coach Graeme Swan. “It started with a flurry and we had a little bit of energy early and then we just fell back, and our d-zone coverage was lax. On a bright note, I thought Brandon Foote was our best player.”

In his first taste of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) action, Foote, the Hawks’ new recruit stopped his first 19 shots, and 41 of 45 on the night.

The ex-member of the Guelph Storm showed phenomenal reaction time and flexibility making a number of cross-crease saves to keep Laurier in the game, including one that made TSN’s honour roll.

“It’s pretty crazy. I mean coming from the OHL I didn’t really know what to expect, but there are a lot of good hockey players out there,” said Foote after his first game.

The showing by Foote could be a welcoming sight to current starter Ryan Daniels. Daniels appeared in 28 games for Laurier last season and may benefit this season from having a chance to rest.

“It’s one game for Brandon so I think we liked his start,” said Swan. “Ryan Daniels is going to be the number one guy here in his last year. He’ll still probably have a good workload and Brandon will earn his time. I think it will be a good 1-2 punch.”

Despite many new faces from last season, it was the same story for Laurier’s offence. The team was drastically outshot 45-27 and failed to generate sustainable pressure on the power play despite numerous opportunities.

There is still plenty of time to improve before the season starts on Oct. 11 and Swan believes the team has the right mentality to be successful this season.

“I like our energy that the new guys are bringing. I thought last weekend at Ryerson we showed that in the game, but we have certainly seen that through practice,” Swan said. “It seems like there is just a renewed energy in practice and a little bit more enthusiasm for what we are doing. We’ve got a good core veteran group still; and I think that will help with as many as 16 new players.”

After a difficult 2011-12 season, where the Hawks lost a number of players for injuries or academic reasons, this year’s roster is loaded with available talent.

“The one thing that is kind of nice this year that we didn’t have last is that we’ve got extra bodies,” added Swan.

“That just helps to keep everybody more accountable so if you have a night where some guys are a little off in their game, and you have some healthy scratches, then you can get new guys to step up. That competition should be healthy for our team.”

This year’s team should see better results than the previous incarnation. Where they will finish is still a mystery.

“I’m sure if you ask any guy on the team they would want to win every game,” said Foote.

“I’m not really too sure what happened last year with this team, being a rookie, but I know we want to try and make a playoff push and try and go far.

“I think with the changes that we’ve made we have a pretty good group of guys in there. We just need to battle in practice and rebound for tomorrow.”

The Hawks regular season opens with five straight road games, starting on Oct. 11 at the University of Waterloo. The home opener is Oct. 27 against the Guelph Gryphons at Sunlife Financial Arena.

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