Number one in Canada

Members of Wilfrid Laurier University’s women’s hockey team are used to toning down their goal celebrations.

Sometimes the score can get a little out of hand for the recently-ranked number-one team in Canada, and when that happens, the party becomes a little more subdued on the ice.

But this time, the “congratz” were front and centre for the third and final goal of Friday’s 3-0 win against the University of Windsor Lancers.

Danelle Im, one of only four rookies on the stacked Laurier squad, had just recorded her first goal in the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) circuit, and it happened just as any rookie can ever dream their first marker in the league could turn out.

Instead of deflecting off her foot or backside, as is the case for many fresh-faced puck players, Im will remember this one for awhile.

“I just saw [fellow rookie linemate] Jessie [Hurrell] coming down the weak side and I decided to just drive hard to the net and she made a really nice pass on the two-on-one and I just happened to get my stick out there and get it in the net,” said the five-foot-five Toronto native.

Im has been playing with Hurrell during most of her time in a Hawks’ uniform.

“We’ve been together for awhile now. We’ve learned to create some chemistry, and fortunately we made it happen today,” said Im.

The win against the Lancers and Saturday’s 5-2 victory against the University of Western Ontario (UWO), capped off a series of 12 straight inter-conference victories.

Rookie puckstopper Erika Thunder has appeared in all 12 of those games; won 11 and recorded three shutouts. Backup goalie Rachel Hamilton recorded one victory against UWO.

“It was [Im’s] first goal and it was an important one [in the game]”, said Hawks’ head coach Rick Osborne. “[Windsor] isn’t a team you want to give momentum to …. They beat us last year and ever since then, they’ve felt like they can play with us. They scored a goal in the first 11 seconds of the game the last time they were in this building.”

Thunder has been nothing short of sensational in her freshman year at WLU, replacing the graduated Liz Knox.

But Osborne knows she has a way to go to prove herself in the often-unpredictable OUA.

And the 5-4 shootout loss to the usurped top-ranked McGill Martlets over the holidays was a necessary stepping stone.

“I believe her life flashed before her eyes [in the McGill game],” said Osborne, referring to the next-level competition on the Martlets squad, featuring a number of Olympic athletes. “She’s going to have the same type of experience her first time in the OUA playoffs as the puck drops, and hopefully beyond that.”

In the meantime, Thunder’s two shutouts in her past three games are more than okay for the coaching staff.

And the keeper gives all the credit to her rookie teammates.

“I know Danelle’s been itching for that goal and she came out hard today, and she’s been working very hard in practice,” said Thunder.

Paula Lagamba and Blair Connelly also scored against the Lancers (9-9-2) while Tammy Freiburger recorded a hat trick and Lagamba and Laura Brooker added singles in the Hawks’ latest win versus UWO (8-12-0). It was Brooker’s league-leading 15th of the year.

The Hawks (19-0-1) now have five players in the top 15 scorers in the OUA including Brooker, Freiburger, Abby Rainsberry, Caitlin Muirhead and Lagamba.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we finished with maybe seven or eight kids that are a point-a-game,” said Osborne.

And that’s not boasting.

Osborne’s fortunes with a balanced offensive front this year stands in stark contrast to last season in which Katherine Shirriff and Brooker provided much of the goal-scoring.

“We don’t have to burn anybody out this year,” said the coach.

Laurier hosts the University of Waterloo on Friday night and then welcome York University on Saturday.

Both games start at 7:30 p.m.

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