Prepping for the ‘real season’
For the Laurier women’s hockey team, repeating as Ontario University Athletics (OUA) champions is just a stepping stone towards their ultimate goal of a national title.
The Hawks faced a more competitive conference this year, needing a win in the final regular season game over the Queen’s Gaels to clinch home ice advantage. Head coach Rick Osborne believes the extra grind of this season was helpful for the team’s focus moving forward.
“The whole season this year was based on putting as much adversity and putting as much pressure on this team as I possibly could do, throughout the season, right from training camp on,” he said. “[This year] they’ve had it harder than any of the teams have had it the last two or three years because I just felt that we just didn’t get the job done at nationals two years in a row. I felt that we underachieved and that mentally we were fragile.”
Captain Fiona Lester agreed the adversity of this season should help the team.
“This year we are more used to comeback situations. In other years we sort of dominated in our league play, and then in the playoffs when we got down, we would get stressed out. This year’s team doesn’t get as stressed in those situations,” she said.
With all season to evaluate his team, Osborne thinks he has found the right combinations to run with just three lines.
The number-one unit throughout the playoffs for Laurier will likely feature three graduating players as Brittany Crago centres a line with Caitlin Muirhead and Paula Lagamba. Osborne expects a hard, driving, power-forward game from the trio.
The line of Devon Skeats, Laura Brooker and Robyn Degagne will look to use their speed and skill to create scoring, while Emily Kekewich, Tammy Freiberger and Jessie Hurrell will run the third line.
The first test for the Hawks comes from cross town rivals the Waterloo Warriors, a team that Laurier shut out in the regular season. Lester noted that this is not the same team they dominated back in November.
“In their last few games they kept it close with some teams that gave us trouble [Guelph and Queen’s] so we are not taking them lightly,” Lester said.
Men’s:Finishing the first half of the season with a 5-9-2 record, being outscored 59-43, and posting a lackluster -13 plus/minus rating, doesn’t exactly paint a picture of your ideal playoff team.
Despite the flat start from WLU men’s hockey team, the Hawks posted a remarkable 9-3 record in the second half of the season starting after the winter break. The incredible turnaround shot Laurier up the standings at the end of the regular season, good enough for the fifth seed in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West standings heading into the post-season.
The Golden Hawks appear to be optimistic and excited for the challenges that lie ahead of them as they face the fourth-seeded Guelph Gryphons in a best of three series to start the post-season.
The Hawks managed to get a least one win against every team in their division. “It’s nice to beat everyone in the league now and prove that we can play against anyone,” said fourth-year goaltender Ryan Daniels. “It’ll help give our team that confidence going forward.”
“We feel good about ourselves and about the way we have been playing, so we are geared up to go,” Puhalski said. “[Guelph is] a quality team with skill and speed. Key for us is to nullify their team speed and have some puck possession in their zone.”
Keeping at the aggressive play and keeping it simple will be a prevalent factor in the Golden Hawks’ success. Forward Brett Vandenberg chimed in stating that the team has been working hard on getting better before the post season begins.
“We’ve been working on a lot of little things, just simple plays, chipping pucks off walls, getting the puck deep, pretty standard … But we feel pretty confident.”
Vandenberg echoed Daniels’ thoughts on how beating every team so far this season will help the team’s confidence. “Having beat[en] all the teams in the league now we know we can compete with anyone. It feels really good.”
The Golden Hawks lost the regular season series the Gryphon’s 2-1 this year, with Guelph outscoring Laurier 8-5 in those games.
However, the Hawks did manage to muster a demanding 3-0 shutout against them last Thursday.
Position: 1st place OUA, nationally ranked 4th in CIS
First round: versus Waterloo Warriors, 8th place
Game one: Wednesday at 7:30 at Waterloo Rec
Game two: Saturday at 2:00 at Columbia Ice Field
Game three (if necessary): Sunday at 7:30 at Waterloo Rec
Season series: Laurier 3-0
Past meetings: Laurier 3-0, Laurier 5-0, Laurier 5-0
First half of season: 5-9-2
After New Years: 9-3
Position: 5th place
First round: versus Guelph Gryphons, 4th place
Game one: Thursday at 7:30 in Guelph
Game two: Saturday at 8:00 in Waterloo
Game three (if necessary): Sunday at 7:30 in Guelph
Season series: Guelph 2-1
Past meetings: 6-2 Guelph, 2-1 Guelph, 3-0 Laurier