Recapping an exciting regular season for the Golden Hawks

Photo by Sadman Sakib Rahman

The Wilfrid Laurier University men’s hockey team found themselves playing with purpose in their final game of the regular season, as a 4-1 win over Lakehead on Feb. 10 secured the fourth seed in the western conference and home ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.

Following their victory in Thunder Bay on Saturday evening, the Golden Hawks settled to 15-10-3 record for the season.

While looking ahead to the near future and the beginning of OUA playoffs, there is also reason to reflect on the 2017-18 season. As does any hockey team, the Golden Hawks handled their fair share of ups and downs that resulted in where they stand today.

On the offensive, Brandon Robinson led Golden Hawk scoring with nine goals and 14 assists through the year.

In the crease, goaltending tandem of Colin Furlong and Chris Festerini shared the role with only four minutes’ difference in total ice time. Furlong finished the season with a 2.32 GAA and a .927 save percentage, leaving him top three in the league in both categories.

Come the beginning of the season in October, Laurier got off to a hot start and found themselves with an attractive 10-4-2 record at the holiday break. Following said break, and a brief three-game win streak in early January, things took a turn for the worse.

Beginning with a 5-0 battering from Guelph at the Frosty Mug, the Golden Hawks went on to lose the next five straight, only salvaging one point in an overtime loss to the Waterloo Warriors. Though it may have been a measly consolation at the time, that one point would be critical in playoff seeding.

That six-game skid also kept head coach Greg Puhalski at the 99-win mark for nearly two weeks. Finally, on Feb. 7, after one final victory in the Battle of Waterloo, Puhalski reached the 100-victory milestone.

“100 wins as a coach is 100 wins for the program,” Puhalski said when asked what the occasion meant to him. “I want to win like everyone else. It’s always great when you do it together.”

Winning is what they want and winning is what they’ll need to do.

Commencing on February 14th, the Golden Hawks enter the OUA playoffs as the fourth seed and will look to knock off Brock University who slot into fifth.

Laurier and Brock split the season series this year, with the home team winning each of the two games. Head coach Puhalski’s comments only cement the anticipated style of the series, as he touched on how he expects the first round to be very evenly played.

The Golden Hawks boast the fourth strongest power play in the league, at 21.5 per cent. Though their man-advantage is effective, Brock will retaliate with their 84.8 per cent penalty kill, which leaves them fifth in the league.

In regard to what level of scoring to expect, both teams are on the lower end of goals against with only 72 against Brock, and 77 against Laurier. The two shape up to be strong defensive opponents, a characteristic that may result in low scoring and possibly nerve-wracking contests.

In terms of success against Brock, Puhalski noted: “Keys for us are good energy and discipline.”

Both the Badgers and the Golden Hawks don’t usually have a problem staying out of the box, but now it’s playoff hockey, anything can happen.

With game one kicking off on Feb. 14, the teams will match up for game two on Feb. 16 in St. Catharines, then head back to Waterloo on Feb. 18 if a third game is required.

The playoffs are an entirely different animal, and though their regular season play got them this far, the Golden Hawks are entering a different level of competition.

Laurier could find themselves sent home within three days and that’s just the reality of the postseason. As coach Puhalski put it: “Playoffs are a day-to-day living.”

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