‘This team can be a darkhorse’
The Western Mustangs don’t scare the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
The big bad hockey team from London, ranked third in Canada, have proven themselves to be mere mortals in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) circuit with two uncharacteristic losses to end the season.
The Mustangs’ 2-1 loss versus York and a 9-5 shootout defeat at the hands of the bottom-ranked University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks are two more signs that the Hawks can use to signal the unthinkable; a series victory in the first round of the playoffs.
They have three chances to win two games. They’ve already done it once before.
A 5-4 win at the Waterloo Recreational Complex on Nov. 19 should be front and centre on the team’s minds as they prepare to face the hockey goliath.
“I expect a skilled team that’s going to make us pay if we don’t play our game,” said the team’s top scorer, Mitchell Good after Saturday’s 3-2 regular season-ending victory over UOIT.
“I think with the way we play our systems, we do have a shot at putting their backs up against the wall and give them a run for it.”
The OUA West first-ranked Western team (21-4-3) won the season series with the Golden Hawks (9-17-2) by way of decisive 9-3 and 7-4 wins earlier in the year. But those victories were both in London.
“We’ve got good players who can score at opportune times and I think if Western’s not careful, we can catch them by surprise,” said the team’s backup netminder Duncan Long, who turned aside 43 of 45 shots in his first OUA win on Saturday.
But in order for the improbable to transform into the possible, head coach Greg Puhalski knows just about everything will have to go right.
“We’re going to have to play a very efficient game and dull the game down a bit,” said the bench boss. “We can’t get into a score-fest with them because we can’t compete with them at that level, so we need to keep it low-scoring; 2-1 or 3-2 type games.”
And in order for the eighth-place Hawks to have any success at all of surmounting the team with at least 15 ex-Canadian Hockey League players, including ex-Kitchener Rangers Julian Cimadamore and Josh Unice, they’ll have to avoid the eye of the officials.
“They’ve really eaten us up on the power-play …. We’ve got to stay out of the box because our penalty killing has been a weak point for us,” said Puhalski.
Laurier’s top line has been as hot as any in the OUA recently with Good, Mitch Lebar and Tyler Stothers racking up the points in their past few games. But they’ll need a chip-in goal (or three) from their other three forward units to beat Western.
“We need contributions from everyone since we don’t score a lot of goals,” said Puhalski.
The Hawks, who have been plagued with injuries since the start of the season, will be without forwards Joe Vanni, Brent Vandenberg, Ben Skinner and Matt Reid.
But the most vital cog in Laurier’s engine is goaltender Ryan Daniels. The Hawks’ most consistent player will be the key to the team’s hopes of defeating the Mustangs.
“[He’s] the backbone of our team and he’s going to take us into the playoffs,” said Good.
Game one is Thursday in London at 7:35 p.m. and game two is at the Waterloo Recreational Complex on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
If necessary, game three will be played back at Western on Sunday at 7:35 p.m.