‘Ugly’ series win takes Hawks to quarterfinals

It was not pretty. And in truth, at times it was downright ugly; but they got the job done. The Laurier Golden Hawks men’s hockey team advanced to the second round of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs on Sunday night with a 2-1 victory in game three over the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks.

The best-of-three series was a close as it could possibly be. In game one, on Feb. 17th, Hawks net-minder Ryan Daniels made 35 saves, but the skaters in front of him were lethargic and sluggish, allowing themselves to be outshot 37-29, and defeated 2-1 in overtime. Rookie Zach Woolford notched Laurier’s only marker in a goalmouth scramble, but Kyle Wetering’s overtime winner gave the visitors from Oshawa an upset victory.

Game two was played the next night in Oshawa and for Laurier it was do-or-die. A loss would have eliminated them. And in front of a very hostile and raucous pro-UOIT crowd, the task for the young Hawks was tall.

Yet somehow they found a way.

It still took until mid-way through the second period for the Hawks to find some energy and desperation, and a tally only 48 seconds into the middle frame by Ridgeback speedster Jeremy Whelan had Laurier doubting. However a goal from unsung hero Woolford at the 10:56 mark of the second frame to tie it at one gave the purple and gold new life, and they began to engage in the energetic cycle game that head coach Greg Puhalski had been preaching all year long.

“We need to stick to our systems and had has been making us successful all year,” commented eventual hero Matthew Reid. “We need to keep it simple.”

In the third, sophomore stud Daniels was absolute brilliant again in the Laurier net, as the Hawks were outshot 11-7 in the period. Nevertheless, Laurier was beginning to play their own game instead of trying to react to UOIT’s chippy, slow-paced style; and there was a sense of confidence in the purple clad warriors heading into sudden death overtime.

“Ryan Daniels had a great game,” said Puhalski. “We need him to be where he has been in this series to continue on for sure.”

The Hawks were solid in overtime, and two minutes into the second OT another unsung hero emerged to give Laurier another life. Seldom used Markham-native Reid picked up a pass at the Ridgeback blue line from team captain Jean-Michel Rizk, and roared in alone to score the biggest goal of his university hockey career thus far.

“It’s a great feeling,” Reid added. “Mitch [Good] made a great chip off the wall, and [Jean-Michel] Rizk threw it into the middle; it was a great play by two talented guys.”

The first and second periods of game three back in Waterloo were all Laurier as the Hawks outshot UOIT 27-11. Golden Hawk assistant captain Colin Williams scored what would prove to be the only first period goal of the series 16:18 into the game after converting a rebound after Mitchell Good showed his dynamism by blazing into the Ridgeback zone, and heading straight at UOIT goalie Jason Guy.

Former Erie Otter and professionally experienced Ridgeback forward Derrick Bagshaw fired home a nice one-timer on the power play at the 4:30 mark of the second period, but Rizk responded just under two minutes later, snapping a behind-the-net feed from game two hero Matthew Reid past Guy to restore the Hawk lead.

“Today was by far our best game,” mentioned Puhalski. “I thought we competed hard for 60 minutes, and it was nice for us to save our best game of the series for the third game. A deserving victory…”

UOIT pressed hard in the third period, but Daniels and company stood firm to give Laurier a hard-fought series win. All three games finished with the score of 2-1, and in two of the three games the Ridgebacks outshot the Hawks.

“Goals don’t often come easy in the playoffs,” said Daniels after game three. “We just need to buy into our system defensively, not turn the pucks over down low, make simple plays, and that is how the series ended up in our favour.”

With the round one victory, Laurier moves on to face the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year: the Guelph Gryphons. Guelph, who defeated Brock in three games in their first round match-up, struggled early in the season but came on extremely strong down the final stretch of games, defeating Laurier twice, as well as Western, Lakehead, and Waterloo in that period of time. Game one goes Thursday evening at the Waterloo Recreation Complex.