WLU men’s hockey eliminated in first round

If at the beginning of the year you had said that the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s hockey team would be booted out of the first round of the playoffs by the Guelph Gryphons, you would have been branded insane.

Although the Gryphons’ coaching staff reloaded the program by adding seven Canadian Hockey League veterans, nobody expected them to come together this fast.

Nevertheless, with a third consecutive Guelph victory at the Waterloo Recreational Complex on the evening of Feb.21, the youthful Gryphons took the series in three, winning the final match by a score of 5-3. Timely goaltending and a strong offensive game plan that focused on capitalizing on forced Laurier turnovers gave Guelph the edge, as Laurier was unable in games one and three to win at home.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” commented a resigned Laurier captain Jean-Michel Rizk. “We should have showed up, we should have been better.”

Guelph forwards Edward Gale and Kris Belan shared the series lead in scoring with four points apiece. Leading the way for the Hawks – who failed to find timely scoring throughout the first and third games – was season scoring leader Paul Bradley, who notched a goal and two assists.

Veteran net-minder Scott Van Bommel was superb in the Gryphons’ net. He stopped 85 out of 91 shots over the three games, good enough for a .934 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.00.

“It is to Guelph’s credit,” Rizk continued. “Their goalie played great. He stood on his head; we fired everything we could at him and he was ready.”

Fifth-year goaltender Jeff MacDougald played every minute in the series for the Hawks and was solid in the face of a tremendous Gryphon offensive storm. He kept the team in the games, stopping 102 of 110 shots for a save percentage of .927.

Nevertheless, MacDougald, who in his second year was named a Tournament All-Star at the National Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, allowed some soft goals in the third game – including an unscreened point-shot from just inside the blue line by Guelph rookie Matt Lyall that turned out to be the game-winner in game three.

“It’s emotional obviously,” MacDougald began. “It’s been a great four and a half years at Laurier. I’m frustrated that it ended a bit shorter [this year] than we expected, but looking back, these years at Laurier have been the best four and a half years of my life.”

This season was one of the worst in recent memory as the Hawks only beat top-three Western Conference competition twice all year, compared to eight defeats. There are, however, many positives to take from the year as the recruits who made their debut were given key experience, and were in many ways at the heart of the team.

“A lot of rookies played real well this year,” said Rizk. “You think about Jason Bergeron and Mitchell Good and our young defensive corps as well as [Ryan] Daniels in net, there are a lot of positives that can be taken.”