WLU women’s hockey back to finding their foundations

After an uncharacteristic year, women’s hockey looks to return to top of OUA with new recruits

File Photo by Will Huang
File Photo by Will Huang

For the last ten years, Wilfrid Laurier’s women’s hockey team and head coach Rick Osborne were always near the top of the Ontario University Athletics standings. As the 2014 season came to a close, the Hawks found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

Laurier finished the season in sixth place — a surprise considering they finished at the top of the OUA in most goals scored with their high-octane offence and ability to finish around the net.

However come the end of the winter break, the Hawks’ performance fell into a tailspin. After taking some tough losses against teams they never had trouble playing against and losing their top goal scorer to the 2015 Winter Universiade for the last leg of the season, the Hawks slipped.

“The foundation of what we pride ourselves in our team; low goals against average, being really tough, taking care of our own end first, was really challenged and it is something that we are uneasy as the head coach of our team. It’s always been ‘Laurier’s so hard to play against’ and I’m not sure we were as tough to play against as we should have been last year,” Osborne said.

Additionally, Osborne felt that the Hawks weren’t winning enough races or battles, and needed to improve their puck possession.

The 2015 incoming recruit class is built to address these concerns.

This class features three forwards, four defenders and a goaltender while also leaving opportunity for two other invitees to make the team when training camp starts in September. When choosing his recruit class, Osborne focused on adding depth to the blueline and the goaltender position.

According to Osborne, he has been trading emails with many of these athletes for a number of years, working with them and outlining specific things that he likes to see in players before they come play for Laurier.

“When you have that big of a class you can’t make too many mistakes,” he said.

The class features three centres in Rebecca Haddaway, Madison MacCulloch and Kaitlyn Hatzes. Haddaway echoes the strengths of current centres Jessie Hurrell and Robyn Degagne, in being strong in the faceoff circle, special teams and can play a 200-foot game, while MacCulloch is quick on her feet and strong in the faceoff circle. Hatzes is a player dedicated to the game, reminding Osborne of alumna Abby Rainsberry and her burning desire to win.

On the blueline, Giuliana Pallotta is a poised player, transferring from Minnesota and is projected to be a top-two defender. She is joined by Megan Kingston and Cassandra Calabreese, two defenders that are very quick on their feet, and Morgan Bates, the last defender to join the team, is strong on the penalty kill.

Rounding off the class is goaltender Lauren Webber, a strong netminder who rounds out the Hawks goaltending depth and can motivate Amanda Smith and Nicholle Kovach to compete for a starting position.

More than ever, the recruiting process must focus on intangibles. With teams like Western and Guelph getting stronger and the OUA continuing to get more competitive, the little things count more.

“Small things make a difference. Intangibles are bigger than ever. If you didn’t do your work in the summer it’s going to show at training camp,” Osborne said.

“The players are bigger, are stronger, if you play a team like Western, they are huge. When you get them big, that can be a little bit intimidating to some players, and it’s really important to find players that can meet that challenge head on and come out on top.”

All of these recruits possess the exact traits Osborne is looking for; willingness to go into the blue paint, footspeed, toughness, and the ability to empty the tank every night only to fill it again and ready to go the next night. Even though Osborne is proud of his team, he knows that things need to change if the Hawks want to reclaim their spot at the top of the standings.

“I just have the greatest respect for all the players that are playing on our team,” Osborne said. “But our team traditionally has been in the top three or four in the country, and we have always been at the top of the OUA standings.”

“Even though it’s really close, we have just fallen too much in the last couple of years, they either have to change their training habits and performance levels or they have to be challenged by it.”

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