Women’s hockey clinches top spot

It would be very easy for Kristen Kilgallen to become frustrated with her place on Laurier’s first-place women’s hockey team.

Backing up reigning Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) player of the year Liz Knox, Kilgallen hadn’t seen a single regular season start until Jan. 23rd. But when the second-year was called on, she was called on in a big way.

With Knox, along with forward Candice Styles and defenceman Alicia Martin, in Turkey competing for Team Canada at the Winter Universiade, the seldom-used Kilgallen was called upon to help her team clinch first in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings for the eighth-straight year.

“I had some big shoes to fill that’s for sure,” said Kilgallen of filling in for Knox. “But I was pumped from day one to get my chance to show everyone what I can do.”

When her team needed her most, Kilgallen responded, posting a 4-1 record in her five consecutive starts, with a 6-0 shutout win over the Windsor Lancers on Sunday providing the exclamation point, clinching first place for the Hawks.

“Kristen hasn’t played a whole lot of hockey over the past two years because with Knox ahead of her, it’s not a statement about [Kilgallen’s] skill level, it’s more of a statement of how good Knox is,” said Laurier head coach Rick Osborne.

“[Kilgallen] grew stronger as the games progressed and to finish it off with an 18-save shutout is really pleasing. That’s really the last piece of the puzzle, having that depth at that position.”

In addition to missing key players like Knox, Styles and Martin, the Hawks were also hit by a flu bug which caused top-line winger Caitlin Muirhead to miss Sunday’s game, while according to Osborne, team captain Abby Rainsberry and veteran centre Katherine Shirriff also weren’t 100 per cent.

“They were sick, they were tired, but everyone really hung in there,” said Osborne. “The old reliables were steady game in, game out and then there were different people that would step up every game, when we needed it.”

Sunday’s game also saw the 19th goal of the season for Hawks’ rookie Laura Brooker, tying her for first in the nation. Osborne, however, is impressed by more than just where the first-year ranks in CIS scoring.

“It’s not so much that she leads the country,” he said. “She’s been scoring big goals, short-handed goals, game-winners and back-breaking goals to the opposition.”

Five different Hawks — Shirriff, Heather Fortuna, Devon Skeats, Tammy Freiburger, Vanessa Schabkar — accounted for the other Laurier goals on the night, highlighting the team effort that has propelled the Hawks while they were missing the starting goalie and two key players.

“I was really proud of the players that needed to step up knowing that we had players out of the lineup,” said Osborne. “I saw the depth that we have and that we’ve been seeing all season long.”

The Hawks conclude their regular season this Friday versus Waterloo. Knox and Styles will be back in the lineup, with Knox expected to get the start, while Martin is questionable with an illness.

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