The Mustangs suffered a heartbreaking 4-2 loss to the Badgers on Saturday night at Thompson Arena.
After being blown out 7-3 on Friday against the Laurier Golden Hawks, Western University went down two goals in under three minutes of action against Brock University.
Badgers forwards Adam Berg and Frank Pucci each beat Luke Peressini before some fans had even taken their seats. However, despite dropping to a quick deficit, head coach Clarke Singer pushed back, saying that his team didn’t start the game on time.
“Well, I take issue with that,” said Singer, when a reporter suggested that the team had trouble getting into the game. “I thought the first goal we had a great forecheck going, they interfered with one of our guys and tripped our second guy so they had a four on three rush on the way home, we couldn't do anything about it. A good shot. Second shot was a bit of a bobble screen shot, so we're down two-nothing early.”
And despite getting outshot 21-8 in the first period, Singer pointed to where Brock took them — with most of the Badger’s shots coming around the perimeter of the ice — as being more important than the raw total.
While the head coach defended his team’s first period, there was no need to stand up for their play in the second. After going down early, the Mustangs settled in during the middle frame as they started to rely on the physical side of the game.
After the game, forward Kolten Olynek noted that establishing physicality often helps him settle into the game – and it seems that sentiment is shared across the team.
The Mustangs cut the Badgers lead in half mid-way through the second as Olynek banged a rebound home on a five-on-three power play.s
After the game, the winger explained that he was simply fulfilling his role on the third-best power play in the Ontario University Athletics.
“Yeah, I'm just kinda over on that side to lurk in the weeds for rebounds and stuff like that," said Olynek. “When I see [Stephen Desrocher] and [Rylan Bechtel] switch sides like that – ‘Roch has the one-timer – I just know to get in front of the net. I just banged it home.”
With the game comfortably in reach as they entered the final frame, the Mustangs continued to build off their strong middle frame. In fact, after the final whistle, Singer explained that he felt the second and third periods of this game were two of the best the team had played all year.
And that strong play eventually led to a game-tying goal for the Mustangs as a quick defensive play set up a beautiful scoring chance.
Defenceman Austin Osmanski stripped a Badgers player and drove the puck into the offensive zone. Bechtel followed his partner and called for a drop pass. The Mustangs captain wound up and unloaded a cannon from the point and beat the Badgers goalie clean.
Asked after the game if he had a certain spot he was shooting for, the defender smiled, then explained: “I just let go.”
Tied at two, the Mustangs and Badgers nearly required overtime to settle the game, but, instead, Brock gave Western a taste of their own medicine. Defenceman Skylar Pacheco blasted home a one-timer from the point with 25 seconds left. Forward Ryan Burton then iced the game 16 seconds later with an empty net goal.
After the game, Olynek explained that the Mustangs needed better defensive commitment in the final minute to prevent the game-winning goal.
“I mean, minute left, we just gotta get in front of the shots,” said Olynek. “We get in front of the shot there, we get the one point, we take it to overtime, I think.”
Aside from the improved play in the second and third periods, a silver lining for the Mustangs in this game was the play of goaltender Peressini. After being pulled from the game against Laurier, Peressini responded with a stellar 46-save performance on Saturday night.
While the goaltender’s play was encouraging, the Mustangs have just nine games remaining in the season and currently sit two points back off the playoffs with a game in hand. As the calendar slowly flips to February, the team will need to trade silver linings for points in the standings.
And in the immediate future, they’ll also have to contend with a difficult schedule to earn those points. Next weekend they are slated for a long road trip to Thunder Bay to play two games against Lakehead University.