In a game riddled by penalties, it was the Western Mustangs women's hockey team that came out on top on Saturday, defeating the first-place Guelph Gryphons in overtime.
In the first period, it was evident that the Mustangs came ready to play. April Clark and Sydnee Baker immediately created a scoring chance off the opening face-off, but it was denied by Guelph goaltender Valerie Lamenta.
“We started out better than we did last weekend, in terms of our speed, and our pace and tempo, which was great to see,” said Mustangs head coach Candice Moxley.
Then, after a few minutes of offensive pressure in the Gryphons zone, the referees got to work.
Going into this game, it was crucial for the Mustangs to stay out of the penalty box, as Guelph's lethal power play sits second in the Ontario University Athletics. However, the Mustangs knew what to expect on the penalty kill, so even after taking the first penalty of the game, their confidence didn't waver.
“We watched a lot of video on their power play, and we knew what their tendencies were, and we were able to expect and know what was happening, so we were in good spots,” said Moxley of the team’s preparation going into the game.
The Mustangs were able to kill that first penalty off, and eventually let in only one goal on six penalty kill attempts.
Rachel Armstrong was one of three goal scorers of the night for Western, beautifully backhanding the puck top shelf into the net to get the Mustangs on the board on their first power play of the game.
“It's always huge, especially for that [power play] unit itself," said Moxley on Armstrong's goal. "I know they were struggling early on, but they have a lot of fire power, and they just have to have confidence in shooting the puck and knowing that there's going to be bodies in front of the net to get the finish. Rachel’s dangerous in tight, and she proved that tonight."
The Mustangs second goal of the game came from their leading goal scorer, Clark. After tallying an assist on Armstrong's goal, her game-tying score elevated her point total to 27 on the season.
Although the goal scoring would settle down in the third frame, the penalties ramped up. The Mustangs were called for five infractions, including one for too many players on the ice, while the Gryphons were only whistled for one. Freshman Brooke DiCicco took a holding penalty with three minutes to go in the period.
Denials at both ends brought the final frame to a close, and with a tie on the scoreboard, it was anyone’s game.
The Mustangs kept possession of the puck for the first bit of overtime, creating a few great scoring chances. However, after failing to capitalize on a power play, they were starting to get tired and desperate.
Finally, with just over a minute left in overtime, team captain Evra Levesque came in with the game-winning goal, receiving the puck from DiCicco and faking out the goalie before sliding it home, a move she had tried earlier in the game.
“I think it was just the angle from where it came. The first time I didn't have that great of an angle, so she didn't bite as much, and then the second time, I think [the goaltender] was also tired, so she really bit, and then was just out of the net,” said Levesque on her game-winning goal.
Before the game, the Mustangs had lost all four times that they had gone on to play in the extra frames — twice in overtime and twice in a shootout. Therefore, it would have been understandable if the Mustangs were gripping their sticks just a little bit too tight. However, Armstrong thought it helped propel them further.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking, I mean, it makes us want to win even more [though], and to win against Guelph in overtime is just the best.”
After the game, Moxley expressed her satisfaction with her team’s play, highlighting the improvements from all the special teams units and the team’s perseverance.
“Our character's starting to show, which is great. We had adversity early on with this team, where we're in overtimes games, and we weren't able to pull out the wins, but this one tonight, I hope it builds a lot of confidence within our players, knowing the fact that they can get the job done in those last minutes.”
With 35 shots apiece, the game certainly didn’t lack pace. Second-year goaltender Carmen Lasis, who has been the Mustangs starting goaltender this season, has been outstanding for the team, and her performance wasn't lost on her teammates.
“Like always she's been a big component of our team," said Levesque. "She's been stepping up big time, especially today, so obviously she's one of the most important players, and hopefully she keeps going with what she's been doing all season."
The main takeaway from the Mustangs 3–2 defeat over the Gryphons has to be confidence.
“They’re a top team. We played with them, we outplayed them," said Moxley. "There's times where you have to build on those moments moving forward, and knowing the fact that we can get it done against top teams in our league, we need to come with that attitude every day.”
Now sitting eight points behind the Gryphons, the Mustangs are aiming for a second-place finish in the OUA, with three games remaining in the regular season. However, with Ryerson, Nipissing and Toronto tight on their heels in the points race, the Mustangs will have to continue their push right until the end of the season.