For the second straight year, the Mustangs lost in the OUA West division final to the Gryphons.
Western University won 4-3 at home in game two, but dropped games one and three – by scores of 2-1 and 4-3, respectively – to Guelph University.
Remarkably, the men’s hockey team – who started the playoffs as the eight-seed – have one more chance to book their ticket to the U Sport national championship in Halifax, N.S.
The team will play for third in the OUA next weekend against the Concordia Stingers, with the winner continuing to the U Sports championship tournament.
After game two, head coach Clark Singer explained that he felt an obligation to make nationals for his three fourth year players – Mitchell Fitzmorris, Rylan Bechtel and Luke Peressini.
“That group of seniors right now is the only group of seniors in my career that has not been to a national championship yet,” Singer said on Saturday.
“I think every group whose come in and played for four years has got an opportunity to play for a championship and go to the nationals. So, it's an important game tomorrow for these three. Hopefully get these guys, these three, the same opportunity.”
The team wasn’t able to capitalize the next day, but the series was not a failure. As a heavy underdog, the Mustangs performed admirably.
There were no lopsided scores and Western nearly won the series outright in game three after taking a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
The Mustangs couldn’t hold on to the one-goal margin throughout the final frame, though, and the Gryphons tucked in three unanswered in under ten minutes, seizing a 4-2 lead.
Mustangs forward Anthony Stefano cut the lead to one with a little over a minute and a half remaining in regulation, but Western was unable to notch the tying marker.
It was a disappointing end to a remarkable run through the Ontario University Athletics' West playoffs. The Mustangs ran the gauntlet of the division – playing the first, second and third seed, in that order – and came two goals shy of pulling off the victory.
Goaltending and special teams are a major focus of every playoff series, but they were particularly important for the underdog Mustangs all postseason.
Of the final four teams in the OUA playoffs, the Mustangs had the second best power play and team save percentage, as well as the third best penalty kill.
In what was likely his final few games in purple and white, Peressini was nearly unbeatable.
The goaltender set playoff career bests in goals against average and save percentage over the nine games – turning in a 2.49 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
The other two seniors — Bechtel and Fitzmorris — were cogs in a dominant penalty kill that turned aside 87.1 per cent of their opponents opportunities. In the final series, the Mustangs allowed just one goal while down a man.
Bechtel also scored the Mustangs lone power play marker in the Guelph series during game two. The Western captain was the only player to beat the Gryphons penalty kill during the 2020 postseason.
After Saturday’s victory, Singer emphatically repeated that the Mustangs wanted to change the ending with a victory on Sunday. Even though Western lost, the ending is not yet decided.
The Mustangs have one final game against Concordia University remaining.
The OUA bronze medal game will start at 3 p.m. at Thompson Arena. The winner will book their ticket to Halifax.