The Western Mustangs men's hockey team will start a three-game series against the Guelph Gryphons on Thursday night at Thompson Arena. The winner will be crowned as the Ontario University Athletics West Division champion and earn the right to play in the Queen’s Cup championship game.
Western and Guelph split their season series this year, trading blowouts on their respective home ice. The Mustangs beat the Gryphons 4–1 at Thompson Arena on Jan. 4, while Guelph won their second meeting 7–1 at the Gryphon Centre in Guelph.
As the top seed remaining in the OUA West, the Mustangs have earned home ice advantage in the series.
Interestingly, though, unlike most squads, the Gryphons are much better on the road. In fact, Guelph was a dismal 5–9 on home ice but a much better 8–6 while playing away.
Western’s splits were somewhat less stark, in terms of win-loss record, finishing 8–6 at home and an even 7–7 away from London. The key difference for the Mustangs at home has been the play of their goaltenders.
Western struggled to a .883 save percentage and 3.88 goals against average on the road. However, back on home ice, the netminders churned out a great .934 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average.
Similar to the Mustangs, the Gryphons do not have one overwhelming leader on the offensive side of the puck. Instead, Guelph has received 20-plus point performances from four separate forwards.
Also, the Gryphons have not received much offence off the back end. In 27 games, Jesse Saban led the Guelph defensive corps with just one goal and eight assists.
The lack of offensive capability on the blue line has been compensated by defensive prowess, though. Throughout the regular season, Guelph ranked third in the OUA in both goals against and penalty kill percentage.
The Gryphons impressive 90.9 per cent PK success rate is a scary sight for the Mustangs; Western had just started to find their groove with the man advantage.
Fortunately for Western, though, Guelph’s power play has been dormant all season. Through 28 games, the unit notched 14 goals — converting to a weak 13 per cent success rate. The Gryphons have continued to struggle with the man advantage in the postseason as well, scoring just three goals in five games.
Even though the Gryphons are not overflowing with offensive skill, Western’s goaltender Luke Peressini will receive a heavy workload.
During the regular season, Guelph fired a league leading 1,082 shots on net, converting to an impressive 38.8 shots per game. Curiously, though, these shots have not necessarily been quality chances; the team only scored 84 goals, ranking them 10th in the OUA.
However, Guelph has found another offensive gear in the post-season. Through five games against the Windsor Lancers and Ryerson Rams, the Gryphons averaged 4.20 goals per game — 1.20 more than they averaged during the regular season.
Western will answer this high-flying offence with suffocating defence. Through five Queen’s Cup games, the Mustangs have averaged two goals against and Peressini has produced an incredible .936 save percentage.
The opening puck drop of the series will take place on Thursday night at 7 p.m.