The Western Mustangs may have received their wake-up call at the perfect time this weekend. After receiving an ugly 5–1 drubbing at the hands of the Laurier Golden Hawks on Friday afternoon, the team came back the following night with a hard-fought 2–1 victory over the York Lions.
Friday afternoon’s school day game drew a large crowd comprised of students from 26 different elementary schools. The electric atmosphere didn’t help the team as much as head coach Clarke Singer expected, though.
“I thought [Laurier] jumped on us early, and I thought that might have been the opposite given the energy and the emotion with the 3,000 kids out there,” said Singer on his team's performance.
Despite what their coach might have expected, the Mustangs never had the energy or tenacity necessary to effectively battle the Golden Hawks. The lack of desire was most exposed on the man advantage, as the team negated two power play opportunities after committing penalties on Golden Hawks short-handed rushes.
“Unacceptable,” Singer bluntly stated in reference to the power play issues. “We have a good opportunity, and 20 seconds later that opportunity is taken away.… We're shooting ourselves in the foot, for sure.”
However, while Western lacked offence, the true trouble spot was their defensive coverage. By the end of 60 minutes, the Mustangs had allowed 50 shots on goal. After the game, third-year winger Mitchell Brooks was forced to hold his tongue while describing the team’s support of their goaltender, Luke Peressini.
“I can't tell you what I said to him because there [were] a couple expletives in there,… but I said I was brutal,” explained Brooks. “There [were] three goals that were directly my fault, and as a veteran guy that's unacceptable.”
The sentiment that Brooks expressed was clearly felt across the entire locker room, though, as the team came out with much more passion and energy to open an important matchup against the Lions.
Coming into the game, the Lions sat just one point up on the Mustangs in the Ontario University Athletics West Division standings.
Therefore, with important points on the line, and a tie game through 20 minutes of play, the second and third periods were tight, physical and emotionally heated.
The Western penalty killers dominated in the defensive showdown. York's chances were stymied and, even more impressively, converted into Mustangs short-handed rushes. All told, the special teams unit shut out the Lions on six opportunities with the man advantage.
Perhaps fittingly, the group that dominated the game from the start ended up securing two points and sole possession of third place in the division for the Mustangs.
With just under two minutes remaining, Kolten Olynek was sent to the box for boarding. It seemed as if Western was faced with a no-win scenario. If they killed the penalty and forced overtime, at worst, York would gain another all-important point in the standings.
However, Cordell James, seemingly dissatisfied with the defeatist narrative, broke off on a short-handed breakaway with a minute remaining in regulation. The second-year forward potted his third of the year and secured the win for Western.
Unfortunately, the game-winning goal only oxygenated the hot coals of anger developing between the two teams. Western and York went back and forth with chippy, harsh play in the final minute.
While the Mustangs came away with a victory in the game, the team suffered a loss as the result of a questionable physical play. Team captain Jonathan Laser was administered a match penalty for spearing a York player in the groin area.
After the game, assistant coach Patrick Ouellet explained that the Mustangs expect Laser to receive a suspension for his actions.
The Mustangs will have a rematch with the York Lions next Friday at Canlan Ice Sports Arena at 7 p.m. With a quick turnaround from a passionate, physical game, Spenser Cobbold admitted that he expects some emotion to carry over.
“I think there will be a little bit of bad blood,” said Cobbold. “Yeah, it's exciting — looking forward to it.”