The Western Mustangs men's hockey team secured third in the Ontario University Athletics West Division this weekend after splitting a weekend back-to-back against the Lakehead Thunderwolves at Thompson Arena. The Mustangs won the first matchup 4–2 but dropped the following game 5–1.
Friday’s victory over the Thunderwolves was huge for the Mustangs, as it locked up home ice advantage for the first round of the OUA playoffs.
Last year, the Mustangs lost an opportunity to play the opening round at home after losing the final two games of the regular season. This previous disappointment provided an important lesson for this year’s squad, though, according to assistant coach Patrick Ouellet.
“Like I said, last year I thought we played a really good Game 1 in Ryerson; we didn't get the result. We come back, and we had a 5–1 win in Game 2, and then we have to play in their barn for Game 3 and that changes the whole dynamic of the series,” explained Ouellet. “Now we have that advantage for the first round.”
Interestingly, Kenny Huether, one of the Mustangs goal scorers on Friday night, was sparked in part by playing on a line with his older brother, Ray.
“It's pretty cool,” said the younger Huether about playing with his brother. “It's awesome playing with him and seeing a familiar face there,… it's surreal."
Although the team broke through for four goals in the game, the penalty kill was truly the most dominating force all night. Not only was the unit stifling the opposing power play, they were also creating chances on their own.
In fact, second-year defenceman Adam Sinclair had a short-handed breakaway in the game but was unable to convert. After the game, the former forward joked about losing his offensive flair since moving back to the blue line.
Of course, offensive skill has not completely alluded the sophomore, as he was able to score a nice goal in the second period.
The score was finally settled by Spenser Cobbold in the final frame. The veteran winger fired home one goal early in the third and then iced the game with an empty netter.
Cobbold’s big night on the scoresheet didn’t carry over to Saturday, but the fourth-year forward was honoured as a graduating senior before the game. Cobbold, Jonathan Laser, Trevor Warnaar, Trent Ouellette and Ray Huether were each given a gift and recognized before the crowd.
With five graduating seniors, the group was allowed to take the opening draw together in their final regular season game. The group featured four forwards and one defenceman, though, forcing Ouellette to the back end to start the game.
Lakehead quickly iced the puck off the drop, and the fourth-year forward returned to the bench with a sheepish grin, allowing a defenceman to take his place.
While the seniors have played their final regular season game in Thompson Arena, Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer noted how important the group will soon be in the playoffs.
“Those guys … were the last group of guys to play in a Queen's Cup and a national championship,” explained Singer. “We're going to need them not only on the ice but as well as between periods, during the week, after maybe a tough loss, after a tough period. The veteran group you have is critically important,… and we're looking forward to them leading the way for us.”
One of those seniors, fifth-year winger Warnaar, offered a sneak peak of the advice he could offer to young players experiencing their first taste of the OUA playoffs.
“I mean, the biggest thing that we'll be telling the guys is that it’s a best-of-three series — it goes by quick,” said Warnaar. “You play a series a week, right? So, if you don't come out ready to go and you find yourself in a hole trying to claw back in the next Game 2 and 3 then that's not a spot we want to be in. So, just making sure that everybody is ready to go right away.
However, on a night focused on the seniors, it was Alex Di Carlo, a first-year defenceman, who scored the lone Western marker.
The Western Mustangs will begin their hunt in the OUA playoffs on Thursday night at Thompson Arena against the Lauier Golden Hawks at 7 p.m.