The Western Mustangs women’s hockey team’s season has come to an end after losing a three-game series to the Toronto Varsity Blues in the second round of the Ontario University Athletics’ playoffs.
The Varsity Blues played a tough, physical game that was effective in stifling much of the speed and skill of the Mustangs, but the scores were relatively close for all three games as the Mustangs' offence was able to power through.
In the first game, no scoring occurred in the first period, which was a trend throughout the rest of the series. After no goals in the second frame either, Varsity Blues forward Kiyono Cox scored on a breakaway early in the third, hampering the mood of the Mustangs. Toronto then went on to capitalize on a power play, with Mathilde De Serres putting the puck past Western net-minder Carmen Lasis, before sealing the deal with an empty-net goal by Taylor Trussler.
It was a frustrating game for the Mustangs. The physicality was evident early on, and it seemed like the referees were aware of it as well as they kept their whistles quiet on several missed calls that had the entire crowd on its feet. Additionally, the Mustangs had a goal that was waved down after the referee had blown dead the play, despite the fact that the puck was still loose and had trickled over the goal line into the Varsity Blues net.
Head coach Candice Moxley was well aware of the style of game that the Varsity Blues brought to the table but didn’t attribute the loss just to that factor.
"Ultimately, we didn't move the puck as quickly as we wanted to," said Moxley. "It was unfortunate that we had that goal called back, but at the end of the day, we need to put goals behind their goaltender and we just didn't do that tonight.”
Both Moxley and fourth-year senior Shailyn Waites were unimpressed with the lack of consistency of the refereeing that night, but emphasized that it was their inability to create chances and score that cost them the game.
“I think we just need more shots on net,” Waites asserted. “We're worrying about the extra passes. We just need more shots to test [Varsity Blues goalie Erica Fryer] out more.”
Even though the Mustangs’ season was on the line, the team had previously beaten the Varsity Blues in their own barn during the regular season, so the team entered the second, and possibly last, game with confidence.
The second game started off much like the first, as both teams traded penalties in a tight game. It all started break loose in the second period, as Beatrice Arsenault-Dufour sent a stretch pass to rookie Emma Suitor, who went up one-on-one against an opposing defender before firing off a rocket to beat Fryer. This goal brought a huge sense of relief for the team, who had yet to score in the series. The Mustangs continued to capitalize on their momentum, as Rachel Armstrong and Evra Levesque added two more goals in the third frame. Western net-minder Carmen Lasis was just five minutes away from a shutout when the Jessica Robichaud managed to squeak a puck through the five-hole, but that was all the Varsity Blues managed to produce on offence, as the Mustangs closed out the game in enemy territory to bring the tiebreaker home to Thompson Arena.
In the final game of the series, tensions were running high as both teams took two penalties each in the first period. Western’s penalty killing units were magnificent in stopping the Varsity Blues’ power play, but the Varsity Blues second place penalty kill was also able to stifle the efforts of the Mustangs. The second period saw Robichaud score her second goal of the series after sloppy play resulted in a turnover by the Mustangs. However, they were able to make up for it by capitalizing on the power play, as forward Sydnee Baker, who was hanging out tight in the crease next to Fryer, was able to bank one home.
Heading into the third period with a tie, the teams knew that whoever scored next was likely to win the series. While the physical play continued, no penalties were called, so the battle came at even-strength for the two teams. Finally, with 6:46 to go in the game, Varsity Blues player Julia Szulewska received a cross-ice pass in front of Lasis, and shot it in past the left pad, sealing the Mustangs’ fate. They would continue to battle it out in the final minutes of the game, but it was clear that the game was over. As the Varsity Blues celebrated on the ice to cheers from supportive fans who had travelled to London for the game, the Mustangs gave their own home crowd a final salute before exiting the ice for the last time of their season.
“It's actually heartbreaking,” said Moxley, immediately after the loss. “I thought they deserved more than the outcome they saw today, but unfortunately at the end, you win some and you lose some.”
Coach Moxley was particularly disappointed in the outcome for her graduating seniors Anthea Lasis, Edie Levesque, Evra Levesque, Catherine O’Connor and Shailyn Waites, who played a big part in helping her settle into her first year coaching at Western. However, looking back at the season the team had, she was proud of what they had achieved.
“If you look at our season as a whole and you step away from this game, I think we had a great season,” said Moxley. “Finishing second in this league with the competitiveness that's there, I think it's something to be said and something to build on for the future. We're returning quite a few players that log a number of minutes for us, so in terms of potential, I think we have a great crew returning.”
Even though the Mustangs ended their season with a heartbreaking loss, they have a lot to look forward to in the future. Having put up a record of 15–9 during the regular season this year, and improving on last year’s third place finish by placing second in the OUA, the Mustangs put up an outstanding performance overall. They’ll now recharge and look ahead towards the next season, where they’ll again be looking to win their way to Prince Edward Island for the 2020 U SPORTS Championships.