During this post-season, the Mustangs men’s hockey team’s slogan is “change the ending.” On Sunday night, the team took their first step in that journey.
Western University stunned the number-one seed, University of Toronto, winning the first round series 2-1 on the back of consecutive wins on Saturday and Sunday.
In the first game, the Mustangs were blown out 6-2 in Toronto. As the overwhelming favourite, it seemed the Varsity Blues were going to sweep through the first round matchup.
However, with extra time between games one (Wednesday) and two (Saturday), the Mustangs were able to make some key changes to their game plan. The team responded with consecutive 3-1 victories, stealing the series from Toronto.
According to head coach Clarke Singer, the changes between the first and second games would have happened, with or without the extra rest, but the longer stretch allowed more practice time to implement the adjustments.
The alterations clearly worked: the Mustangs suffocated the Varsity Blue's offence — an offence that had been arguably the best in Ontario University Athletics' during the regular season.
The three goals on Saturday were scored by Sean Montgomery, Anthony Stefano and Ethan Szypula. Two of the three goals came with the man advantage, with Szypula’s marker standing as the only even strength marker.
Evan MacEachern scored the lone goal for the Varsity Blues.
While the powerplay was dominant in game two, the Mustang penalty kill was the story of the series.
Playing against the top ranked powerplay in the OUA, Western allowed just one goal while down a man. The Varsity Blues owned a scorching 30.8 per cent powerplay conversion rate in 28 games of the regular season. In three playoff games against the Mustangs, their powerplay converted on just 12.5 per cent of their opportunities.
After shutting out the Varsity Blues special teams on Saturday, Western forward Sean Montgomery commended the Mustang's killers for stepping in front of shots.
“Yeah, I think lots of guys were getting into shooting lanes and any loose pucks we were getting there first,” said Montgomery. “Just working hard, outworking their powerplay.”
Singer added that he was impressed by the forwards on the powerplay, forcing pressure up the ice when the Varsity Blues were trying to break the puck through the neutral zone.
After a strong performance in game two, veteran winger Anthony Stefano explained that the team knew what they needed to win game three.
“Yeah, just, same kinda recipe we had tonight,” Stefano said, when asked what the Mustangs would have to do to win the final game of the series. “We played them physical, we played fast and we played hard. That's what our recipe is: we've got a lot of skilled guys but as long as we bring that compete we're gonna be fine.”
Singer seemed to agree with his forward, commending the work of his bottom-six forwards for setting the mood of the entire team.
“You need the guys that wear the hardhats every single day,” said Singer, when asked about the important of the fourth line.
“They hit every single player, they chip every single puck. I mean, that line of [Kyle] Langdon, [Mitchell Fitzmorris], and Theo [Lewis] have been good for us when they've played together during the year. You know, these first two games, they've been real good for us.”
After the horn sounded, signalling the end of game three, Stefano’s prediction came true: the Mustangs won a tight, defensive standoff.
While the Varsity Blues and Mustangs combined for four goals in game three, every marker came in the final twenty minutes.
Western centreman Kyle Pettit banged a puck across the goal line to give the Mustangs a lead five minutes into the final frame and a few minutes later, Cordell James and Reed Morison flew into the Toronto zone on a two on one.
James threaded a pass to Morrison and the first-year forward ripped the puck behind Toronto goaltender Alex Bishop.
The Varsity Blues managed to cut the lead to one later in the third, but Toronto was unable to notch a second goal. Second-year winger Kenny Huether iced the game with an empty net goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.
After upsetting the Varsity Blues, the Mustangs will move on to play the Ryerson Rams in the second round of the Queen’s Cup playoffs.