The Western Mustangs men's hockey are undefeated in 2019 as they extended their win streak to seven straight this weekend with a pair of wins over the Guelph Gryphons and Toronto Varsity Blues 4-1 and 3-0, respectively, at Thompson Arena.
Although they came out on top in both games, there was a clear difference in play between the two first periods of the two games. Against the Gryphons, the Mustangs looked every bit as rusty as one might expect for a team coming off a month’s rest. The first ten minutes were filled with failed defensive zone exits and missed passes.
However, the team looked much stronger in the first period against the Varsity Blues, consistently hitting passes tape to tape.
Evidence of the difference in play for the Mustangs can be found in the score after twenty minutes. The team was tied 1–1 against Guelph after the first period on Friday but were leading Toronto 1–0 heading into the second frame on Saturday.
However, although they came out with a win on Saturday, the second period left much to be desired, according to assistant coach Patrick Ouellet.
“I'm mostly happy with the third period,” said Ouellette after Saturday’s game. “We were lucky to be up after the second period.”
The key issue in both games was a lack of defensive zone structure. Fortunately for the Mustangs, mental slips are often bailed out by the play of their star net minder, Luke Peressini. According to Ouellet, their goalie is the reason the team has managed to win seven straight.
“He's the reason why we're winning,” explained Ouellet. “I don't think defensively we're really playing solid. We're giving up too much. But his job is to make the saves and that's what he's doing right now, so hopefully he keeps going until the end of the season.”
The development of the Mustangs special teams play was a key takeaway from the weekend matchups. While Western has relied on a solid penalty kill all season, the powerplay has been somewhat lacking.
Currently, Western ranks nineteenth out of twenty teams in Ontario University Athletics with a 10 per cent conversion rate with the man advantage.
However, the team was able to convert on Friday night off a goal by Ethan Szypula. It should be noted that while they were not able to score on Saturday night, the team only had one powerplay chance.
The play of Szypula has been integral to the success of the Mustangs this season. Despite playing in just his first season in U Sports, the forward has racked up 15 points in 18 games. The point total ranks him just behind Anthony Stefano’s team-leading 18 points on the year. Although he is inexperienced in the league, the winger explained that he expected nothing less of himself this season.
“That's something that I wanted to do,” Szypula said on the prospect of leading the team in points. “Coming in, I have high expectations of myself… I wanted to come in here and be a force. That's something that I want to do and that's something I want to continue to do for the years that I'm here.”
Another small victory for Western on Friday was Mitchell Fitzmorris scoring his first goal of the year. The third-year winger, who is known more for his defensive play, was happy to have the pressure of a slow offensive start off his back.
“Monkey off the back for sure,” said Fitzmorris. “Nobody wants to go the whole first half without scoring. But it happens. I had a slow start last year and, at the end of the day, I feel like I'm contributing in other ways… you score when you score, and, if not, you've got to find other ways to help the team out.”
With four points in two games, the Mustangs currently sit third in the OUA West Division, just two points back of the Ryerson Rams. While Ouellet was not ready to start watching the standings, he was happy to see the team closing distance on the Rams.
“With Ryerson losing again tonight we're getting real close to them,” said Ouellet. ‘If you would ask me at the break if we were ever going to catch Ryerson I would have said no.”
The Mustangs will have a chance to defend their winning streak and move up in the OUA standings next Friday in a special school day game against the Laurier Golden Hawks at 11:30 a.m. at Thompson Arena.