The Western Mustangs men's hockey team swept the Windsor Lancers in a home-and-home series this weekend. The Mustangs overcame the Lancers 5–1 on Thursday at Thompson Arena and 4–1 on Saturday in Windsor.
With the pair of weekend victories, Western concluded the first half of their regular season with 19 points, finishing in sole possession of fourth place in the Ontario University Athletics Western Division standings.
Despite a rocky start to their season, the Mustangs completed their first semester schedule with a five-game win streak. In aggregate, Western defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, Brock Badgers and Windsor Lancers 22–8 over that stretch.
The impressive level of offensive firepower was missing somewhat during the start of their season. However, players continually espoused the belief that, with more hard work and better bounces, their offensive skill would eventually shine through.
While the quotes may have seemed like classic hockey clichés regurgitated by a frustrated team, the numbers backed up their claims.
Before the winning streak, the Mustangs sat seventh in the OUA West with a 7.02 per cent shooting percentage. However, over the past five games, the number has crept back up to 8.66 per cent, showing that the team is starting to find some of the holes that eluded them early in the season.
The team has also shown more promise on the road — an area which has plagued them all season — during the win streak. In the past two road games, Western has allowed just two goals.
The shift in defensive dominance is important for the Mustangs since, up to this point in the season, they've been excellent at home (1.70 goals against average) but poor on the road, where they've coughed up a 3.24 goals against average.
After Thursday’s game, head coach Clarke Singer joked that even he wished he had the answers to the struggles the team has faced on the road.
“Good question; I'm sure a lot of coaches wish they had the answer to that question,” admitted Singer when asked about his team’s stark home/road splits. “I think, generally, across sport… teams play a little better at home, and we're no different.”
However, captain Jonathan Laser, with a sarcastic grin, attributed the puzzling splits to the help of the team’s “great fans.”
Both of the weekend’s games also featured an impressive balance of offensive attack for Western. On Thursday, Jonathan Laser, Kolten Olynek (2), Kyle Pettit and Ray Huether found the back of the net. On Saturday, Ethan Szypula, Anthony Stefano, Huether and, remarkably, goaltender Luke Peresinni all finished with a goal.
The spread-out offensive attack has been a constant theme throughout the season, as shown by the team’s point leaders. Entering the Christmas break, each of Stefano, Szypula, Trevor Warnaar and Cordell James have posted double digit point totals, while Olynek, who missed one of the team’s sixteen games, is just behind the 10-plus point pace with nine on the year.
After notching five consecutive victories before the break, an obvious comparison can be made to last year when the team rattled off an impressive seven-game win streak. However, both coaches and players were cautious not to look too far ahead when asked about repeating the impressive performance.
“No, just [focus on the] next day,” said Singer. “That's all we have to do. We have so many things to work on.”
The team’s willingness to stick up for one another has been constant throughout this season. Thursday’s game was a perfect example of the team’s spirit, as they engaged in back-to-back scrums within the final two minutes of the game.
As a result of the extracurriculars, three Mustangs: Mitchell Brooks, Mitchell Fitzmorris and Olynek were sent off early. Fitzmorris tried his best to agitate the Lancers while on the ice, though, as he attempted to throw an opponent’s stick over the glass and onto the indoor track surrounding the rink, only to find that there was protective netting all along the glass.
The Mustangs will return for the second half of their season on Jan. 4 against the Guelph Gryphons at Thompson Arena.