The Western Mustangs women's hockey team's four-game win streak came to an end on Sunday as they lost 2–1 at home to the Laurentian Voyageurs. That game, along with their 2–1 overtime win over the Nipissing Lakers on Saturday, moves their record to 9–2–4–2, good enough for third in the Ontario University Athletics.
That's not good enough, however, to be named in the U Sports top 10 national rankings. While three other OUA teams — the Guelph Gryphons, Queen's Gaels and Brock Badgers — were featured in the most recent list, the Mustangs were on the outside looking in. Even the Badgers, who sit one point below Western in the standings, were rated the tenth-best team in Canada.
None of this would be much cause for concern in a normal year: the Mustangs have a strong record, and they're among the top contenders in the OUA. This is no normal year, though.
Regardless of how they fare in the Ontario playoffs, the Mustangs will host the U Sports national championship at Western University's Thompson Arena in March. Similar to a Memorial Cup host in the Canadian Hockey League, the host team of the U Sports tournament gets about two years' notice to build a team that will stand a chance against the country's best.
This past weekend, Western took on a pair of middle-of-the-pack teams and came out with two of a possible six points. Guelph managed to vault past the Mustangs with a five-point weekend to extend their winning streak to six games. They now sit one point ahead of Western, with a game in hand to boot.
All season long, the Mustangs have hovered near the top of the OUA in most statistical categories. They've scored the second-most goals this year (45), and their penalty kill is at a very successful 90.5 per cent.
Western's power-play also ranks among the best in Ontario, although they haven't been all too successful of late. They had eight power plays between the Nipissing and Laurentian games, but they scored just once — an Amanda Pereira goal to put them up 1–0 over the Lakers.
A good power play operates at around 20 per cent. Overall, the Mustangs are scoring on 20.6 percent of their opportunities, good for second in the league. This weekend, though, they only scraped 12.5 per cent. For a team as offensively dynamic as Western, they'll need to improve that statistic as they head into the homestretch of the season.
The women's hockey team has just seven games left in the regular season, and just one of those games, an away contest on Jan. 21 at Queen's University, is against a team in the top half of the standings. Other than that, it should be relatively smooth sailing to the playoffs for Western.
Although they're already guaranteed a place at the national championship, the Mustangs don't want to bow out early. An exit in the first round of the OUA playoffs could mean three weeks without a game, and rust can be a killer in a single-elimination tournament like the U Sports competition.
Building up some momentum heading into March would certainly help mould Western into a title contender when they host the championship.
The Mustangs' next game is on Saturday, Jan. 20. They'll be in Oshawa to take on the UOIT Ridgebacks.