The Western Mustangs defeated the Laurentian Voyageurs 6–0 on Saturday afternoon and the Nipissing Lakers 2–1 on Sunday. With the pair of weekend victories the Mustangs vaulted themselves into a tie for first atop the Ontario University Athletics standings with the Guelph Gryphons.
The Voyageurs were never truly competitive on Saturday as the Mustangs out-skated, outshot and outworked their competition.
The difference in speed and success on the offensive cycle was perhaps the strongest aspect of Western’s game. Interestingly, this area was a focus in practice this past week, according to Mustangs head coach Candice Moxley.
“We worked on it all week,” said Moxley. “We weren't generating much on our rushes early on in the season so we have to manufacture goals and win some battles and create some space for us down low below the goal line. We worked on it this week and… it was good that it translated into our game today.”
Feeding off of the offensive zone domination was Mustangs’ star forward, April Clark. The fourth-year player wrapped up a natural hat trick mid-way through the second period. With 17 goals on the year, Clark has already surpassed her previous career-high of 12.
After Saturday’s three-goal performance, the Mustangs forward credited hard work over the offseason and the support of her teammates for the increase in offensive output this year.
“I tried to work really hard in the summer and I owe it all to my teammates,” said Clark. “They've been really supportive and I owe it all to them.”
With the win over the Voyageurs on Saturday, Western secured a chance to play for first in the OUA against the Lakers on Sunday.
From opening puck drop it was clear both sides wanted to leave Thompson Arena with an all-important three points. The game was so defensively tight, in fact, that the opening marker didn’t come until early in the second period.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, the Lakers were able to find the back of the net first. However, the early second period goal was the only puck to beat Western’s netminder, Carmen Lasis, all weekend.
After battling through the rest of the second period, the Western comeback began in the final frame. The score was tied up by Clark and the game-winner was secured on a power play tuck from Alyssa Chiarello.
With another goal on the man-advantage, Western’s special teams continue to hum along during the second half of the season. Through four games the team has given up one goal on the penalty kill and converted three power plays. Adding another special teams marker on Sunday was just a continuation of recent success, according to Chiarello.
“I know that we've had a lot of opportunities in a lot of games for our power plays and I think it really showed tonight,” explained Chiarello. “I think we just [have to] keep doing well with our special teams.”
The success in the smaller subsets of the game have also translated to success on the score board. After finishing 2–4 in the six games approaching the break, Western has not lost in regulation in their last four since the holiday.
The second half performance has been a welcome sight for Moxley.
“We knew we needed to have a strong second half here,” said Moxley. “Our girls have started it out on the right foot. We know what’s at stake here, and we're ready to battle and compete every single night.”
However, Western will have to continue their strong play on the road for the majority of the remaining season. Six of the Mustangs final eight games will come away from Thompson Arena.
Moxley preferred to look at the road schedule imbalance as a positive, though, pointing to the opportunity for the team to bond.
“It's been a while since we've been on the road, let alone overnight,” said Moxley. “It's going to be interesting. It's another opportunity for our team to bond and have us all together in one place, which will be nice.”
The Mustangs will begin their extended road trip with a game in Kingston against the Queen’s Golden Gaels on Friday at 7:30 p.m.