With a roster filled mostly with rookies and second-year players, it’s expected there will be a learning curve as the season goes on.
Though the women’s hockey team played well against Laurier, the top ranked team in Ontario University Athletics, it was a costly turnover that led to Laurier’s Laura Brooker scoring the game winner to give Laurier a 2-1 win last Saturday at Thompson Arena.
“It was just a bad bounce and a bad turnover at the wrong spot,” Chris Higgins, Mustangs head coach, said.
Brooker’s goal came off a defensive zone turnover that allowed her to go in alone beating Mustangs goalie Kelly Campbell glove side with a backhand shot.
After struggling in the second period, Laurier head coach Rick Osborne shortened his bench, giving his veteran players extra ice time.
“We were expecting a tough game, but this has turned into a road trip from hell having to play Windsor and Western this weekend,” Osborne said. “Our veteran players picked up the slack after a weak second period.”
Laurier opened the scoring in the first when forward Caitlin Muirhead caught Western flatfooted in their own zone. Muirhead skated around the Mustangs defence before scoring on a wrist shot low glove side on Campbell.
The second period saw an improved Mustangs defence with several blocked shots and shooting lanes being cleared so Campbell could see shots.
The Mustangs answered back in the second period when forward Katie Dillon tipped a Michelle Saunders point shot past Laurier goaltender Rachel Hamilton.
Western began the third period with a power play that carried over from the second. Despite having more than a two and a half minute advantage, the Mustangs were unable to gain any momentum. Western went 0-for-3 on the power play.
“I think our power play let us down today. We had chances and we didn’t execute like I would’ve liked to,” Higgins said.
The Mustangs were out-chanced by Laurier, who out-shot Western 31-18, but it was the goaltending of rookie Campbell that kept Western in the game.
“We had a tough time getting anything past [Campbell],” Osborne said. “There were three or four plays that are usual goals for us and she shut us down. They weren’t lucky saves either, she just shut us down.”
Although she’s a rookie, Campbell showed poise in net giving up few rebounds.
“She’s one of the calmest goalies I’ve seen. There’s no panic in her at all,” Higgins said.
With 19 of 23 players in their first two years, the Mustangs have the second youngest team in the OUA. With Western bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the OUA, it’s put them on the map.
“They’ve got so many first-year players and high level recruits that they’re an improved team. We can’t come in here anymore and expect easy games,” Osborne said.
There were positives to take out of this game. Western showed they could play shift-for-shift with a top ranked team.
“Laurier’s a top ranked team in the country. We’re not disappointed, but we’re not satisfied,” Dillon said. “We’ll be ready the next time we see them.”
With such a young team, Higgins was happy that all his players came ready and never quit at any point in the game.
“Every single one of those kids worked hard today and I have no complaints when I see a work ethic like that.”