Despite starting the year 0-2, the Mustangs women’s hockey team has come close every game. The bad luck continued as the Mustangs fell to the Guelph Gryphons 3 – 1 on Friday at Thompson Arena.
“It’s awful to lose like that, but we’ve been close every game we’ve played,” Katie Dillon, Mustangs forward, said.
It doesn’t help matters that they started off their season with one of the hardest schedules in Ontario University Athletics.
“We’re better than our record,” Chris Higgins, Mustangs head coach, said.
“Our first four games we play three teams ranked in the top 10 in Canada last year. We just need to get that one win to get going,” Higgins continued.
Western opened the scoring when Dillon slipped past the Gryphons’ defence and took a pass from Kendra Deller to go in on a breakaway. Dillon beat Guelph netminder, Stephanie Nehring, with a wrist shot into the top right corner over Nehring’s glove.
However, the Gryphons responded when forward Erin Small came on during a line change and snuck in behind Western’s defence. Small took the pass and deked Mustangs’ goaltender Kelly Campbell to beat her down low on Campbell’s glove side.
“We were taking over and that goal got them back in the game,” Higgins said.
After Small’s goal, the game began to get chippy and physical with both teams upping the tempo.
“Most games in the OUA are chippy,” Carly Haggard, Guelph Gryphons head coach, said.
“A lot of teams have some good rivalries. I think the physicality is good. It shows teams are competing,” she continued.
Haggard’s thoughts are echoed by Dillon.
“Tonight definitely got a little rough and chippy,” Dillon said. “Both teams were really into the game.”
A recurring theme throughout the game was the officiating and how it affected the game.
The middle of the third period saw a flurry of penalties that changed the momentum of the game. The Gryphons struck first when forward Jessica Pinkerton tipped a point shot past a screened Campbell to give her team the lead.
“Campbell really did a good job of getting to the top of the crease and seeing shots,” Haggard said.
“I wanted our girls to get in front, do screens and get tips, and it paid off with our second goal,” she added.
Small would get a chance to put the game out of reach with a penalty shot, but she lost control and had the puck slide off her stick when she tried to beat Campbell on her blocker side.
In the final minutes of the third, the Mustangs would pull Campbell on a 5-on-3 power play, but Gryphons defender Kimberly Wong scored while clearing the puck out of her own zone.
The Mustangs will have to get better at creating chances and out-shooting their opponents. Guelph out-shot Western 27-18.
Along with being out-shot, the Mustangs power play has had problems producing early on going 0-for-5 against Guelph and is currently 0 for 16 to start the year. The Mustangs will have to get better on special teams if they hope to turn things around.
“Our power play isn’t clicking. With the pressure they don’t set-up the way they should, but we’ll keep working at it until we get it,” Higgins said. “We like our systems. We’re just not getting control of the puck and setting it up like we should.”
Although they have a 0-3 record, the team is confident that things will turn around soon and that they’re play will be reflected in their record soon.
“We had a great pre-season and we’ve been close every game,” Campbell said. “We’ve got confidence and we know we’re a good team.”
Higgins went on to stress that although they’re a young team, they need to find chemistry on the ice and then their chances will start to improve.
“We’re young, but it’s not a rebuilding year anymore, it’s a rebuilt year,” Higgins said. “Now we just have to learn to play with each other.”
Although losing close games is tough for any team, Higgins knows it’s a long season and you have to look forward to the next game.
“I said after the game, get your heads up and we’ll play another game tomorrow. That’s the good thing about hockey, there’s always another game.”