It's a place 28 of 29 roster players have never been before: the third round of the playoffs.
Only assistant captain Shaun Furlong has been to the Ontario University Athletics west finals, and that was back in 2011.
Now, after plenty of hard work and determination, this year's edition of the Western Mustangs men's hockey team will be headed there as well, to face the fourth-seeded Guelph Gryphons. Western managed to defeat the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in game three of their second-round playoff series at Thompson Arena on Sunday 4–3 in overtime.
"Seasons [have] ended at Thompson Arena the last few years here and it's certainly nice to get back at that stage where you're playing to go to the nationals," Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer said. "Not that you need extra motivation but it's certainly nice to have."
Sunday's game was an end to an extremely exciting series that had everything: goaltending, physicality and plenty of scoring.
Fortunately for Western, captain David Corrente scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lead his team to a series victory. Goaltender Greg Dodds was thankful his captain netted the winner, as he was not happy to have given up the tying goal halfway through the third period.
“I was just so happy that we came out with the win," Dodds said. "When we got the third goal, I thought 'It’s on me now to shut the door' and I let the rebound out and I was so mad at myself. Seeing him put that in for me was awesome — I went up and said 'thanks for saving my butt tonight.' ”
Corrente said his plan was to get the puck to the net for a rebound, something coach Singer has been saying throughout the season.
“I think that puck had eyes — I was just trying to get it on net and hope for a rebound for someone to whack it in, but fortunately for us it just went straight in," Corrente said. "We have been preaching it all series to get the puck to the net, get the puck to the net."
That being said, Singer believed some opportunities were missed throughout the game.
“I thought we gave up a few opportunities to shoot throughout the game to try and look for something pretty where we could actually set it in the net," he said.
Western now moves on to face the Guelph Gryphons, the defending OUA champions and a team coming off of a big 11–3 win against Ryerson in game three of the other OUA west semifinals.
The Mustangs have matched up well with Guelph during the season, winning both games 3–2. Coach Singer predicts they will come into this series strong.
“[They have] one of the best goaltenders in the country, [they're] one of the hardest working teams in the country, OUA champions last year [and] bronze [medalists] at nationals last year," he said. "This is going to be an incredibly tough series. Guelph is going to have momentum too — they have a lot of experience”.
Corrente also remembers how physical Guelph was from their previous matchups and knows he has to lead the Mustangs into the series ready to play physical.
“We know them from the season, they have a lot of guys that have been there for a few years now," he said. "They play physical and we’re going to be ready for that and match that and come on strong."
The Mustangs are looking forward to playing Guelph at home on Thursday night at Thompson Arena. He says the keys to success are simple.
“Just preach the same message: keep it simple, play hard, play strong, play for the guy next to you, keep moving on and keep moving forward."