All is not well with the Western Mustangs men's hockey team.
With a 7–3 home loss to the Toronto Varsity Blues on Friday night at Thompson Arena, the Mustangs extended their losing streak to seven games and fell to 4–7–2 this season.
The win was last-place Toronto's first of the season, and the players were rightfully jubilant after a shockingly lopsided victory. Much of the credit for this result goes to the Mustangs, who let in three goals in 10 minutes at the start of the game.
"We just have to be better," said head coach Clarke Singer about the slump his team's facing. "We have to be better in a whole lot of areas. We're not meeting the expectations of the program from the top right on down."
The Mustangs are indeed falling short of what's expected of a Western hockey team. After an impressive run to the Queen's Cup final and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship last season, they now find themselves in a position where they may struggle to even make the playoffs.
Western's men's hockey team hasn't lost more than four consecutive games in over a decade, according to the Mustangs Athletics' website. In fairness, they've lost to some good teams over that stretch — Queen's University, Ryerson University and York University are all near the top of their divisions — but the Mustangs' losses to Toronto and Royal Military College are inexcusable.
"It doesn't get much lower than this," said goalie Justin Tugwell, who came into Friday's game midway through the first period after starter Luke Peressini got off to a rocky start. "We're almost at rock bottom."
Through their seven-game skid, the Mustangs have scored just ten goals. Over their six games before, they managed 18, averaging three per game. Offence has been a problem for Western, who doesn't have a single player with a double-digits points total.
The Mustangs actually outshot Toronto on Friday, testing goalie Andrew Hunt 34 times, but were unable to find the back of the net as they have been for weeks.
"It starts with the foundation of our game," said Singer. "Our competitiveness for 60 minutes isn't there right now."
There have been bright spots in this slump when the Mustangs have dominated play. Even in a lopsided loss like Friday's, there were moments when they looked like they could come back. They cut the Blues' lead down to just one goal in the second period, before the defence broke down again and Toronto re-established their commanding lead.
The Mustangs have wasted a whole host of opportunities recently, particularly on the power-play. They've scored just once with a man advantage during this seven-game losing streak, failing to convert on 27 other chances. Most egregiously, they went 0-for-6 against both York and Carleton University three weeks ago.
Despite the bleakness of Western's current situation, not all is lost. Their young defencemen, like Jonathan Laser and Rylan Bechtel, have played well in both ends of the ice but are prone to the mistakes that are characteristic of inexperienced players.
"They've got a lot of pride," said Singer. "We have a good group of young men, and that's the most important thing."
Last season, the Mustangs were known to be a fiery, determined group. Those qualities will need to resurface if they're to salvage this season.