The Western women’s hockey team began the U Sports championship with a bang on Thursday night, winning their quarter-final game 4–0 over the Montreal Carabins. The Mustangs, who entered nationals seeded third, will now move on to a semifinal clash with the Saskatchewan Huskies, slated for Saturday afternoon at Thompson Arena.
The game began tentatively, as one might expect in a do-or-die knockout game. Western goaltender Carmen Lasis had plenty of work to do in the first period, as she kept 16 shots out of the net to keep it 0–0 after 20. Things began to open up a little in the second frame, though; a four-minute stretch of inspired offence gave the Mustangs three goals, and they never looked back.
Almost all of the game’s scoring came within that short frame. Shailyn Waites scored Western’s first and third goals, the latter coming off a slick breakaway deke. Ali Beres had the other marker for the home team, tucking home a wraparound past Carabins goalie Marie-Pier Chabot.
“We came out hard and we had speed,” said Waites, speculating how the Mustangs pulled ahead so quickly. “I don’t think they could handle it.”
Neither a reactionary Montreal timeout, nor a subsequent power-play, could help the visitors get back into the contest. They pulled Chabot for an extra attacker very early, with over four minutes left to play, but it only resulted in Western’s Rachel Armstrong scoring an empty-netter to put things to bed.
Lasis was an absolute wall all night for the Mustangs, stopping 41 shots to shut out one of the highest-scoring teams from Quebec. The Carabins threw all they could at the rookie goalie, but — as has been the case all season — Lasis stopped everything. She was, quite rightly, named Western’s player of the game after the final buzzer.
“I love having a lot of shots,” said Lasis. “If there’s less, then I feel like I get out of focus a bit.”
Montreal will now go into the consolation bracket, hoping to end their season with a win. At best, the Carabins can finish the tournament in fifth.
Carabins coach Isabelle Leclaire told her players after the game to take their day off before the consolation semifinal to move on from the loss, something she acknowledges isn’t easy. She pointed out that the loss was particularly hard to take given how heavily they outshot the Mustangs (41–22), as her team was just repeatedly turned aside by Lasis.
*“It hurts, but in the end it hurts only for the teams that are here,” she said. “The teams that are home right now are not crying like we are.”
The Mustangs, arguably the hottest team in the country right now, have their sights set on some U Sports hardware this weekend. Their next opponent, Saskatchewan, are the tournament’s seventh seed, but they too will be riding high after knocking off the second-seeded Atlantic champions, the St. Mary’s Huskies, on Thursday afternoon.
Western has Friday off to prepare for their semifinal clash, which they may spend studying up on the tournament's remaining teams.
On Friday, March 16, Western's Ontario rivals, the Queen’s Gaels, will play the top-ranked Manitoba Bisons at 4 p.m., while the Quebec champions, the Concordia Stingers, will take on the St. Francis Xavier X-Women at 7 p.m.
*Comment translated from French.