After a tough seven-game losing skid, the Mustangs men's hockey team finally bounced back on Friday with a 6–3 win over the Laurentian Voyageurs. In front of more than 1,500 in attendance for the traditional school day game, Western's offence rediscovered their scoring touch.
"We really needed a win tonight," said captain Matt Marantz, who sealed the deal on Friday with an empty-net goal.
The Mustangs were defeated again on Saturday night by Nipissing, but breaking the streak made it a positive weekend overall. The slump was the worst in recent Western memory, with coach Clarke Singer claiming that the program hadn't seen a stretch like it in 18 years.
A dry spell like that takes a heavy toll on a team, who at times seemed unlikely to ever catch a break.
"Throughout the games we lost we did lots of good things," said Singer. "We lost one in a shootout, lost one in overtime, took Carleton right to the end. I thought we deserved better during that streak but still they were losses. I think it was piling up emotionally on us."
There were times during the last month where the Mustangs almost seemed cursed. They managed over 30 shots in all but two of their losses, but had just 10 goals during the entire stretch. It was only a matter of time until the floodgates opened, and open they did on Friday morning.
Western jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period against Laurentian, who battled back in the second to tie it at three. The Mustangs' offence was clicking all game, though, as they wound up with six goals on 31 shots.
Winger Luke Karaim scored twice for the home team, also adding an assist, and was named Mustangs Athlete of the Week on Monday for his contribution.
"We've been doing good things and we really played with the energy today that the kids brought," said Karaim. "Didn't know what it felt like to win for a while but it certainly feels nicer."
Coach Singer was happy to see his team play more aggressively in the offensive zone on Friday. The Mustangs have been able to score off the rush this season, but securing possession and cycling the puck has been a problem.
Despite the majority of Western's goals still coming off high-speed rush plays, the team was more able to chase down the puck in Laurentian's end.
"Often times when we have to go get the puck we're not great at forechecking," said Singer. "A lot of goals we created weren't off the rush, they were off down-low plays, cycling it, moving it to the D."
Goaltender Luke Peressini recorded his first Ontario University Athletics win, after struggling to start his career as a Mustang. The team awarded him the game puck after his 23-save performance, as he finally found the win column.
Continuing to score will be key for the Mustangs, for whom defence has not been an issue this year. Despite a young core of blueliners, Western has done well in their own zone. Now that the forwards have shown they can put the puck in the net, the team's fortunes may turn around.
The Mustangs have a lot of work to do, hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the OUA West by a single point, but have a long season left to play. They'll play two more games before the winter break, followed by 11 more in January and February.