In the last half of the regular season, the Western Mustangs women’s hockey team seemed to be in a downward tailspin in the standings. After going on a three-game losing streak and dropping five out of their final nine games of the season, goals seemed to be scarce as the Mustangs' post-season hopes came into question.
Looking back on that now, the Mustangs didn’t have anything to worry about, as they stormed their way through the first round of the playoffs against the Waterloo Warriors over the weekend.
The Mustangs posted five goals over the course of two games and received back-to-back shutouts from veteran goaltender Kelly Campbell. The biggest win of the series came Saturday on the road in Waterloo, with the Mustangs cruising to a decisive 4–0 win to sweep the best-of-three series.
“I thought we played very well. We had a great first period,” said Mustangs head coach Dave Barrett in a phone interview following Saturday’s win. “I think as the series went on we played better.”
The Mustangs capitalized early on in Saturday's game with goals from defender Anthea Lasis and forward Marlowe Pecora to jump out to a 2–0 lead heading into intermission.
Campbell proved herself once again — as if that was necessary — as she made a spectacular save late in the first to preserve the two-goal lead. Campbell would stop all 37 shots she faced by the end of the game, to earn her second straight shutout and remain perfect in the playoffs so far.
“Good game for Kelly Campbell, she had an outstanding game,” said Amanda Pereira after Saturday’s game. “She made some big saves for us.”
The Mustangs caught a fortunate bounce off the boards to start the second period, as Pereira took advantage of some puck luck to score on the Waterloo net only 13 seconds into the frame, making it 3–0 for the Mustangs.
"Lindsay Kirkham and Evra Levesque did a good job of sealing the wall and didn't give them any options,” said Pereira. “The Waterloo goalie was behind the net and it just popped out right on my stick.”
Levesque picked up her second point of the playoffs off that play after scoring the lone goal in Western’s game one win. However, Levesque wasn’t done for the game, as she added a goal to the Mustangs' lead later on in the third period. Pereira earned an assist of her own on Levesque’s goal, and the two would finish the night with two points apiece.
“I just shot the puck and Evra [Levesque] did a good job of getting in front of the net and tipped it in,” said Pereira.
Levesque’s goal was the last of the game, with Western maintaining their commanding 4–0 lead to claim the game two victory.
“We really showed ‘Mustangs hockey’ during the first and third period,” said Pereira. “We played with lots of grit and passion and we just stuck to our game plan.”
'Mustangs hockey' is a philosophy brought to the team by Barrett, which dictates the style of play they need to emulate to find success in the playoffs.
“It’s a certain tenacity and a certain attitude that separates the champions from the wannabes,” said Barrett. “Our team last year really embraced that philosophy. It's taken a little longer this year to get the buy in from everybody but I think it's there now.”
Barrett and his team look to use this series as a jumping-off point to prepare for the second round.
“Some of our players that hadn't been in the playoffs before started to get more comfortable,” said Barrett. “I'm really looking forward to how they respond to the next opponent we face.”
That next opponent will be the Nipissing Lakers, who finished just one point behind Western in the regular season standings. The Mustangs will only have a couple days off before they progress to the second round because they have to travel to North Bay for game one on Wednesday. Before then, there will be a few vital practices where the team can hopefully build off their improvements from the first round.
“Primarily it’s just maintaining skills — puck skills primarily — and reinforcing some of our structures,” said Barrett. “We just need to get a little better at all the details of all the game.”
“We're gonna just focus on our game,” said Pereira. “We're just gonna stick to the things we do best.”
As for the uncertainty surrounding the Mustangs' playoff prospects during the last half of the season, those can be left in the past now.
“I'm very pleased with the way we responded to the pressure of the playoffs,” said Barrett. “We have to have a really good family atmosphere and I'm really happy to see that that has been established with this group, like it was last year.”