Coming into Sunday’s Ontario University Athletics contest with the league-leading Laurier Golden Hawks, the Mustangs women’s hockey team knew it would have to concentrate on neutralizing Laurier’s key offensive threats.
The team features league scoring leader Lauren Barch, and Canadian Under-22 team member Andrea Bevan.
“We were looking after Bevan and her ability to rush the puck,” defenceman Leigh Trimm-Combes, fourth-year assistant captain and Western’s lone goal scorer, said of the team’s directive in Sunday’s 2-1 loss.
Western executed its defensive plan well, limiting the nation’s third-ranked team to two goals on 25 shots. Coming into the contest, the Hawks were averaging 3.75 goals per game.
A power-play goal by Trimm-Combes opened the scoring in a penalty filled first period. Less than half a minute into Western’s second power play opportunity, Mustangs forward Whitney Weisshaar fed a pass to Trimm-Combes who blasted a shot that deflected off a Laurier defender and went by screened Laurier netminder Liz Knox.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, that was all the offensive production they would be able to muster, as Knox shut the door from there on in.
Western head coach Paul Cook empathized with his team and its inability to generate momentum in such a tightly-called contest.
“It’s kind of disappointing ... I didn’t understand a lot of the penalty calls. Let’s just put it that way.
“I didn’t know what team the penalties were going to be called against sometimes ... it destroys your momentum of playing five on five and for us the more we play [with five skaters] and get everybody involved, the better we’re going to be.”
In spite of the officiating, Cook was pleased with his team’s ability to adapt to the tumultuous flow of the game.
“They’re a tough team to score against and I thought we did a pretty good job of executing with our special teams play.”
Western held Laurier to only one power-play goal on eight opportunities, the lone marker coming when Andrea Ironside jammed the puck past Western goaltender Danielle Le Ber at 14:36 of the first period and tied the game at one.
The score remained deadlocked until Barch fired the go-ahead goal, a wrist shot over the glove of Le Ber, off the crossbar and in at 7:37 of the third frame.
Neither Laurier goal could be blamed on the netminder, as Le Ber kept her team in the game during the second period and proved to be a point of frustration for the Laurier team.
“I thought in the second period we might use our speed and skill to take the game over a little bit, but it was a tough physical battle,” Laurier head coach Rick Osborne said.
Sunday’s loss coupled with a York victory in Guelph leaves the Mustangs in seventh place — two points behind the York Lions for the final playoff berth in the OUA.
“We have to get every point we can out of every game we play in the next stretch ... we have a tough weekend coming up and this is the kind of effort and energy we need that’s going to get us points and hopefully get us into the playoffs,” Cook said.
While stalwart defensive play held them in the game, the loss came down to a few missed scoring chances for the Mustangs, who never looked out of place with the four-time defending OUA champs.