With its season coming to an end, the Western men’s hockey team is in a dogfight with three other teams in the competitive Ontario University Athletics Far West division.
Trailing Lakehead University by five points before the weekend, Western needed to get two points against the last-place Windsor Lancers Saturday night at Thompson Arena.
“It was a big game and the guys sometimes have the tendency to take Windsor a little bit lighter. But if we play well enough, we should be able to beat them,” Western assistant coach Barry Martinelli said.
The Mustangs did just that, emerging with a huge 3-1 victory over the visitors and leaving the arena with 38 points on the season. It was certainly not the Mustangs’ best performance, but it was just enough to win.
“We sat back a little too much. It was an average game for us, but we picked up the two points. It was an ugly win tonight,” Mustangs goalie Brad Topping said.
Left winger Jesse Boucher led the way with the game-winning goal and an assist and helped the Mustangs to a 17-4-4 record. Kevin Richardson and Jeff Martens were also on the scoresheet for Western.
The Mustangs, on the strength of a three-game winning streak, were looking to carry momentum into the beginning of the game. However, they got off to another slow start.
Just over four minutes in, Windsor opened the scoring, getting a fortunate bounce when a pass in front of Topping deflected off Windsor’s Dillon Stokes and into the corner of the net.
“When they scored the first goal, we knew we had to pick it up a bit because they upset Laurier the other day and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to us,” Martens said.
Western did just that, getting its legs going after the opening goal by establishing a hard-hitting forecheck and creating several great chances. The hard work finally paid off when Richardson buried a rebound after Sal Peralta’s initial shot. It was Richardson’s team-leading 17th goal of the season. Defenceman Adam Nemeth drew the other assist.
While the game was played in Windsor’s zone for large portions of the second and third period, the Mustangs seemed to be snake-bitten and failed to capitalize on several great chances. If visiting goalie Jim Watt didn’t make a spectacular save, it was the post that came to Windsor’s rescue.
“Sometimes you do a lot of right things but the puck just doesn’t go in the net,” Martinelli said. “Their goalie had a really outstanding game.”
It wasn’t until late in the second stanza that Western finally got the lead. With 2:27 left in the period, a nice passing play by Kyle Piwowarczyk and Patrick Ouellet set up Boucher, who buried a hard wrist shot top shelf with Western on the power play.
With the game so close, Topping came up with several good saves when the Lancers threatened. He stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Watt stopped 35 of 38 for Windsor.
Western locked up the game late in the third when Boucher fed Martens with a beautiful long pass, allowing Martens to go in alone on a breakaway. He made no mistake and put the shot into the top corner.
The game was not without some controversy. Windsor had two goals disallowed: one for a high stick and the other for a player batting the puck into the net with his arm.
Windsor head coach Peter Belliveau was clearly upset with the calls during the game.
“I thought the ref was pretty biased tonight,” he said. “But I thought the team competed pretty hard. A lot of our forwards are hurting but I thought the guys showed a lot of heart.”
The Mustangs now go into Waterloo to play the Warriors before coming back to London for a doubleheader against the division-leading Lakehead Thunderwolves. The team needs to win its three remaining games in order to have a chance to win the division and get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have to come out and play hard every game,” Topping said. “If we outwork the other teams, I think we’ll be fine. Obviously, we have to have better starts to the games. Hopefully, we can go into the playoffs on a roll.”