When women’s hockey hosts the Laurier Golden Hawks tomorrow, memories of last year’s OUA finals won’t be on their mind.
The Golden Hawks captured the provincial championship at the hands of the Gaels in a three-game series last March.
The two teams have since met once, with Queen’s prevailing 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 22. Gaels head coach Matt Holmberg said that victory removed any weight on his players’ shoulders.
Instead, he said his team is focused on the points up for grabs in a tight OUA playoff race. Seven points separate the league’s top six teams — including Queen’s (14-3-3) and Laurier (12-5-4), who sit fourth and fifth.
“In terms of the game itself, it’s a big two points for us as we battle for playoff spots,” Holmberg said. “With Laurier in the mix, you know they’re going to be looking for two points. Failure to pick up two points at this point of the season could drop you from second to sixth, almost. It’s a big, big two points.”
The game should be exciting, if history is any indication. The teams have needed overtime to decide five of their last eight meetings.
Holmberg said the Gaels aren’t viewing this weekend’s game as a potential playoff preview — even though Queen’s and Laurier would face off in the first round if the proceedings started today.
“We’re looking at this game on Saturday as a standalone game,” he said. “Obviously, it could be a bit of a precursor to a playoff match, but we’re treating it as what it is, which is a very important league game.”
For the Gaels to come away with the win this weekend, they’ll need to get pucks to the net and beat the Golden Hawks’ stingy defence. Laurier has allowed the fifth-least goals against per game in the OUA.
Holmberg said Queen’s penalty kill must also step up. The Gaels’ unit is currently the OUA’s worst, while Laurier boasts the second-best power play.
“Our penalty kill is going to be called upon from time to time,” Holmberg said. “We’re going to need to make sure we get out to their point, to their D [defence] and try and prevent those shots from getting through.”
The contest will also see the OUA’s top offences go at it; Queen’s has averaged 3.1 goals per game and Laurier is just behind them at 2.95.
Both teams boast multiple players among the OUA’s top scorers. Gaels winger Taryn Pilon sits third in the league with 22 points, while captain Shawna Griffin has racked up 21, tying her with Laurier captain Laura Brooker for fifth.
Brooker will miss tomorrow’s contest, as she’s representing Canada at the Winter World University Games. While she’s a major piece of the Golden Hawks’ offence, Holmberg said Laurier’s depth should compensate.
After facing the Golden Hawks, Queen’s will host the ninth-place Waterloo Warriors (9-8-4) on Sunday in a matchup Holmberg said is just as important for the Gaels. Waterloo is just one point out of a playoff spot, with three games remaining on their schedule.
The weekend will take on a special meaning for the Gaels — it’s their final homestand of the year, and the final pair of regular season games at the Memorial Centre for the team’s graduating players.
The Gaels will honour those veterans — including Griffin and assistant captains Mary Coughlin and Chelsey Verbeek — before puck-drop against Laurier.
Holmberg said it’s a tilt he’s anxiously anticipating.
“It’s always an exciting game against Laurier, and I always get pumped up for games like that,” he said.
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