Gaels meet their Waterloo

Women’s hockey swept in semifinals by Laurier Golden Hawks despite John’s outstanding play

Queen’s forward Becky Conroy is tripped by York’s Justine Jackson in Feb. 16’s quarter-final.
Queen’s forward Becky Conroy is tripped by York’s Justine Jackson in Feb. 16’s quarter-final.

For the second time this season, the women’s hockey team held the league-leading Laurier Golden Hawks scoreless for 60 minutes Feb. 23 thanks to another stellar goaltending performance from Melissa John.

But this time it wasn’t enough to keep their playoff run alive. The Gaels’ 1-0 overtime loss in Waterloo gave the Hawks a sweep of their three-game semifinal series. Laurier won the series opener 3-1 the night before in Napanee.

The Gaels advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 win over the York Lions earlier in the week, but they were severe underdogs against the Hawks, who finished the regular-season 23-2-2-0 and were ranked third in Canada going into the playoffs. Laurier allowed an OUA-low 14 shots per game this season, and scored an average of 3.73 goals per game while allowing only 0.92.

Queen’s emerged from the regular season with a record of 12-9-6-0, but was one of only two teams to beat the Hawks this year and the only team to shut them out.

Laurier head coach Rick Osbourne, who was later named the OUA Coach of the Year, said he was slightly worried going into the opening match in Napanee.

“The last time we were down here we lost to them, and we haven’t done that too often this year,” he said. “Secondly, we’ve had a week off. … I was concerned about a little bit of rustiness, especially with [Melissa] John in goal who did a good job against us last time.”

History was not to repeat itself in the opener, however. Queen’s took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but the Hawks scored three unanswered goals to take the series league.

In the next night’s game, the Gaels couldn’t beat Laurier goalie Liz Knox, who’s ranked second in the country in both goals-against-average and save percentage. They lost at 8:08 of overtime on a power-play goal by OUA Player of the Year Lauren Barch, who finished second in Ontario with 32 regular-season points.

John, who tied for fourth in Canada with an outstanding .932 regular-season save percentage, stopped an impressive 35 shots in the second game. She made 43 saves in the opener.

After the series opener, forward Andrea LeBlanc said the Gaels were going to try to reduce the 16 penalty minutes they recorded in that game, primarily thanks to obstruction penalties such as hooking, and get more shots on Knox—they recorded just 16 in the first game.

“We need to stay out of the penalty box and get some more offence,” she said. “[Getting] shots is an issue with this team.”

Head coach Rob Lalonde said after the first game the number of penalties Queen’s took concerned him.

“Some penalties on our part led to their power-play goal,” he said. “It’s a bit of a concern, especially the nature of the penalties: the hooking and so on, lazy-type penalties. We have to do a better job of keeping our feet moving.”

The Gaels made no improvement in either area the next night, though. They racked up another 16 penalty minutes and only recorded 16 shots. A few of their shots came in overtime, leaving them with three fewer shots in regulation than they achieved the night before.

Individual Gaels received recognition in awards announced Tuesday. Forward Liz Kench—whose 27 regular-season points were fourth best in Ontario—was named to the OUA First All-Star Team, while defender Michelle Hunt made the OUA All-Rookie Team.

This was the first year OUA women’s hockey featured a three-game semifinal series. In previous years, the two quarter-final winners faced off against the first- and second-ranked teams in single-game semifinals. The winners—Queen’s and Laurier, last season—went on to a single-game final while the losers faced off in a bronze-medal match. Last year Queen’s lost to Laurier and came away with a silver medal.

This season Laurier will plqay the University of Toronto Varsity Blues—last year’s bronze medallists and winners of the other semifinal series against the Guelph Gryphons. The Hawks won the first game of the best-of-three final Wednesday night in Waterloo, and game two is tonight in Toronto. Without a third-place match this year, the Gaels and Gryphons will prepare for next year.

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