Women’s hockey finds success on the road

Gaels overcome two deficits on Toronto road trip, come away with four points

The women’s hockey team may be in a hole at times, but it’s awfully hard to bury them, as the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and York Lions found out last weekend. The Gaels twice overcame deficits to return from Toronto with two victories, putting them in third place in the OUA East.

Head coach Harold Parsons said falling behind doesn’t frighten his team.

“The girls are confident that they can score if they work hard,” he said.

Parsons said the team was thrilled to come away from the road trip with full points.

“It’s very important to start the season off well,” he said. “We were very happy with the two wins this weekend.”

Parsons said the team has done well to battle through injuries so far, especially considering he’s carrying a smaller roster this season.

“We still have two of our regular six [defenders] out with injuries,” he said. “Our concept this year is to go with a smaller bench. … We know that early in the year it’s going to be a challenge for our players to make sure they’re learning to play within themselves, not expending energy or wasting energy at certain times. With three [forward] lines and six [defenders], it got pretty tight in those games and some of our players saw a lot of ice time, a lot more than they’re used to.”

It was the second consecutive road trip for the Gaels, who beat the Western Mustangs 4-0 in their season opener on Oct. 4 but lost 5-3 to the Windsor Lancers Oct. 5.

Parsons said the team is used to frequent travel though, after spending last season without a regular home arena.

“Given the adversity that the players and coaches had last year without a home arena, I think it’s tough but the players don’t seem to be affected by it,” he said. “At this stage, it’s actually worked out really well to be 3-1 after these road trips.”

On Saturday, the sixth-ranked and OUA East-leading Blues led Queen’s 3-0 in the second period before Liz Kench started the Gaels’ comeback. Megan McNutt then added another goal for Queen’s and Kristin Smith tied it up in the third before Kelsey Thomson blasted a power-play drive past Blues’ goaltender Kendyl Valenta to give the Gaels the victory.

Parsons said the game displayed the team’s tenacity.

“They just don’t give up in their game and it showed on Saturday night.”

It was a similar, though less dramatic, story on Sunday, when York took an early 1-0 lead.

Queen’s tied it up early in the second when Becky Conroy scored, but York replied off the ensuing faceoff to regain the lead. Conroy scored her second of the game to tie it up soon after, put Queen’s ahead midway through the third period and added her fourth goal on an empty-netter later on to give the Gaels a 4-2 lead.

York pulled one goal back to make it close, but Queen’s hung on.

Conroy said she was even happier to see the team come back Saturday, even though she didn’t score in that game.

“It was awesome just to see the team not give up,” she said. “It’s really good just to see the team in it and see them playing hard.”

Her success Sunday came from the chemistry she’s found with linemates Cassie Sparks and Victoria Kaufman, she said.

“We’re just gelling,” she said. “They’re always first to the puck everywhere, so it makes it easy to play with them.”

Conroy said she loves the shorter bench this year and the increased ice time she sees as a result.

“I actually think it’s really good,” she said. “I think it’s awesome because the lines are rolling and everyone’s really into the game. You’re playing every third shift instead of every fourth, so you get off the ice, take a breath and you’re right back into it.”

The team will play their first home games this weekend against the Laurier Golden Hawks and Waterloo Warriors. The Gaels will hope to carry the momentum they built this weekend forward, Conroy said, especially against Laurier, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

“We’re playing two good teams,” she said. “We’ll take a few things from this week’s play. … It was good to get this weekend under our belt so hopefully we can beat Laurier.”

The Gaels play Laurier at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Waterloo at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Both games will be at the Memorial Centre.

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