Repeat rebuked

Laurier takes two straight, ends Gaels’ title chance

Queen’s lost 10 players from last season and finished fourth in the OUA regular season standings, but clambered their way to the brink of another league banner.
Queen’s lost 10 players from last season and finished fourth in the OUA regular season standings, but clambered their way to the brink of another league banner.

Even after an off-season overhaul, women’s hockey came heartbreakingly close to defending their OUA title this season.

Last Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Laurier Golden Hawks in the third and final game of the OUA finals ended a Gaels season in which the team had 11 players make their CIS debut. Even with that many new players, Queen’s finished only one win short of retaining the championship.

After a 16-4-4 campaign, the fourth-best in the OUA, the Gaels embarked on a playoff run that saw them defeat the Windsor Lancers and Guelph Gryphons to set up a meeting with Laurier for the title.

Queen’s won the series opener, but dropped the second and third games by identical 2-0 scores. On Sunday, goals by Laurier’s Danelle Im and Emily Kekewich gave the Golden Hawks the advantage, while goaltender Amanda Smith stopped all 38 shots the Gaels threw at her.

Despite the loss, Gaels head coach Matt Holmberg was impressed by his team’s performance over the course of the season.

“From where we started at the beginning of the year, with a lot of new faces to the team that was being iced in game three of the OUA finals,” he said, “[there was] great development and we came a long way.”

The Gaels’ development could be seen not only through their playoff run, which featured four overtime games, but also in the improvements they made in certain aspects of their play.

One area where Queen’s improved this season was the penalty kill. Last season, the Gaels killed off 81.9 per cent of their short-handed situations, while this year, they were successful on 89.8 per cent, which is fourth-highest in the OUA.

“We did spend some time on the penalty kill and on the tactics that are needed on the penalty kill, at the same time keeping our focus on trying to stay out of the box,” Holmberg said. “We added some new faces to our penalty killing units. Several rookies jumped in and did a great job.”

While some rookies made their mark in short-handed situations, others stood out for their offensive output. Winger Clare McKellar was named to the OUA all-rookie team after tallying 20 points, second among all first-years.

Holmberg said the first-year players gained plenty of experience as the season went on.

“It wasn’t far into the season when the rookies started to assert themselves and gain confidence,” he said. “Before the Windsor series, I addressed the team and let them know that I did not think there were any rookies on the team anymore.”

While the rookies are wrapping up their first years as Gaels, three players are ending their time at Queen’s. Sunday marked the last career game for captain Morgan McHaffie, goaltender Mel Dodd-Moher and defenceman Marlee Fisher.

Both McHaffie and Dodd-Moher were key contributors on Queen’s 2011 and 2013 OUA title teams, while Fisher played on last year’s championship squad.

McHaffie ended her career as the second-highest scorer in OUA history, while Dodd-Moher finished the year with a 1.93 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.

It’ll be almost impossible to directly replace McHaffie and Dodd-Moher, but the Gaels have players capable of stepping up next season.

Centre Shawna Griffin established a career high with 26 points this season. Returning forwards Taryn Pilon and Courtenay Jacklin will also be looked on to lead the team offensively.

Defensively, the team’s top three blueliners will be back. Assistant captains Danielle Girard and Mary Coughlin and second-year Alisha Sealey all showcase strong two-way games on the back end.

In net, former NCAA goaltender Caitlyn Lahonen will see increased playing time, after putting up impressive numbers in five appearances this season.

Holmberg said an important lesson the Gaels learned this season is to not rest on their laurels.

“Instead of trying to duplicate this year, next year we will simply try to do everything better,” he said.

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