Top-10 grudge match

Gaels look to avenge November loss to Gryphons

Captain Shawna Griffin (18) is tied for the team lead in points this year, with 19 through 17 games.
Captain Shawna Griffin (18) is tied for the team lead in points this year, with 19 through 17 games.

If women’s hockey wants to even their score against the Guelph Gryphons, they’ll have to do it against one of the OUA’s top goaltenders.

Tonight’s matchup will be the second clash this season between the pair of top-10 rivals, with the Gaels hosting Guelph in a battle that could determine second place in the province.

Queen’s (12-2-3) currently holds that position — they also rank fourth in the CIS — while the Gryphons (11-2-3) sit only two points back in fourth place. They hold a game in hand on the Gaels.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Gaels head coach Matt Holmberg. “They’ve historically had a great team that we’ve had a good rivalry with.”

Queen’s has bumped the Gryphons out of two consecutive post-seasons. When the teams met up on Nov. 8, the Gryphons handed the Gaels their first regulation loss of the season, winning 1-0.

Queen’s has been on a tear ever since, amassing a 7-1-1 record over their last nine games.

“It’s a battle between teams that are fighting for precious points in the season,” Holmberg said.

The coach added that he expects a low-scoring game, as Guelph allows the fewest shots on net out of any team in the province.

“They are playing some extremely stingy defence and that is something we’ve talked about and worked on a bit in practice — just getting the puck to the net.”

Guelph netminder Stephanie Nehring is a two-time OUA All-Star and currently leads the OUA with a 1.25 goals against average. She’s second in the league with a .943 save percentage.

Holmberg said if the Gaels are to win, they’d have to do it by going away from pretty plays, and instead looking to scoring garbage goals.

“[Nehring’s] going to stop most of the pucks she can see,” he said. “The only way you’re going to beat her is by getting the puck to the net with some screens and hope for some rebounds.”

The Gaels have yet to lose in the Memorial Centre this season, but haven’t played at home since a Nov. 30 overtime win over the first-place Western Mustangs (14-1-2).

“We’re happy to be back home,” Holmberg said.

In a low-scoring game, the team will turn to its captain and top scorer Shawna Griffin for tenacity in front of the net. Griffin said she‘s up for the challenge.

Griffin remembers the November contest and is confident the Gaels have improved since then.

“It wasn’t our best game, for sure. They really took advantage of the weak spots we had in our game,” she said. “I think the effort was there — we were just a step below the level we’re playing at now.”

Over her five years with the Gaels, Griffin has partook in a number of battles between her squad and Guelph.

“It’s always a competition when we play them,” she said.

“I hope that we can get as many fans out there as we can because we do build off that energy. We’re excited for a very fun, but tough, hockey game.”

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