Finished by familiar foe

Hawks bump Gaels from post-season amidst questionable calls

Gaels captain Shawna Griffin led the team in scoring this season with 26 points, third-highest in the OUA.
Gaels captain Shawna Griffin led the team in scoring this season with 26 points, third-highest in the OUA.
The Laurier Golden Hawks eliminated Queen’s from the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Laurier Golden Hawks eliminated Queen’s from the playoffs for the second straight season.

After two straight trips to the OUA final, a first-round playoff exit feels like a disappointment for the women’s hockey program.

The Gaels were swept by the Laurier Golden Hawks in a rematch of last year’s championship series, losing 1-0 in triple overtime last Thursday and 3-2 on Saturday.

Both games ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Gaels. Queen’s had a pair of goals waved off by the referee during the first overtime of game one, while Laurier scored twice in the last 2:55 of game two, completing a frantic comeback and the series sweep.

The Gaels were regarded among the OUA’s best teams this season, finishing in third place with a 16-5-3 record. Boasting a deep lineup of young guns, rising stars and wily veterans, they seemed poised for an extended playoff run and a shot at their third OUA title in five years.

The Gaels had beaten Laurier twice this year: 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 22 and 3-1 on Feb. 7.

Despite the losing effort, Gaels head coach Matt Holmberg said his team played effectively, adding that he wouldn’t place the blame for the loss on his players.

“We had two goals that were called back by the ref [in game one], and at least one of them — if not both — could have legitimately counted,” Holmberg said. “Unfortunately, at his own discretion, the ref decided that neither of them were a goal … It was very frustrating not to come away with a victory in that game.”

Golden Hawks netminder Amanda Smith made 49 saves in the marathon first game, but was beat twice on goals that were called back after she dislodged the net from its moorings.

Holmberg said his team played “pretty darn close to domination” in spite of the losses, and attributed the series sweep to “bad calls against [the Gaels] and good breaks for Laurier”.

Those calls and breaks led to the two disallowed goals in game one, as well as Laurier’s series-winning goal on a broken play in their game two victory.

Twenty-three seconds after Laurier knotted the game at 1-1, Gaels winger Addi Halladay was penalized for tripping. A scramble on the ensuing power play saw Laurier’s Haley Baxter pot the game-winner and end Queen’s season.

Regardless of the post-mortem to be concluded, the Gaels shouldn’t be discouraged for next season.

The team possesses favourable depth, with over half the roster in first- or second-year. With effective off-season recruitment, Holmberg said the Gaels will remain competitive.

“Big picture, we are still in a good, competitive phase,” he said.

Queen’s saw contributions from several rookies this year, including Halladay, who finished seventh in the OUA with 23 points. Captain Shawna Griffin contributed veteran leadership and 26 points of her own.

Griffin, defenceman Mary Coughlin and centres Fiona Lester and Chelsey Verbeek are all graduating, but the rest of the team’s core should be back for next season.

Of the returning players, winger Taryn Pilon and defencemen Alisha Sealey and Danielle Girard will be key contributors. Pilon finished fourth in the OUA with 25 points on the year, and has racked up 20 or more points in all four of her seasons as a Gael.

With the Laurier loss in the rearview mirror, Holmberg described his team’s future in simple fashion.

“The Queen’s women’s hockey program is looking good,” he said.

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