Women's hockey ranked number one in province

Chemistry and leadership has seen the team with one of the best records in the country

The Gaels are first in the OUA.
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Women’s hockey head coach Matt Holmberg couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season. 

Riding an 11-1-2 record — and a perfect 7-0 at home — the Gaels currently sit atop the OUA standings.

Even with this record, Holmberg knows the team still has a lot to accomplish this semester. 

“We can’t rely on a stellar first half [of the season] and just coast through the second half,” he said. To continue their dominant play, Queen’s will look towards some of their key players having a strong end to the season.

At the halfway point of the season, third year forward Katrina Manoukarakis sits in a tie for third-most total points in the OUA with 14. On the other side of the ice, goaltender Stephanie Pascal boasts a .944 save percentage over 12 games, including three shutouts in her past six games.

Despite not being one of the highest scoring teams in the OUA, Pascal’s strong goaltending and the Gaels’ dominant penalty kill have led them to being ranked eighth in Canada. The Gaels are currently the best in the OUA while shorthanded — up to 95.8 compared to 90.5 last year — and concede the second fewest goals in the province at 1.55 per game.

Alongside being able to keep the puck out of their net, Holmberg said the team’s experience and chemistry have been at the core of their strong play. With 15 returning players who have the experience of hosting the U Sports National Championships in 2017, Holmberg said the team’s veterans have done a good job of guiding their younger teammates. On top of this, he said they’re a confident group of players.

“I think the players recognize for themselves that we are a team that can compete with the best in the country and they didn’t want to take a step back,” Holmberg said. “That starts with our leadership group … they adopted that philosophy from the get-go.”

With 12 years of experience coaching hockey at Queen’s, Holmberg said this year’s team has developed a stronger bond relative to years past.

“This year they’re closer, they’re tighter, they’re pushing each other, they’re holding each other accountable — but they’re also having a lot of fun,” he said.

In Holmberg’s eyes, this strength and unity is a direct result of the positive example the veterans have set for their younger teammates.

“I think pursuing excellence on the ice but at the same time having a strong culture is trickling down to the younger players,” Holmberg said.

Aside from their unified strength, the Gaels have been fortunate given their lack of injuries — something they’ve both welcomed and embraced.

“We knew that if we stayed healthy and the work ethic was there that we’d be among the top teams in the league,” Holmberg said.

Following the winter break, the Gaels dropped their first two games against Nipissing and Laurentian. With 10 games to go, Holmberg said the team understands they can’t just sit back and ride out the rest of the season. With their ticket to the U Sports National Championship reliant on the team finishing first in the OUA — since Western holds the second qualification bid as host of the tournament — the coach is cognizant of the level of hockey they need to maintain.

“If we’re playing our best hockey in February and March, we have as good a shot as anyone else to grab a banner,” Holmberg said.

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