Women’s hockey confident going into McCaw Cup

Gaels looking to win first OUA championship since 2012-13 season

The Gaels play for OUA gold on Saturday.
The Gaels play for OUA gold on Saturday.
Supplied by Ian MacAlpine

It’s no secret that when the women’s hockey team hosts the McCaw Cup this Saturday against the Western Mustangs, it’ll be uncharted territory for most of the players. 

While Queen’s boasted the best regular season record in the OUA this season (14-3-3), the team doesn’t have a massive amount of experience in the playoffs. Before this year, the last time the Gaels made it to the second round of the OUA playoffs was the 2013-14 season. Just five players from that team will be playing this weekend. 

Head coach Matt Holmberg, however, is far from worried about his team’s youth.

“Nerves are a good thing because that’s your body preparing yourself for battle, so that’s fine,” Holmberg said on Wednesday afternoon. A win on Saturday would be Holmberg’s third OUA title since being named head coach in 2009.

Since they completed the series sweep against Nipissing on Friday night, the Gaels have made good use of their eight-day break. After two days of rest, Queen’s returned to training on Monday morning. 

With the most important game of the season fast approaching, more focus has been placed on the players’ mental fortitude rather than their physical shape. 

“We’ve just got [to] make sure we’re focusing our nerves and that energy in the right place,” Holmberg said. “I heard a good quote the other day, ‘Have your butterflies fly in formation.’”

With five playoff games under their belt this year, Holmberg noted the past two weeks have served as an important learning experience for his team. He said the series against Waterloo — which went to a final and deciding game — was the team’s turning point.

“It really served to remind us that playoffs are going to be tough, and I think the mindset of the team going into that third game against Waterloo was perfect,” Holmberg said. “That has carried through the Nipissing series and should exist today.”

Meeting the Gaels at the Kingston Memorial Centre on Saturday will be Western. With their last loss 10 games ago against UOIT on Jan. 20, the Mustangs are one of the hottest teams in Canada. The last time the two teams met, the Mustangs topped the Gaels at home 3-0.

“They’re coming together at the right time. They’ve got a goalie who’s playing well and a lot of vets playing well,” Holmberg said.

Despite a stiff challenge, the Gaels have their own talent to boast. On Thursday, numerous Queen’s players brought home some hardware at the OUA’s annual year-end awards.

Third-year forward Katrina Manoukarakis was named OUA Forward of the Year and Player of the Year, while goaltender Stephanie Pascal was awarded OUA Goalie of the Year. Meanwhile, Holmberg was named OUA Coach of the Year after leading the Gaels to top spot in the OUA regular season for the first time since 1989-90.

While the awards are a display of a team’s success, fourth-year forward Addi Halladay said the team’s focus is swirling around Saturday’s game. With an OUA Championship on the line, there’s no shortage of motivation going into Saturday.

“Every time we step on the ice at the Memorial Centre, we have to look up at the two banners,” Halladay said. “And we want a third one.”

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