Prior to their first game this weekend, Queen’s found some extra motivation in the form of The Kingston Whig-Standard.
In the week leading up to their matchup against the Brock Badgers — the team three points behind Queen’s in the OUA — The Whig interviewed three Kingston-born players who were coming home to the Memorial Centre on Friday night. The article, which quoted the players’ hunger to defeat Queen’s, was put up in the Gaels’ locker room by the players after it was published on Tuesday.
“Some of the quotes served to fuel our motivation a bit,” head coach Matt Holmberg said. For the coach, those statements drove the team to defend their home ice.
“I think it was a statement game to respond to those comments,” he added.
After the final whistle had blown, the Gaels had done just that, defeating the Badgers 3-0 in a game of nationally-ranked powerhouses — Queen’s ranked eighth, Brock tenth.
The Gaels asserted their position early, as Gaels points leader Katrina Manoukarakis tipped in a point shot coming from captain Jessica Wakefield in the first period to take an early 1-0 lead. The goal would prove to be all the Gaels needed, as goaltender Stephanie Pascal continued her strong play from the first half of the season. Against Brock, she stopped all 24 shots that came her way en route to her fourth shutout this year.
— Queen’s Gaels (@queensgaels) January 13, 2018
Unfortunately, their strong play wouldn’t swing over into Saturday night, with the Gaels dropping their subsequent game to the Ryerson Rams 4-3 in overtime.
With a split weekend series, their win over Brock seemed to be overshadowed by what could’ve been an extension on the Gaels lead in the OUA standings. Holmberg said his team has work to do, as they return to practice this week having lost three of their last four games.
“We feel that we left some points on the table there [and] I think the game exposed some things we need to work on a bit,” Holmberg said, alluding to how his team’s loss to Ryerson could help in identifying specific areas the Gaels need to hone in on.
According to the coach, the Gaels spent some time in practice last week focused on improving their play in the offensive zone. Holmberg said the players worked on getting close to the net to screen the opposing goaltenders’ vision, with hopes of capitalizing on rebounds and tip-ins. The work appeared to pay off, as two of the Gaels’ goals against Brock came off plays near the goalie’s crease, including Manoukarakis’ tip-in.
Contrasting their strong offensive play, Holmberg largely attributed Saturday’s loss to numerous defensive breakdowns. With that in mind, the coach said the Gaels will look to improve their game on both ends of the ice.
Unlike other weekend games, the Gaels had an unconventional schedule. While typically both games would either be on the road or at home, Queen’s played their first night in Kingston and the following in Toronto. The morning after playing Brock, the Gaels took a two and a half hour bus ride to Toronto, then quickly travelled back to Kingston after the game.
“Normally we wouldn’t have to travel several hours to play the second game, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” Holmberg said. “You need to get better at preparing … [I]t’s our sleep, it’s our eating habits and [we need to] try to do everything we can to eliminate those ‘on-the-road’ issues.”
The Gaels’ performance away from home this season has been noticeably different than at home. The team currently holds a perfect 8-0 record at home, which is contrasted by a 4-1-3 record away from the Memorial Centre.
Queen’s will look to maintain their perfect home record this weekend with Windsor and Western making their way to Kingston. The Gaels have just eight games remaining in their schedule until the OUA playoffs begin.
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