Mustangs Start Year Strong
Western Mustangs Men's HockeyGreg Bowman
There are a few indicators that fall is fast approaching: cooler weather, shorter days, students getting settled into the swing of things; September is a busy time of year. In case the aforementioned factors weren’t indicative enough of the time of year, the fact that the Western Mustangs’ men’s hockey team playing their first action of the 2018-19 year surely must be. After a long summer, the purple and white are finally gearing up for a 2018 season that will see some new faces and a new set of expectations.
After an injury-plagued start to the 2017-18 campaign--one which saw six goaltenders take the crease—the Mustangs showed that the players that they have on the roster are able to compete in the OUA, as they had a streak where they won 11 of 13 games in the 2018 half of the schedule. That was good enough to earn them a playoff berth, where they took the Ryerson Rams to the third game of a best-of-three series, ultimately ending their season at the Mattamy Athletic Centre with a 6-3 loss. It was a frustrating season to say the least: scraping the bottom of the barrel to be able to ice a team in the first half, then seeing that they have what it takes to compete when healthy but narrowly falling short. In attempt to bolster their roster, Western added six new faces to their team—all with OHL experience. Those six new players put on the purple and white sweater for the first time on Thursday night as the Mustangs were hosting the Laurier Golden Hawks at Thompson Arena for an exhibition bout.
Laurier had an impressive 2017-18 campaign, surpassing many people’s expectations. They jumped out to an early lead in the OUA West division, eventually finishing in fourth with a 15-10-3 record. They would fall to the Brock Badgers in two games in the Queen’s Cup quarter-finals.
Despite it being the first game action both teams had seen since the winter, it was a surprisingly energetic and cohesive start for both teams. Western had they first major chance of the game when last year’s leading scorer Trevor Warnaar collected a deflection off the end boards with a yawning cage in front of him but sent it through the blue paint. Laurier would respond with some quality chances of their own, but the former OHL Goaltender of the Year in Luke Peresinni was there to answer each of them. With just under three minutes remaining in the opening frame, Ray Huether took a lead pass from Stephen Desrochers and split the Golden Hawks’ defence before dangling the goalie Jacob Standen for a highlight-reel goal to open the scoring for the 2018-19 edition of the Western Mustangs. Western would go into the first intermission with that one-goal lead despite being outshot 10-9.
The second period picked up right where it left off in the first, as there were few whistles to be had. Western would get themselves into penalty trouble early in the frame, which would have spelled disaster last season as they had an abysmal 79% penalty kill, which ranked 18thin the OUA. They were able to weather the storm in their first attempts this year, killing both penalties off. Western would have a couple of cracks on the powerplay for themselves, but would come up empty on both attempts. With five minutes left in the frame, Western would extend their lead when Stephen Desrocher wired a snap shot into the top left corner, past the blocker of newly-substituted goaltender Tyler Fassl. Western would head into the locker room with a 2-0 lead after two periods, with Stephen Desrocher collecting points on both goals.
Things just weren’t going right for the Golden Hawks in Thursday’s game, as they had ample opportunity to get a goal but simply couldn’t solve Luke Peresinni. That is, until the dying minutes of the game when Laurier had their third powerplay of the game. Zack Dybowski sent a point shot that was redirected by Ethan Wiseman to cut the Western lead to 2-1. The Golden Hawks would shoot themselves in the foot shortly after, picking up their third penalty of the game. They would pull their goalie to make it five-on-five but Adam Sinclair would ice it with the empty net powerplay goal. The Western Mustangs would outshoot their opponent 34-23 and win their first game of 2018-19 3-1.
The Mustangs will have another exhibition game on Saturday in Oshawa when they take on the UOIT Ridgebacks.