(Photo: Karyn Stepien)
Two teams jockeying for playoff position and mired in a log-jam atop the OUA women's hockey standings faceoff against each other when the No. 7 ranked Guelph Gryphons travel to Kingston to face the No. 4 Queen's Gaels on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup.
With only four points separating the second seed from the sixth seed in the OUA standings, this matchup holds huge playoff implications for both squads. The Gaels currently sit in second place with 27 points – three points behind the first-place Western Mustangs – while Guelph is holding on to fourth spot with 25 points, but has played one fewer game than each of the top-six teams.
"It's a great testament to the parody of the league that we're already talking about games with significant playoff implications," said Queen's head coach Matt Holmberg.
"I think the league has changed a lot in the past year," said Guelph interim head coach Scott McMillan. "You've seen some teams get really strong. Maybe in the past (playoff positioning) was vitally important, but now you're going to get a tough team no matter what."
Covering a maternity leave for Gryphons head coach Rachel Flanagan, it has been a learning experience and adjustment period for both McMillan and the Gryphons.
"The key is having the team understand the message is still coming from Rachel. We're not trying to change anything, we're just going to keep going along with what she was trying to do." said McMillan, who spent two months as an assistant coach with Flanagan and has previously worked as an assistant coach for the Laurier men's hockey team.
Both teams come into the game with just two regulation losses, with one of Queen's two defeats coming against these very Gryphons when they fell to Guelph 1-0 on November 8th.
Guelph goaltender Stephanie Nehring turned aside all 16 Queen's shots in that contest and recorded her first shutout of the season. Nehring, now with three shutouts, has emerged as one of the league's best goaltenders, ranking first in goals against average (1.25) and second in save percentage (.943).
As a team, Guelph has the league's lowest goals against average at 1.34, followed closely by Queen's at 1.38.
"(Guelph) is an excellent team with an outstanding goalie," said Holmberg. "There's no secret or magic answer, the reality is we need to get pucks to the net, get traffic and hope there is a screen or rebound. It's a battle to (get the puck to the net) in the first place, so we need to capitalize if we get chances."
Despite being shut-out by Guelph, the Gaels have not had an issue scoring this season, leading OUA with 3.12 goals per game. Shawna Griffin and Taryn Pilon have led the way for Queen's, each scoring eight goals and 11 assists in 17 games; they rank in a tie for fourth in OUA with 19 points.
For the Gryphons, though, goals have been harder to come by as they sit seventh in the conference with 2.19 goals per game. Jessica Pinkerton leads the team in points, amassing four goals and 12 assists in 16 games.
The two teams also met in the playoffs in last year's OUA semi-final. Queen's captured the best-of-3 series 2-1, including a triple-overtime win in the first game. The score of each game was also 2-1.
OUA women's hockey playoffs are now less than a month away and time is running out for teams to make one final push for playoff position, so make sure to tune in for the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup on Friday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 as two top teams in the conference look to climb up the standings!
Marquee Matchup by the Numbers
18.0% – The success rate of the Queen's Gaels' powerplay, which ranks second in the league behind the Toronto Varsity Blues. However, despite having one of the best powerplay units, Queen's ranks second last in the league on the penalty kill at 81.2%.
1997-98 – The last time the Guelph Gryphons won an OUA women's hockey championship. The Gaels most recent title came in the 2012-13 season.
6 – Poweplay goals for Queen's forward Taryn Pilon; she leads OUA in that category.
.833 – The 2014-15 winning percentage of Guelph goalie Stephanie Nehring, who has the highest winning percentage of any goaltender in the conference that has played at least 33 per cent of her team's minutes.