It's been a long while since a team besides the Laurier Golden Hawks or Queen's Gaels won an OUA women's hockey championship – 2002-03 to be exact – and it's been an even longer wait for the No. 3 Western Mustangs, who are still seeking their first ever OUA women's hockey championship.
The Mustangs put together the best regular season in the program's history, winning 20 games for the first time and rising to third in the CIS Top 10 – the highest ranking ever for the Mustangs women's hockey team. Western didn't lose a game in regulation time until Jan. 17 (a 4-0 road loss in Windsor) and are now looking to carry that success into the OUA quarter-finals beginning Wednesday, Feb. 18.
(1) Western Mustangs vs. (8) Nipissing Lakers
Like most successful hockey teams, the Western Mustangs (20-1-3) were very good at keeping the puck out of their net. Goaltender Kelly Campbell led OUA with a .954 save percentage and 16 wins, and was second in goals against average at 1.23. As a team, Western allowed the second fewest goals in the conference with a team goals against average of 1.30. On offence, Kendra Broad finished second in the conference with 30 points and 15 goals – the most of anyone in the playoffs – and led OUA with eight powerplay goals.
The Lakers (12-9-3) enter the series as a heavy underdog. Nipissing is making their first postseason appearance in their program's brief two-year history, but played Western tough in both regular season meetings. The Lakers lost 2-1 to Western at home on Oct. 25, and took them to a shootout in London, losing 3-2 on Jan. 11.
Jacqueline Rochefort started 13 games in goal for Nipissing, posting a 1.68 goals against average – fifth best in OUA – and will need to be sharp for her team to upset Western. Rookies Samantha Strassburger and Kaley Tienhaara tied for the team lead in points with 20.
(2) Guelph Gryphons vs. (7) Ryerson Rams
No team in the province allowed fewer goals than the No. 5 Guelph Gryphons (18-3-3), who led the conference with a 1.19 goals against average. Not surprisingly, Gryphons goaltender Stephanie Nehring had the league's best goals against average at 1.18, and posted a .947 save percentage – second best in the league – in her 16 starts.
Jessica Pinkerton led the Gryphons with 24 points in 24 games, which tied her for fifth overall in league scoring.
The Rams picked up arguably the biggest win in the program's history, shutting out York 1-0 in their final regular season game to seal their playoff fate. Now, the Rams are hoping to add "first playoff series win" to their list of accomplishments.
Ryerson split its two-game season series with Guelph, losing 3-1 on Oct. 15 before winning 1-0 in a shootout on Jan. 17; goaltender Ally Sarna made 28 saves for the shutout win. It will likely be Alex Armstrong in goal for the Rams in the playoffs though. She finished with a 1.96 goals against average and .931 save percentage, ranking seventh and fifth in the league, respectively.
Melissa Wronzberg led the team with 19 points and also became the first player in program history to eclipse the 50 career point mark.
(3) Queen's Gaels vs. (6) Laurier Golden Hawks
The two most recent OUA women's hockey champions meet in a first round matchup when the No. 6 Queen's Gaels (16-5-3) face off against the Laurier Golden Hawks (13-7-4).
For a Golden Hawks team that is defending an OUA title, and has captured the conference championship banner nine times in 11 seasons – including seven in a row from 2004-2010 – it will be unfamiliar territory to enter the OUA quarter-finals as an underdog.
The Gaels swept the season series with Laurier, although the Golden Hawks took Queen's to overtime on Nov. 22.
Don't expect a shortage of goals in this series either.
Both Queen's and Laurier scored 73 goals this year, tops in the OUA at an average of 2.96 per game. The teams also boast the top powerplays in the conference, with Queen's leading the way at 19.3% followed by Laurier at 18.1%.
The Gaels trio of Shawna Griffin, Taryn Pilon, and Addi Halladay combined for 17 of Queen's 23 powerplay goals. Griffin led the team in scoring with 13 goals and 13 assists, and was followed closely by Pilon's 25 points; they ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the OUA scoring race.
For Laurier, three players reached the 11 goal plateau. Jessie Hurrell led the way with 11 goals and 24 points – good for fifth in the league in points – followed by Laura Brooker and Tammy Freiburger who each had 11 goals and 10 assists.
The No. 10 Toronto Varsity Blues (16-5-3) are chasing their first OUA title since the 2002-03 season and will have to go through the Windsor Lancers (14-6-4) in the first round to get it.
The teams split their two-game regular season series and it will be an interesting matchup of contrasting styles when they hit the ice.
The Varsity Blues allowed the third fewest goals in the league, but ranked seventh in goals scored. On the other hand, Windsor scored the third-most goals in the conference, but ranked eighth in goals against, the worst of any playoff team.
Nicole Kesteris started 18 games for Toronto and finished third in the league with a .938 save percentage and 1.44 goals against average, and ranked second with 14 wins. Kristi Riseley was the only Varsity Blue to reach the 20-point mark, scoring 11 goals to go along with nine assists.
Three Lancers reached the 20-point plateau, including Krystin Lawrence who led the team with 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points. She was followed closely by Jenny MacKnight's 21 points and Candace Kourounis' 20.
The OUA quarter-finals begin Wednesday, Feb. 18 and conclude on Saturday, March 7 with the OUA Women's Hockey Championship hosted by the highest remaining seed.
Each playoff series is a best-of-3 format, with the championship game being a one-game winner-take-all.
The two OUA finalists will each advance to the CIS Women's Hockey Championships taking place Thursday, March 12-15 in Calgary, Alta.
A full schedule of the OUA quarter-finals is available here, and be sure to watch every first-round playoff matchup live on OUA.tv beginning Thursday!