After setting a program record with 20 regular season wins and going undefeated through the first two rounds of the OUA playoffs, the CIS No. 3-ranked Western Mustangs are now just one win away from capturing their first ever OUA women's hockey championship banner.
To do so, they will have to defeat the No. 5 Guelph Gryphons, when the teams meet in London on Saturday, March 7 at 4 p.m.
Western beat the Gryphons in their two regular season meetings by a combined score of 7-2.
For Western, the road to the championship game went through the defending champion Laurier Golden Hawks, who they dispatched 2-0 in their best-of-3 semifinal matchup. Western also swept the Nipissing Lakers in the first round; it was the Lakers first playoff appearance in the program's brief two-year history.
The Guelph Gryphons were pushed to the limit by the No. 10 Toronto Varsity Blues, but managed to oust them 2-1 in their semifinals series, which included a double-overtime Game 1 win for Guelph. The Gryphons were also given a test in the first round by the Ryerson Rams, who were also making their first ever OUA playoff appearance. It required two overtime games for Guelph to sweep the best-of-3 series 2-0.
For both squads, the biggest strengths of the team are found in the goal crease.
Whether or not Guelph can end its own OUA title drought that dates back to 1998 will depend a lot on the play of goaltender Stephanie Nehring. She led the conference with a 1.18 goals against average during the regular season, while posting a .947 save percentage. Her play has not faltered during the postseason, as she has somehow managed to improve on her sterling regular season numbers, posting a playoff-leading 1.04 goals against average and .950 save percentage. She also shut out the Toronto Varsity Blues in a win-or-go home Game 3 in the OUA semifinals.
No one in the country was harder to score on in the regular season than Mustangs goalie Kelly Campbell, who led CIS with a .954 save percentage and was second behind Nehring in the conference with a 1.23 goals against average. In the playoffs, Campbell has continued her solid play posting a 1.87 goals against average and .930 save percentage, and has a perfect 4-0 record in the postseason.
Goals will undoubtedly be at a premium in the championship, so each team will need their top offensive weapons to step up in the biggest game of the season.
Forward Kendra Broad led the Mustangs and finished second in OUA with 30 points in the regular season, and is currently tied for second on the team in the playoffs with four points, scoring one goal and adding three assists. Forward Sidney Kidd, who had seven goals in the regular season, already has four in the playoffs for the Mustangs and is tied for the postseason lead in points with five.
The player Kidd shares the lead with is Guelph's forward Jessica Pinkerton. After leading the Gryphons with 24 points in the regular season, Pinkerton is once again setting the pace for Guelph with a goal and four assists in five playoff games. Four Gryphons are tied for the team lead in goals with two, including forward Averi Nooren who had nine in the regular season.
Though both teams have already clinched their spot in the CIS Championship tournament beginning March 12 in Calgary, both have waited a long time to claim they are the best in the province, and will be leaving it all on the ice.
Puck drop is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 and will be broadcast live on OUA.tv. The game will also be available on Rogers TV Cable 13 in the London area.