Two top five OUA teams take to the ice to help kick off 2018 schedule

Photos by Kha Vo / Western Mustangs
Photos by Kha Vo / Western Mustangs

BURLINGTON, Ont. - The winter semester is officially underway and fans will be privy to a top-five tilt early on in the 2018 calendar, as the Waterloo Warriors travel to Thompson Arena to take on the Western Mustangs in women’s hockey action on January 4.

Both teams have found success this season, as the No. 3 Mustangs and No. 5 Warriors have earned 25 and 22 points, respectively. Waterloo’s 8-3 record was buoyed by an early-season six game winning streak, highlighted by the team’s first victory of the campaign against now first place Queen’s. Despite following that streak with a pair of losses, Waterloo bounced back before the break with two wins over Laurentian (3-2 SO) and Nipissing (2-1), respectively.

Western, meanwhile, have also tallied eight wins on the season in what has been a back and forth year for the purple ponies. The Mustangs have yet to win more than two in a row, but have also done well to limit the losses in between; even narrowly missing out on extra points with an overtime and shootout loss this season. The club ended the 2017 calendar on a high note, however, as they defeated one of the two teams they’re chasing in the standings – the Brock Badgers – by a 4-2 final.

A major asset working in the Mustangs’ favour is their ability to put the puck in the back of the net, as evidenced by their 36 goals this season. Their mark of 2.77 goals per game sits top three in the OUA, which makes them an imposing threat for any opposition; something the team looks to accomplish all game long thanks to their 32.2 shots per game.  

Unsurprisingly, one of the OUA’s most potent offensive players leads the way for the mighty Mustangs, as April Clark’s 11 goals and 15 points rank her first across the OUA in both categories. Amanda Pereira has also cracked the double digit point plateau thus far and will be looking to build on her strong campaign to open up the 2018 calendar as well.   

While the Warriors haven’t been able to light the lamp as often as the Mustangs, they have managed to win in different ways, most notably with their defence. A consistent strength is their ability to play smart and sound on the ice, limiting their times shorthanded and shutting down the opposition when those rare opportunities do arise.

In fact, one of the key battles in the game will be that of the special teams play, as it will boast the OUA’s second ranked penalty kill against the top power play unit. The Mustangs have scored early and often with the man advantage this season – led by Clark’s four power play goals and Evra Levesque’s trio of markers – finding the back of the net 21.6% of the time. This potent power play prowess will be up against the conference’s second ranked penalty kill; however, as the Warriors’ 93.3% success rate has limited their opposition all season long.

Not only are the Warriors able to stop teams when shorthanded, but all game long, as they’ve surrendered just 19 goals against on the campaign. This defensive success has been anchored by the duo of Stephanie Sluys and Taylor Reimer, both of whom have stood tall between the pipes for the black and gold. The pair of combined to post a stingy 1.72 GAA, good for fourth in the OUA, while their combined .939 SV% ranks third.

While the Warriors sit middle of the pack in goals per game, their new all-time leader in points is able to make her mark with the best of them. Rachel Marriott, a fifth year forward, leads the team with nine points this season, seven of them coming when setting up her teammates (putting her in a tie for fifth in assists across the OUA). Among those fellow Warriors she is setting up are the team’s top two goal scorers – Maryn Caragata and Stephanie Digness – who sit atop the roster with four goals apiece.

On paper, this marquee matchup is setting up to be an offence versus defence showdown, but when these two teams step on the ice, it’s anyone’s guess as to the result. Despite having a full slate of games ahead over the next couple months, this early January tilt will be a noteworthy jolt for either team’s push for top spot. And as the two schools have been neck-and-neck over the past few years, both will be looking to take home an all-important win in this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup.

Fans can catch all the action at Thompson Arena in London at 7:00pm or can tune in to OUA.tv to see how this top-five matchup plays out.