Two teams vying for a spot in the OUA women's hockey playoffs meet Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. for the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup in what can aptly described a "must-win" game for both squads.
The Ryerson Rams are holding on to the eighth and final playoff seed and host the 10th-place York Lions at the Mattamy Athletic Centre for their final game of the season. York trails Ryerson by two points in the standings, but has an extra game remaining in the regular season.
Though the situation is not as simple as "win and you're in," for the Rams, a victory against York would at least put pressure on other teams who are log jammed in the OUA playoff picture, where only three points separate the seventh and 10th seeds. The Nipissing Lakers are also tied with Ryerson for points and, like York, have two games remaining.
For a team that is looking for its first taste of the postseason since joining OUA play in the 2011-12 season, Ryerson will have to find a way to channel its energy and excitement.
"We're talking about wanting to play our best in the biggest moments, and for our program this is the biggest moment we've had," said Rams head coach Lisa Haley. "On the other side of that, you also want to treat it like any other game, so when the anthem ends you want to be focused and to be able to get a win.
"Our players are really excited, especially those who have been a part of the team since Day 1. It would be a special moment to have our players experience (making the playoffs)."
York also missed the playoffs last season, and are currently on the outside looking in. They now face the difficult task of preparing for the game against Ryerson while knowing they have another must-win game the following day and could still need some help getting in.
"It's a big challenge at this time of year because there is such an emphasis on making the playoffs," said York head coach Dan Church. "You need to have the ability to have dual perspective. We need to control the controllable, but also have a vision for what we want to accomplish and that's to win our final two games."
Thursday will be the second meeting between the two teams, York shutout Ryerson 5-0 on Nov. 30. OUA leading scorer Lisa Stathopulos found the back of the net twice that game, as did Sarai Whitty.
"The first time we played Ryerson we had a good level of energy throughout our lineup," said Church. "It's key for us to have all 20 players all-in and ready to go."
Stathopulos has carried the Lions offence for much of the season and will need to close out strong for her team to have a shot at the playoffs.
"My expectation is she's going to bring the consistency she's brought all year, and hopefully I can put her in situations to take over the game," said Church. "Her goal scoring prowess speaks for itself and the value it adds, but she's valuable in all situations. She competes hard, kills penalties, and is a leader on the ice and in the dressing room."
The Rams rely on a balanced scoring attack, led by Melissa Wronzberg's 17 points in 23 games, and have also received solid goaltending from Alex Armstrong, who has appeared in 16 games and ranks eighth in the conference with a .926 save percentage.
It has been a long and hard-fought season for both teams who must now dig deep and make one final push to get in the postseason. Be sure to catch the game in-person or watch live on OUA.tv at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12!
Marquee Matchup By the Numbers
30 – Points for York's Lisa Stathopulos, who leads OUA in points and is fifth in CIS. Stathopulous has 16 goals and 14 assists in 22 games this season.
551 – Saves made by York goaltender Megan Lee, the OUA leader in the category. Lee has started 17 games this season and owns a 2.21 goals against average. She made 21 saves and earned a shutout in a 5-0 win against the Rams earlier this year.
12 – Wins this season for the Ryerson Rams, who had won a total of eight games in the previous three seasons. Now in their fourth season of OUA competition, the Rams seemed poised to take the next step as a team that contends for the playoffs now and in years to come.
51 - Career points for fourth-year Rams forward Melissa Wronzberg. She is the first and only player to eclipse the 50 career point mark in Ryerson's short history. Wronzberg posted five goals and 17 points to lead the Rams this season.