Marquee Matchup: Reigning champions ready to battle Western at Sleeman Centre in inaugural Fall Faceoff

Marquee Matchup: Reigning champions ready to battle Western at Sleeman Centre in inaugural Fall Faceoff

Guelph, Ont. (via David DiCenzo) – They have been two of the premier powers in OUA women’s hockey for years. And it’s only appropriate that the Western Mustangs and Guelph Gryphons feature their great rivalry at a big venue early in the 2019-20 campaign. The two powerhouse programs, which have combined to win the last five McCaw Cups, will clash Thursday, October 24 at the Sleeman Centre in downtown Guelph for the inaugural Fall Faceoff, this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup.

“We’re thrilled to be playing at the Sleeman Centre in the first-ever Fall Faceoff,” Guelph head coach Rachel Flanagan said of the opportunity for the defending U SPORTS champs to host Western. “The event will create a unique and special atmosphere for our players, parents, alumni, and supporters, especially our Junior Gryphons. We’re looking forward to showcasing Gryphon women’s hockey in front of our campus and City of Guelph community.”

The hosts will be tested by a talented Western squad, which began play in 2019-20 ranked ninth in the nation. Some key players return to a lineup that was one game away from a McCaw Cup appearance last season, including the OUA MVP April Clark (St. Mary’s, Ont.). The fifth-year Nursing student lit the league up last year, pacing all players in goals (20) and points (33). And while the Mustangs will look to Clark as an offensive anchor, they are also sound in their own zone with the return of fourth-year D Renae Nevills (Thamesville, Ont.) and the team’s star third-year goalie Carmen Lasis (Toronto, Ont.). The junior netminder had a strong 2018-19 season, posting 10 wins with a 1.49 goals-against average and a gaudy .941 save percentage.

 “I am excited for this team to hit the ice,” Mustangs’ head coach Candice Moxley said prior to the start of the regular season. “We have a strong core returning this year and the incoming class complements the types of players we have in our lineup. This group has the potential to make a statement in the OUA this year.”

The desired statement has started on the right foot, as Western is off to a great start in the new campaign. The team registered a 5-3 win over the York Lions in the opener, followed by a 3-2 victory over the Brock Badgers thanks to Clark’s successful effort in the third round of the shootout.

Top-ranked Guelph will undoubtedly be facing a new challenge after raising the U SPORTS banner following the team’s incredible post-season run last March. Gone from that history-making squad are leaders like captain Kaitlin Lowy, who scored the championship-winning goal, star forward Claire Merrick, and the former U SPORTS Player of the Year in goaltender Valerie Lamenta.

But the Gryphons have had to restock the cupboards before and the returning group includes some excellent talent to go along with a couple key recruits. Fifth-year forward Karli Shell (Lively, Ont.) had an under-the-radar campaign last year, racking up eight goals (including four game-winners) and 11 assists to tie Merrick for second in the team scoring race, behind only Lowy. Miranda Lantz (Midmay, Ont.), another experienced player in her fifth year, also proved to be a reliable source of goals after registering 11 last season, two coming shorthanded. Lantz also added a goal and three assists in five playoff games.

The Gryphons knew they were in good hands with Lamenta as the last line of defence for the past four seasons. Her university career culminated with an incredible string of performances for Guelph to secure the national title. But the former backup Aurore Beaulieu (Calgary, Alta.) also had a season to remember. The fourth-year biological science major started eight games last year and won all of them, allowing just 12 goals to produce a sparkling 1.48 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. Now the number one in between the pipes, Beaulieu opened 2019-20 in style, pitching a shutout in the Gryphons’ 4-0 road win over the Laurier Golden Hawks. Lantz notched the winner, with fourth-year forward Sydney Davison grabbing a pair of assists. Guelph was also happy to see one of the new faces, rookie Mayla Mayer (Niagara Falls, Ont.), get in on the goal scoring for the first of her OUA career.

But the reigning champs actually had their banner-raising ceremony spoiled when the Waterloo Warriors defeated them 5-1 in the home opener at Gryphon Centre Arena last Saturday. So motivation won’t be lacking when the Mustangs come to the Sleeman Centre for the inaugural Fall Faceoff.

The two teams have plenty of recent history, with a series of intense, fast-paced matchups. They split the two regular-season meetings last season, with Guelph taking a 2-0 win back on November 3, 2018 and Western responding with 3-2 OT victory on February 2. Where the rivalry has really formed is in the postseason; however, and the Mustangs have recent bragging rights on that front when they swept the Gryphons in the 2018 OUA semifinal en route to the second McCaw Cup in the program’s history.

Even with that result, each side has a league championship victory over the other. Guelph defeated the Mustangs 5-1 on home ice in 2016 for the school’s first OUA title since 1998, while Western shut out the Gryphons 2-0 at Thompson Arena in London the year prior for the first McCaw Cup in program history, setting up a run to the Mustangs’ only national championship.

With results like this in tow, these two teams have established themselves as the benchmark for the entire conference ever since. And the Fall Faceoff, this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, promises to be another exciting installment in one of the best rivalries in all of university hockey.

Fans hoping to catch this inaugural event in person at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph can purchase tickets here, while the action will also be available for viewing live on oua.tv, with puck drop at 7:00pm on Thursday, October 24th.

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