Just can't stop that third-place feeling
By James Pugsley
As the regular season of OUAA hockey winds down, two third-place teams, the Western Mustangs and Brock Badgers, don't have anything left to prove to the rest of the league. Instead, when they collide at Thompson Arena tonight, the onus will be more upon proving something to themselves with only four games to go before the playoffs.
Regardless of differences in schedules, Western and Brock have a lot of similarities. The teams, which wrap up a two-game season series (the first game won by Western 6-2 on Jan. 17), are both young, defensive-minded squads that have battled inconsistency all year resulting in a likely third-place finish.
Badger coach Mike Pelino is hoping to use the remaining games to help prepare for the playoffs.
"Our weakness has definitely been inconsistency," Pelino said. "We keep finding new ways to beat ourselves. Our strengths lie in the fact that if we start firing on all cylinders we can be comparable to the better teams in the league."
Brock, with a record of 8-13-1, has thrived on the success of rookie defencemen Ryan Tocher and Paul McInnes. On a team where 16 Badgers are in either their first or second season, the two pointmen have contributed 12 goals and 30 assists amassing nearly a quarter of the Badgers' scoring punch while also playing a strong defensive role.
Mathematically speaking, Brock and Western could still move into second-place in their respective divisions. The Badgers have already eliminated last-place Ryerson from the Midwest division playoffs, while Western has no worries of the lowly Laurier team chasing the Mustangs out of the post-season picture. However, both Mustang coach Barry Martinelli and Pelino feel the race for home ice advantage in the first post-season game is generally over.
"We have generally come to the conclusion that we are going to finish third," Martinelli said. "Now that we know we are going into a sudden-death game away from home we have to start focusing on what we need to be successful."
Western has only three games left after tonight including two division match-ups at home against Waterloo next Wednesday and concluding the season against Laurier tomorrow.
The Mustangs, fresh off a 3-2 upset over previously-ranked Laurentian Saturday, are sitting six points behind the red-hot Windsor Lancers who have won eight of their past nine games and are preparing to host the Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs. Waterloo will then host the winner.
Tonight's game begins at 7:30 p.m.