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Volume 90, Issue 84
Wednesday, March 05, 1997
Dark horse tramples some top dogs
I NEED A HUG. Western goalie C.J. Denomme awaits a stampede of Mustangs following Saturday's stunning 5-3 win over the defending OUAA champion Waterloo Warriors. The upset moves Western to within one victory of a CIAU berth.
By James Pugsley
Out of all the Mustang teams that began their playoffs last week, few thought there was any hope for the unranked, underdog hockey squad. Now, after eliminating two of the top teams in Canada, the Windsor Lancers and Waterloo Warriors, Western is in the OUAA semi-finals and is starting to look more like the darkest horse the university has produced all year.
For the Mustangs, who sat in third place in the Far West division heading into the playoffs, something has gone terribly right. Beginning Feb. 8 with a 3-2 win over Laurentian, Western started one of this season's hottest streaks in the CIAU currently sitting at eight straight wins. Already aware that second place was out of reach, Western won its last five regular season games to finish with a record of 15-11-0. And while Waterloo and Windsor exhausted each other in a battle for first place and home ice advantage in the first round (won by the Warriors), the Mustangs quietly began to score goals just in time for the post-season finding the net 31 times in those five games.
The end result was a red-hot Western team upsetting the previously-charging Windsor Lancers in a sudden-death showdown 6-2 last Tuesday, followed by two consecutive wins over Waterloo, Canada's 10th-ranked team, in the best-of-three division finals (6-2 at Waterloo last Thursday and 5-3 at Western Saturday). It all adds up to a shot at a CIAU berth which would be earned by defeating York Saturday night.
"It's all about confidence," said Mustang point leader Jason Heywood, who scored twice in the clincher over Waterloo Saturday. "The playoffs are about whoever's playing the best at the time. We've picked a good time to peak."
The winning streak is the longest for Western since going 10-1 to begin last season. However, last year's team, which had much more talent and experience than this year's group, was unable to play to its potential in the march and took an early exit from the post-season. Mustang coach Barry Martinelli sees a big difference in the way the young 1997 squad is handling the playoffs.
"It's all about peaking and pressure," he said. "Last year all of the pressure was on us and we didn't handle things very well. This year, because there aren't any expectations, we haven't had any pressure and we have played a lot looser."
Waterloo coach Don McKee was well aware of Western's winning streak coming into the series and could only watch as the Mustangs outscored the Warriors, last year's OUAA champs, 11-5 in two games.
"The difference was [Western goalie C.J.] Denomme and Heywood," McKee said as his stunned squad entered the dressing room behind him. "They played above everyone else in the series and if they play the same in the next round, Western is going to the CIAUs."
Denomme, who stopped 41 shots in the opening game of the series and 29 on Saturday, credits the rookies as well as his team's strong commitment to defence, but he is not ready to glorify the Mustang performance just yet.
"It's not a fairytale ending until we win the CIAUs," he said. "Right now we're nothing more than a happy short story in the back of a big book."
The national championship, scheduled for Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens March 14, includes the two finalists in the OUAA, one team from the Canada West conference and one from the Atlantic conference. Saturday's game begins at 7:30 p.m. in Waterloo.
STICK IT. Referees examine Mustang Rob Schweyer's stick in the dying minutes of Saturday's game. A minor infraction ensued.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997