Far West hockey shootouts keep parity
By John Dinner
Playoff hockey in mid-season? That's been the case so far this season for the Mustang men's hockey team since they have had to do battle with some very tough opponents from the Far West division.
On Friday night, Western hosted the last place Waterloo Warriors, but like all games in the Far West it was a physical, tight match.
"We knew what to expect from them," said winger Damon Hardy. "We've developed quite a rivalry with Waterloo and we know every game is going to be a battle. I think this is just a case of the good team finding a way to win."
The 5-4 victory moved Western within a point of the top spot, currently held by Laurier, who went down 2-1 in overtime to Windsor on Saturday. Windsor is now tied for second with Western after their 3-1 loss to Waterloo on Sunday afternoon.
Mustang coach Barry Martinelli believed this kind of parity will benefit in the long run.
"Every game within the division is important, and when you're playing important games you'll play a lot harder," Martinelli commented. "Come playoff time, I think it'll help us because we'll be used to the tight competition and intensity."
Dave Cressman, Waterloo's head coach, also believed playing in this division will benefit at playoff time. By not being the most talented team in the division, he said a playoff spot could be tough for the Warriors. Still, if they were to grab that last spot, he said he feels his troops will be ready.
"If we can keep our loss totals close to the others then we believe we have a chance," Cressman said. "We outwork and outshoot a lot of the teams and if we can start finding ways to win on a consistent basis, then our confidence will be there and we could be a tough team to beat."
Playing playoff hockey all season means more attention will have to be paid to special teams and goaltending, aspects which the Mustangs are extremely pleased with so far.
"We have two potent power play units and we've stuck to the same guys for the most part," said Hardy, pointing to the fact the power-play has operated close to 30 per cent on the season.
Goaltending for the Mustangs was thought to be the weakness of the team when they lost No. 1 goalie CJ Denomme to injury, but third goalie Mike Hall and rookie netminder Denver England have held down the fort.
"If we thought we would be one point out of first without our No. 1 goalie people would have thought [we were] crazy," Martinelli said. "But both England and Hall have played tremendous for us."
The 'Stangs have two games remaining before the Christmas break, hosting the York Yeoman Thursday night at Thompson Arena before heading north to Laurentian on Saturday.