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By Dave Cadeau
Karen Murtaugh is standing tall in a sea of Mustang rookies.
The captain of the Mustang women's indoor hockey team, Murtaugh is heading to Toronto this weekend for the Ontario University Athletics championship with a team half composed of rookies.
The first-year master of biomechanics student leads the team in scoring with nine of the Mustangs 12 goals this season. As the elder stateswoman of the Western women's indoor hockey team, she is respected around the league for both her blistering shot and her leadership.
Mustang goaltender Denise Pelletier, a teammate of Murtaugh for the past three seasons, said she is especially thankful that the rocketing shot of Murtaugh is on her side rather than playing for Guelph or Toronto who the Mustangs will face this weekend. Pelletier said Murtaugh has the hardest shot on the team hands down.
"She's come through in so many key moments," Pelletier said. "When we're down and we need a goal, she's the one we go to."
Gavin Francis, Western's head coach, said Murtaugh's special qualities lie in her experience, her all-round ability to excel both offensively and defensively as well as her hard shot which she can place in all four corners of the opponent's net.
When asked for his favorite Murtaugh moment, Francis looked back to earlier in the season at the team's first tournament against heavily favoured York. Not only did Murtaugh score a hat trick in the 3-3 tie, but she rung another off the crossbar in the dying minutes of the game to send a message to York and the rest of the league.
But for Pelletier, there was no one specific game which stood out in her mind. "There is no particular moment, she just seems to do it all the time," Pelletier said of the team's three-time most valuable player.
The label of well-roundedness which Francis sticks to Murtaugh is not only in reference to her as a player, but also as a person. Alongside her full varsity seasons of field hockey and indoor hockey, Murtaugh is completing her graduate school workload with her sights on medical school in September.
A consistent player on the field, Murtaugh brings that personal trait into the classroom. For the past four years, she has been named an academic all-Canadian an honour handed to athletes who attain a minimum of 80 per cent in school.
Indoor hockey is a downsized version of field hockey with six players rather than 11. The players compete with thinner sticks yet the same shape and on a smaller playing surface indoors. The Sarnia native has been playing both versions of the sport, field hockey and indoor hockey, since the age of 12 when she picked up a stick and joined a club team in her home town. Her experience also included stints at the junior and senior provincial team levels.
As the team looks forward to next season they will have a team which has played together for at least one year minus Murtaugh. Still, Francis was quick to point out her contributions will not be forgotten.
"Her consistency will be missed, as she doesn't make many mistakes and she plays a vital role in all of our set plays," Francis said.
For now, Murtaugh's focus is set on the Ontario championships.
"This year's team is so cohesive we're all very serious about the game but can still have a great time together," she said.