Extra frames lead to undoing of hockey team

Losses in overtime, shootouts cause another early exit

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Reflecting on this year’s Ontario University Athletics men’s hockey season, what prevented the Mustangs from separating themselves from the pack during the regular season turned out to be their undoing in the playoffs.

Western lost five times in overtime and shootouts throughout the year " the most in the OUA " and saw its playoff run come to an abrupt halt after consecutive semi-final playoff losses to the Brock Badgers in overtime.

“You always try to win the game within 60 minutes of play,” Western head coach Clarke Singer said. “That’s the odd thing about it: it depends so much on momentum; a quick shot or a quick play can end it. That’s the dynamic of the game.”

The most heartbreaking of the overtime losses came at Thompson Arena on Feb. 22, when Mustangs forward Ryan Hare scored twice in the final two minutes only to watch the game slip in overtime.

“I’m still in disbelief,” Western forward Sal Peralta said.

“It’s hard to swallow. I still don’t know if I’d put [the Badgers] in the same class as us or a team like Lakehead, but hey, they got the job done and all the credit to them.”

Western’s inability to score after regulation first impacted the team less than a month into the season when the Mustangs dropped back-to-back shootout losses to the Lakehead Thunderwolves " the eventual Far West division winners.

The forfeited points proved costly as the ’Wolves ended the regular season six points ahead of the ’Stangs, a fact that did not escape goaltender Brad Topping.

“Those bonus points always seem to play a factor in playoff positioning and unfortunately they’re going to end up costing some teams,” he said.

Following the trip to Thunder Bay, the team rebounded with six straight wins and exploded offensively with Western’s top line of Peralta, Kevin Richardson and Hare leading the charge contributing a combined 25 points through the first three games of that stretch.

After cruising through most of November, the team received a harsh wake-up call when its overtime demons showed up again in the form of a 3-2 shootout loss to the UOIT Ridgebacks.

Returning from Christmas break, the team struggled to regain its earlier form. In its first game back, arguably the low point of the regular season, the men dropped a surprising 5-2 loss to the floundering Ryerson Rams.

The loss proved infectious; the ’Stangs were held winless in three of their first four games of the second half, including another shootout loss, to division rival Wilfrid Laurier University.

The Mustangs would exact some revenge a week later however, when they finally shook the proverbial monkey off their back, defeating Laurier 6-5 in a shootout on Jan. 26.

“That’s the other side of shootouts,” Topping said. “After that game, we were really pumped up.”

From there, the team split its remaining four games, defeating the Windsor Lancers then falling in overtime to the Waterloo Warriors before splitting a two-game home stand against the Thunderwolves.

After dismantling the York Lions in two games during the first round of the provincial playoffs, the Mustangs entered the OUA semi-finals with high hopes, having swept the Badgers in the season series two games to none.

Following a game one win at Brock, Western lost the second game in overtime despite the last-minute heroics of Hare.

In what turned out to be an old-fashioned barnburner, including a seven-goal second period, the Badgers ended the Mustangs’ postseason with a dramatic 6-5 overtime victory in the deciding match.

Singer is already looking forward to next season, where he will have quite a few new faces in his lineup.

“We’re looking to bring in 10 or 11 guys for next year and we’re hoping some of the returning players will step up to the plate.”

Even with the new blood, nothing has changed for Topping.

“The goal is always the same: we are competing for OUAs and [the] Canadian Interuniversity Sport [championship] every year, and next year will be no different.”

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