Special teams discipline is paramount

Western must contain hungry, feisty Wolves this weekend

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer

Jon Purdy

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE NEW LUIS VITTON SALE? Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer discussed strategies for beating Lakehead, among other things, at practice.

In a season full of peaks and valleys, Western’s men’s hockey team has been schizophrenic to say the least.

Coming off a 9-1 thumping of the Windsor Lancers Saturday, the ’Stangs have scored at a torrid pace lately, winning five of their last seven contests. In that time span, the Purple and Silver have tallied five or more goals four times, including a 10-goal obliteration of Ryerson.

Despite Western’s recent scoring surge, head coach Clarke Singer insists the momentum won’t change the team’s preparation for this weekend’s games. However, the balanced scoring the ’Stangs received this past weekend will be vital to conquering a highly skilled Lakehead Thunderwolves team.

“I don’t really think you carry it forward,” Singer said. “Every weekend is a new weekend, and you have to prepare the same and be ready to go.

The only thing nice about last weekend is a bunch of guys got on the score sheet and hopefully they bring some confidence from putting the puck in the net last weekend forward to this one.”

Singer’s bunch enters this weekend’s crucial divisional doubleheader trailing the Wolves by one point in the highly competitive Ontario University Athletics Far West division.

Momentum might be on Lakehead’s side; it blanked division-leading Waterloo last weekend, a team the Mustangs have struggled mightily against this season.

The two squads have yet to meet this season and back-to-back games will carry a playoff atmosphere as the teams renew their bitter rivalry Saturday night.

Singer is confident about Western’s readiness for the crucial home stand but cautious about focusing too much on preparing for Lakehead instead of concentrating on what the Mustangs need to do themselves.

“We know a lot about them, we’ve seen them play this year and we’ve got lots of scouting reports,” Singer said. “I think if you start worrying too much on the other team, you forget about what you have to do yourself.”

Lakehead’s offence boasts the second highest goals-per-game total in the country, the bulk of which has come from Tobias Whelan and Mark Soares. The tandem has punished opposing power plays, scoring 13 power-play goals between them. Lakehead’s snipers could spell trouble for a Mustangs team that takes penalties in spurts, especially against faster, highly skilled forwards.

“We can prepare a lot better " they penalty kill a lot like we do by pressuring very hard,” said Mustangs defenceman Matt Manias. “So it gives us the ability to practise that because we penalty kill with a similar pressure in zone.”

This weekend’s doubleheader will be a test of resilience for a young team attempting to prove it can hang with the league’s elite. The ’Stangs have beaten bottom-feeders but haven’t succeeded against top teams.

“At this point in the season, we have to make sure that our game, our systems and our players are at 100 per cent,” Singer said.

Anticipating a physical game against their biggest rival " the Wolves are tied for first in the OUA in penalty minutes " the Mustangs stepped up the physicality in Wednesday’s practice, resulting in a few bumps and stares between team leader Steve Benedetti and defenceman Ryan Waldner.

Benedetti commented on the practice’s unusual intensity.

“I’m just trying to get [Waldner] ready " he has been out of the lineup for a while. He’s a physical player and we need him this weekend.”

The action commences at 7 p.m. Saturday at the John Labatt Centre and the teams square off again at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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