BURLINGTON, Ont. – New season, new teams, as the 2017-18 McCaw Cup will see the Queen’s Gaels battle the Western Mustangs to see which program is crowned women’s hockey champions. And when it comes to these two teams going toe-to-toe on the ice, they are two of the most evenly matched squads the OUA has to offer.
Details surrounding the upcoming McCaw Cup can be found in the 2018 Women's Hockey Championship Fan Guide.
The Mustangs have made quite an impression in their postseason march thus far, galloping their way to a pair of decisive series sweeps. They opened up their quest for the cup against the No. 6 Toronto Varsity Blues, flexing their offensive muscle to the tune of seven goals in two games; before flipping the script to earn a defensive-minded sweep over the two-time reigning champion, Guelph Gryphons. After shutting out the offensive juggernaut Gryphs in Game 1 of their semifinal clash, Western completed the upset when Rachel Armstrong (Waterdown, Ont.) notched the double-overtime win in Game 2.
It’s no surprise that the Mustangs were able to win their games in a number of different ways, as the purple and white boast a talent-laden roster from the crease outward. In net, behind the impactful presence of Carmen Lasis (Toronto, Ont.), Western played their way to a fourth-ranked save percentage of 0.934, which includes a sparkling 1.48 GAA (4th in OUA) and 0.940 SV% from the Mustangs starting puck-stopper. But more than the goaltending, which allowed just 40 goals against on the season (3rd in OUA), Western is also one of the more offensively gifted teams in the province.
Checking in with a solid average of 2.50 goals per game, much of this adept goal-scoring ability comes from their skill on special teams; offering opponents the toughest challenge when it comes to their potent powerplay. The Mustangs find the back of the net 20.9% of the time with the player advantage, leading the conference with 19 such tallies on the year. Not only can the ‘Stangs give teams fits on the powerplay, but on the penalty kill as well. With a success rate of 93.3% - good for 2nd in the OUA – Queen’s may need to look elsewhere if they want to gain the advantage, but the Gaels are no stranger to finding the back of the net either.
Finishing right above Western in the goals per game race, Queen’s, led by OUA Coach of the Year Matt Holmberg, averages a mark of 2.75 per game. Backed by one of the conference’s most potent weapons, it’s no surprise that the Tricolour is adept at lighting the lamp. Player of the Year Katrina Manoukarakis (Scarborough, Ont.) not only led the OUA in goals, scoring 15 times on the season, but also in points, showing that she is as skilled a passer as she is a scorer. Not to be outdone, the Gaels have four other players who have topped the 15-point plateau, including a pair of nine-goal campaigns from Addi Halladay (North Augusta, Ont.) and Hailey Wilson (Pickering, Ont.), as well as a conference-leading 17 helpers from Clare McKellar (London, Ont.).
The Gaels also match up well in the crease, as the Kingston squad boasts one of the best in net with OUA Goaltender of the Year Stephanie Pascal (Sudbury, Ont.). The starting goaltender has strung together a top-five season in both goals against average (1.33) and save percentage (0.944), backstopping her Queen’s teammates to the second best goals against total in the province. This strong play has continued into the postseason, meanwhile, as Pascal has been a big part of the Gaels getting to where they are.
Despite giving up a game to the Warriors in the opening round, the Gaels were able to shut down Waterloo in their two wins, with Pascal picking up two shutouts in the Queen’s victories. Against Nipissing’s top offence in Round 2, meanwhile, the Gaels were once again able to shut the door, limiting the high-octane Lakers to just three goals in their two games; clearing the path for their championship showdown with the third seed Mustangs.
Much of this puck stopping prowess is largely benefitted by the team’s ability on the penalty kill, once again showing similarities to their Western opponents. Queen’s, in fact, ranks first in the OUA with a 95.1% success rate when down a player – allowing just four goals against in 81 chances – which should create an intriguing matchup against the conference’s top powerplay.
Queen’s, meanwhile, owns a stout powerplay of their own, ranking second in the OUA with a 16.7% mark, once again seemingly pitting an immovable object against an unstoppable force. Whether it’s a defensive-minded affair or an offensive onslaught, however, something has got to give when the two remaining squads take to the ice on Saturday; just as it has in their other two meetings this season.
When it comes to their head-to-head play, despite each side taking a game, the wins themselves came via the shutout over their respective McCaw Cup combatant. In their first meeting, a late first period goal from Wilson was all the scoring that was needed for Queen’s, but the likes of Manoukarkis and Halladay potted a pair in the second period, and Emily Gervais (Kamloops, B.C.) iced it late in the game to hand the Gaels a 4-0 win. And while Queen’s goaltender Pascal earned the clean sheet in that one, it was her counterpart Carmen Lasis returning the favour for the purple ponies in their second matchup. Behind 25 saves, the Mustangs were able to secure a 3-0 win, with the offensive support coming from Emma Pearson (Richmond Hill, Ont.) and Brianna Rice (Newmarket, Ont.), before Shana Alexander (Bainsville, Ont.) put home an empty-netter.
While the latter two haven’t been known for the goal-scoring this season, OUA Second-Team All-Star Pearson has been one of the best for the purple ponies when it comes to racking up points. Despite notching only two goals, she is able to dish out the helpers at a team-leading rate, often setting up the team’s leading scorers April Clark (St. Mary’s, Ont.) – also a Second-Team All-Star – and Evra Levesque (Wawa, Ont.). The duo have both eclipsed the 10-goal mark – tallying 12 and 11, respectively – which includes four apiece on the powerplay, and are also supported by another five Mustangs who’ve reached the double-digit point plateau. The diverse and dynamic scoring makes it tough to hone in on any single player or line, which means the Gaels will need to rely on their strong defense and savvy play to shut the door.
Beyond this season, the teams also met in championship play to wrap up the 2013 campaign, when the Gaels swept the ‘Stangs for their last McCaw Cup win. A lot has changed since then, including then Queen’s player Morgan McHaffie transitioning from on-ice talent to an assistant coach for the Tricolour, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the desire to win.
No matter who steps up for their respective squads, it will need to be a championship-type performance to earn the win in this heavyweight bout. But whether it’s on the back of a highlight reel goal, a relentless back check, or an otherworldly save, the talent running through the Queen’s and Western rosters boast the potential to do great things to help determine who will be crowned 2017-18 McCaw Cup champions.
For tickets to the 2017-18 McCaw Cup final, please click HERE and for those who can't make it to watch the women's hockey championship live, tune in to OUA.tv, which is also available on Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, and Amazon Fire, to see all the action.