Kingston, Ont. – Both teams staked their claim as part of the conference’s elite last year, even doing battle in the conference semi-finals, but as we turn the page to the 2018-19 campaign, both the Queen’s Gaels and Nipissing Lakers will be looking for even more this time around; a journey that sees the two top squads go head-to-head as part of this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters.
The Gaels sat atop the conference standings a season ago during the regular season, but their first place finish did not translate to provincial gold. The Tricolour’s quest for the McCaw Cup was halted at the hands of the Western Mustangs; a battle that saw the host Gaels drop a 3-0 decision to the No. 3 Mustangs. But if Queen’s wants to position themselves for another crack at the OUA banner, then a win against fellow powerhouse Nipissing would be a great place to start.
If the past is any indication, it will be no small task to upend the Lakers, as they proved to be a tough competitor in the teams’ four meetings a season ago. Despite picking up the loss in their first meeting a season ago, the Lakers held the lead twice in the early going. Ultimately, a power play goal from Jessica Wakefield with seconds to go in the middle frame proved to be the difference in Queen’s ultimate win. The rematch, however, saw no such result. In fact, it needed an extra frame for any scoring at all, and in the overtime period, it was Nipissing’s Maria Dominico (North Bay, Ont.) who potted the winner and securing the 23-save shutout for Jacqueline Rochefort.
These closely-contested meetings continued into the postseason, as their paths crossed in the form of a heart-pounding playoff series prior to the McCaw Cup. The Gaels came out on top after sweeping the best-of-three matchup, but it was by no means a cake-walk to the finals. Both tilts were decided by a single goal, with the opener once again going to overtime. Taylor Hicks (Whitby, Ont.) notched the Game 1 winner, putting home the rebound off of an Addi Halladay (North Augusta, Ont.) point shot, while Halladay managed to find the back of the net herself for the game-winner in the deciding Game 2.
Four one-goal games suggests that each meeting remains up in the air, and with difference-makers all over the ice across both rosters, each team has a case for claiming the early season win.
Among those key players is the aforementioned Dominico, who will be striving for a successful encore to her Rookie of the Year campaign, a stretch that saw her match the league-lead in goals with 15. She will be going up against another of the OUA’s top producers, as Katrina Manoukarakis (Scarborough, Ont.) is coming off a 15-goal season of her own, checking in with an OUA-leading 15 assists to boot. Her 30 points buoyed her MVP and Forward of the Year awards.
The all-stars continue onto the back-end meanwhile, as each boasts a key cog in the defensive side of the game. For the Lakers, reigning Defender of the Year Zosia Davis (Cobden, Ont.) will return to anchor the Nipissing blue line, offering both a defensive and offensive combo (netting career highs across the board) that proved critical to her team’s fourth place finish a season ago. And while the Gaels’ first-team all-star defender, Wakefield, has graduated, Queen’s still has an ace up their sleeve when it comes to slowing down the opposition.
Stephanie Pascal (Sudbury, Ont.) was as sharp as they come between the pipes a season ago on her way to the 2017-18 Goaltender of the Year award. Her .944 SV% and 1.33 GAA were good for top three in the province, while her nearly 450 saves came in fourth. The first-team all-star also led the conference in wins with 14, and will be looking to give her 2018-19 win total a boost with an early one this weekend.
After splitting time with Rochefort a season ago, meanwhile, the Lakers will return Danika Ranger (Astorville, Ont.) between the pipes to counter Pascal, and with a rookie campaign under her belt that saw her put up a .933 SV% and 1.73 GAA in her 11 games, the Lakers should feel more than confident in the sophomore’s abilities in the blue paint.
Whether it’s in the crease, on the blue line, or up front, one thing is abundantly clear in this marquee matchup – the talent is plentiful. With this level of skill, it’s no surprise that Queen’s ended the previous campaign ranked in the top three both offensively (2.75 goals per game) and defensively (1.53 goals against), with key strengths in both the power play ((16.7%) and penalty kill (95.1%). On the other side, the numbers are equally as impressive, with Nipissing entering as the top offensive unit from a season ago, notching over three goals per contest, while ranking fourth in goals against.
To find out which side earns the early-season edge, with the game taking place on Saturday, October 13 at 7:00pm in Kingston, fans can tune in to oua.tv or download the app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, or Roku. And while this game won’t be one to miss, both teams will have the opportunity to work out the kinks in the respective season openers the night prior, with the Gaels hosting the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing traveling to UOIT for an opener against the Ridgebacks.