North Bay, Ont. – Two of the most dynamic talents in all of university women’s hockey will square off along with their respective clubs, as April Clark (St. Mary’s, Ont.) and her Western Mustangs head north to battle Zosia Davis (Cobden, Ont.) and the Nipissing Lakers in this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada.
The two teams are separated by just four points in the standings. The Mustangs check in with 37 points – good for second place in the division – while the host Lakers are sitting in fourth with 33 points on the year. It wasn’t long ago that both of these teams were among the five squads tied for second, but a recent three-game skid for Nipissing has seen the Mustangs get a nose in front of the pack for the conference’s second spot.
Not only were these marquee matchup combatants recently deadlocked in the standings, but they also went head-to-head just a short time ago too. On January 13, the Mustangs welcomed the Lakers to Thompson Arena for what proved to be a closely-contested affair. After a scoreless first period helped set the tone for this low-scoring contest, it was Nipissing’s Sam Strassburger (Schreiber, Ont.) who opened the scoring early in the second. Not to be outdone, however, Clark completed the same feat just over a minute into the final frame to knot things up at 1-apiece, before a late powerplay marker from Alyssa Chiarello (Kitchener, Ont.) sealed the deal for Western’s slim 2-1 win.
Seeing those two players find the back of the net for the Mustangs has been nothing new this season, as they represent the team’s top goal-scorers on the year. Clark has been on a mission this season, skating her way to a conference best 17 goals and 24 points, while Chiarello’s seven tallies have helped set her up for 12 points overall, tied with teammate Shailyn Waites (Leamington, Ont.) in that regard. In total, this trio anchors the third-ranked offensive unit in the province, as they pour in 2.78 goals per game on an average of just under 30 shots, which should make things interesting for their formidable Friday night foes.
Those three may shine up front, but there is also a noticeable brightness coming from the blue paint, as Carmen Lasis (Toronto, Ont.) boasts some of the conference’s most impressive numbers between the pipes. The second-year backstop sports a sparkling 1.63 GAA and .938 SV%, ranking her fourth in the OUA in both categories. Her impressive play, not to mention the defensive work of seniors Edie Levesque (Wawa, Ont.) and Anthea Lasis (Toronto, Ont.) on the blue line, has anchored a back end that surrenders the third-best goals-against average in the league.
Another team that knows a thing or two about top-end defenders, however, is the North Bay squad that has the reigning OUA Defender of the Year at their disposal. Not only is Davis one of the premier players in her own zone, helping to support her team’s collective top-five goals-against average, but she is adept at taking part in the offensive side as well. The fifth-year defender is tied for first on her team in scoring (3G, 11A), while also sitting second in the OUA in helpers, making her one of the truly elite two-way defenders across the country.
She doesn’t do it alone, however, as the team has also seen 14-point contributions from forwards Jetta Derenoski (Vawn, Sask.) and Kaley Tienhaara (Thunder Bay, Ont.). The team also garners solid secondary scoring from 2017-18 OUA Rookie of the Year, Maria Dominico (North Bay, Ont.), as well as senior Jade Gauthier (Callander, Ont.), who are both part of the eight-player group with at least seven points on the year.
Nipissing may not light the lamp to the same degree as the Mustangs, but they are among the elite passing teams in the OUA, as Davis and company have combined for 76 helpers on the year (2nd in OUA). This pristine passing comes in handy with the player advantage; a big reason the Lakers are second in powerplay percentage (19.2%).
Just like Western, however, a big reason for the team’s success is their play in net, with Danika Ranger (Astorville, Ont.) representing yet another of the conference’s premier puck-stoppers. Ranger has earned a 1.72 GAA and .928 SV% in her 15 starts, turning away 324 shots in the process, keeping her in and around the OUA’s top-five in all three categories as well.
Both of these teams are looking to turn their regular season play into another postseason push, which means every game down the stretch is important. And when these late-season contests come against high-quality competition, the stakes get even higher; something that fans can look forward to when Western and Nipissing hit the Memorial Gardens ice on January 25 at 4:30pm.
Fans can see all the action LIVE on oua.tv or via the corresponding app, which can be downloaded on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.