WATERLOO, Ont. (February 29, 2012) - The No. 1 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks scored three first period goals as they defeated the sixth-seeded Western Mustangs 4-1 in Game 1 of the OUA Championship series on Wednesday night at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex.
Blair Connelly of Amherstburg, Ont., Devon Skeats of Whitby, Ont., and Paula Lagamba of Toronto, all tallied in the opening 20 minutes in which the Hawks outshot the over-matched Mustangs by a count of 20-4.
"The first 10 minutes [of the game], some of our better players didn't have their legs so we had to push, push, push in that first period," said Laurier head coach RICK OSBORNE after the game. "But the last 10 minutes of the period we were flying."
Connelly opened the scoring at the 12:32 mark of the opening period on the powerplay when she collected a rebound in the slot and fired the puck past Western goaltender Kelly Campbell of St. Thomas, Ont. Just over a minute later, Skeats banged away at a loose puck in front of the net to pick up her fifth goal of the playoffs, giving Laurier a 2-0 lead.
Before the period was out, Lagamba finished off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Tammy Freiburger of Wingham, Ont., to give the Hawks a three goal edge.
Laurier would get themselves into penalty trouble in the second period, taking five straight minors and allowing the Mustangs to swing the momentum. Eight minutes into the period, Lindsay Gidomski of Mississauga, Ont., deposited a rebound past Laurier netminder Erika Thunder of Buffalo Point, Man., to cut the lead to two. After the goal, Thunder pulled herself from the game with an apparent lower-body injury, thrusting backup Rachel Hamilton of Wasaga Beach, Ont., into the game.
The Hawks immediately gave their goaltender a boost of confidence as Brittany Crago of Stouffville, Ont., stole the puck at the red line while shorthanded before breaking in and firing a shot up over the glove of Campbell to give the Hawks a 4-1 lead.
Hamilton, after a couple of shaky first few minutes in the net, settled down after the goal and stymied the Mustangs on two great chances on a late 5-on-3 powerplay for Western to maintain the Hawks 4-1 lead going into the third.
In the final period, the purple and gold returned to their disciplined game and shutdown the Mustangs, allowing just four shots on goal as they skated away with the victory and the series lead.
"Obviously you're a little bit nervous but you fight through it," said Hamilton when asked if she had any nerves in her first playoff appearance. "You just wait for that first shot and after that, everything is good."
"It was an unfortunate thing that happened," said Skeats, who was the Hawks player of the game, on Thunder's injury. "We all believed in Hammy [Hamilton] to get in there and step up her game and it was not that big of a problem for us."
Thunder, who picked up the victory despite the injury, stopped five of the six shots she faced in the game. Hamilton was perfect in relief, turning away all 11 shots she faced. Campbell finished the night with 38 saves for the Mustangs.
Laurier will now travel to London on Saturday for Game 2 of the series where they will have a chance to win their eighth OUA title in the last nine seasons. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Thompson Arena.
NOTES: Freiburger collected two assists on the night and now has five points in the playoffs...Skeats and Laura Brooker of Fergus, Ont., continue to lead Laurier with six points each...Western is making their first-ever appearance in the OUA Championship...the Mustangs had never won a playoff game prior to their playoff run this season...Gidomski now leads all OUA scorers with seven goals in the postseason