OUA West Hockey: Best to fake dead against Lakehead

Daniel Da Silva will be joining the blog to give his insight into some OUA West hockey, and a little bit of everything else, having been an OUA (and Western) sports fan for years. He is a two-year Sports editor and columnist at the Gazette at Western. Feel free to read his stuff and tell him he's wrong.

I am both a student at the University of Western Ontario, and a hockey fan. So it should come as no surprise that I follow the Mustangs hockey team – well, that and it’s part of my job at the Gazette.

So as someone who knows Mustangs hockey, you will have to trust me on this next statement –the Lakehead Thunderwolves have woken up and that is a terrifying prospect.

The Thunderwolves have a storied history of ending Western’s season, such as last year, when they easily swept the Mustangs in the OUA West semi.

Once again, Lakehead started off this year a little slower than one would expect. They split a series against Waterloo at home to start the season, were swept by Windsor and split with weaker Laurier and York teams.

But ahead of this past weekend, they were on a five game winning streak – yes I know four of those wins were against UOIT and Nipissing.

This weekend they had to make the ridiculous trek to Montreal to take on the Concordia Stingers – again, not exactly an OUA powerhouse, but still, traveling for a full day isn’t easy for anyone.

They could have been excused for coming out a little sluggish. Yet, they exploded on Concordia right from the opening whistle, with reliable Kris Hogg scoring just 32 seconds in. They went into the first intermission with a 5-1 lead, en route to an 11-2 win.

How do they follow that up? How about running off to another 5-0 lead in game two? Sure, it wasn’t quite a blowout after they allowed four goals in the last two periods, but a 7-4 victory is still relatively comfortable.

Second-year star – and Mustang nightmare – Matt Caria continued his torrid pace with seven points in the two games, taking his season total to 28 points. Swede Victor Anilane had three goals and two assists.

Again, you could say they just beat UOIT, Nipissing and Concordia. That won’t matter once they start playing the big boys.

But here is why these guys are scary. First of all, they were in this position last year. They picked up steam after the winter break and made their run to the OUA final. The signs that they could repeat that are there again.

Second, their powerplay is probably the best in the conference. They fire at a 25% rate. They buried six on the Stingers, including five in the opener. It helps that they draw a lot of penalties, allowing them to score special teams goals in bunches. Concordia took 72 minutes of penalties in the first game. They should have just forfeited.

And even when they aren’t on the powerplay, they score in bunches. Good luck trying to stop it, everyone else in the OUA. They have six guys who are point-a-game players, so you can’t key on one line.

I’ll admit it, their defence is a weakness. Nobody’s perfect. But young goalie Alex Dupuis has been phenomenal, with a .920 save percentage.

While their penalty kill looks worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, they don’t take many penalties. They have taken the fewest in the West – Carleton and Queen’s are the only two teams who have been shorthanded fewer times. Discipline breeds success, and you know head coach Joel Scherban preaches that to his team all the time.

So, on the back of a seven-game winning streak, the boys from Thunder Bay head into the winter break. And they are nipping at the heels of the Mustangs, just itching to make a push for first (the Thunderwolves are fifth nationwide in RPI, one spot behind Western).

First up for them in the 2011 is Windsor at home. I hope the Lancers enjoy their holiday while it lasts, because that series isn’t going to be pretty for them. Somehow I don't think it's going to be pretty to watch for Western either.
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