Women's Hockey - Going Into The Break

It’s back! Our women’s hockey coverage is back and ready for action. Unfortunately some miscommunication caused a delay in getting back into the swing of things, but we are ready to begin our coverage now at the break, and excited for the second half of the season.

Due to the few games played this past weekend, this opportunity will be used to examine how the seasons of the top 10 teams are looking, and where they should end up.

1. McGill (9-1-0)

The Martlets remain in the top spot in the CIS, a position they are well-accustomed to as they attempt to take their fourth national championship in five years this season. While the Martlets sit atop the standings of the RSEQ, one thing is already different from last year: they’ve lost. Though there won’t be a repeat of the perfect season the Martlets claimed last year, McGill is still poised to be top contenders for this year’s championship.

Suffering a loss to Montreal early in the season, McGill enter the break with a 9-1 record (I’d add an adjective like impressive before that, but for McGill, it’s just become natural), and are riding a seven-game win streak. November was a month much more reminiscent of last year’s dominating season, as McGill outscored opponents 29-5 in the month leading up to the break.

Captain Cathy Chartrand is back on the point for the Martlets, where she’s racked up an impressive 12 points in just 11 games. Leading the offense are Ann-Sophie Bettez and Leslie Oles, with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Between the pipes, Charline Labonte is her regular self, with a GAA of just 1.47 and three shutouts.

All in all, it wouldn’t be surprising if McGill ended up with yet another championship, but the gap between the Martlets and their opponents is much smaller this year, leaving a lot of opportunity for another team to capitalize and seize gold.

2. Laurier (13-0-1)

In OUA action, the Golden Hawks have fiercely bounced back from a disappointing post-season last year. Looking for their eighth OUA title in nine years, Laurier brings a balanced attack to the table this year, evidenced by their largely spread out scoring threats. Abby Rainsberry leads the team in scoring with 15 points, but seven other Golden Hawks are within just four points of the centre. Laura Brooker, the OUA's Rookie of the Year last season, has 11 goals and 14 points, while fifth-year staple Katherine Shirriff has 14 points, as well.

The Hawks are undefeated in regulation play going into the break, and are on pace to finish similarly to last season, in which they finished atop the OUA. Their only loss to this point came against rival Guelph in early November. Since then, Laurier has outscored their opponents 34-6.

A major part of the Golden Hawks' success this year has come defensively, and thanks to the goaltending tandem of freshman Erika Thunder, and Rachel Hamilton, playing in her second year. After much concern (or relief for opponents) over who would be able to fill Liz Knox's shoes, Thunder leads the OUA in goals against average posting a 1.60, while Hamilton is third with a solid 1.71. As the only team in the CIS yet to lose in regulation, everything appears to be on-track in Laurier's redemption year, but Thunder and Hamilton will need to continue their dominant play in nets if Laurier is to win gold come March.

3. Calgary (9-3-0)

The Dinos find themselves ranked third going into the break, despite suffering three losses in the competitive Canada West conference. Led by Elena Lovell and Iya Gavrilova offensively, who sit second and third in scoring, respectively, the Dinos have pieced together a great start to the season.

Playing in arguably the toughest conference in women's hockey, the Dinos have managed to take a series lead over rival Alberta, while splitting their series with Lethbridge. The Dinos have had somewhat of an advantage over opponents in the first half of the season, though. Eight of their 12 games were played on home ice. In the second half of the season, when the top five CW teams (currently separated by four points from first to fifth) will get in the final stretch of battling for just four playoff spots, Calgary will be forced to play eight games on the road, including a tough streak of five in a row.

Amanda Tapp will look to continue her solid play in nets, where she ranks third in Canada West in both goals against average and save percentage among goalies who have played more than five games. At the same time, Calgary hopes they can get more games out of superstar forward Hayley Wickenheiser, who was only able to suit up five times for the Dinos in the first half. While the Dinos look strong, they will need to continue to prove themselves against Lethbridge, Alberta and Saskatchewan if they are to be considered a legitimate threat for national title.

4. St. FX (9-2-0)

Coming off a silver medal at last year's CIS championships, the X-Women looked poised to run the table in the AUS just as last year when they went undefeated through the regular season. Two surprise losses to Moncton threw a wrench in that plan, as the X-Women look to regain their spot atop the conference.

Led by a high-powered offense which has scored five or more goals in eight of their eleven games to this point, the X-Women have made easy work of their opponents, save the Aigles Bleues. A two-pronged attack, second-year forward Alex Normore is averaging a goal a game and more than two points a game with 24 at the holiday break. Meanwhile, Janelle Parent has eight goals and 20 points of her own. Noticeably quiet this year have been Erin Brophy and Nicole Hansom, both of whom are stuck at just six points, despite finishing in the top ten for scoring in the AUS last season.

Katie Garrow and Kristy Greenway have split the duties in net, with Garrow posting an impressive 1.00 GAA in her five games, and Greenway a solid 2.01 in six. Continued strong play from both goalies will be needed in the second-half of the season, but how the team performs in the clutch will determine if its St. FX or Moncton who ultimately end up in Edmonton come March.

5. Moncton (10-1-0)

Hands down, les Aigles Bleues have been the dark horse of this season to date. With wins over St. FX in both games played against the X-Women, it's surprising that Moncton doesn't receive the fourth place spot in the CIS Top 10. Perhaps it was the loss suffered to Mount Allison, or maybe just the traditional placement of St. FX has Moncton sitting fifth, but that is something that few had expected.

Unranked to begin the year, Moncton came out as a defensive force to start the year, holding their opponents to one goal or less in six of their first seven games. Since, the offense has started clicking, scoring 19 goals in their past four games.

Like Laurier, Moncton has been running on a multi-faceted offense that has five players averaging over a point a game going into the break. Leading the way is Genevieve David, followed closely by Marie-Pierre Arsenault and Johannie Thibeault. Meanwhile, Kathy Desjardins has four shutouts in eight games, and has an amazing save percentage of .947.

Ultimately, this season seems to be Moncton's to win, or lose. Regardless what happens in the next half of the regular-season, the conference seems to be a two-horse race between Moncton and St. FX, and whoever comes out to play March 4 should be representing the AUS in Alberta.

6. Guelph (12-3-1)

The Gryphons have consistently been among the top three of the OUA, and this year is no different. With twelve wins in their first sixteen games, the Gryphons will find themselves in familiar territory battling it out for one of the top three sports come season's end. Where Guelph has stumbled has been surprising. They defeated Queen's both times they faced them, as well as the fourth-place Windsor Lancers. Losses for the Gryphons have come to Brock, Waterloo, and UOIT — all teams that are under .500 and hold three of the bottom four spots in the OUA.

Fifth-year center Erin Small has been the main weapon in Guelph's arsenal, not surprisingly, with 12 goals and 12 assists. She's found help from Jessica Pinkerton, who has 11 goals herself. Freshman goalie Stephanie Nehring has emerged as the apparent starter of the future for Guelph, posting a 9-0 record and a 1.78 GAA, while Brooke Siddall, expected to lead the way in net, has struggled, with a 3-4 record and a goals against average of 2.98.

The second half of the season for Guelph should be an interesting one, as the Gryphons have one game against Laurier, Queen's and Windsor each remaining. It might not be those games that matter, though, but instead the matchups with the OUA's weaker teams. Guelph will need to prove they are as good as many believe they are if they are to make it to the CIS championships.

7. Queen's (10-3-2)

Last year the Gaels managed to end Laurier's long run of OUA championship wins, and they hope to begin their own little streak this season. As the break comes upon us, Queen's find themselves third in the OUA, but have struggled against the top two teams. Laurier has defeated the Gaels by 6-3 and 5-2 margins, while Guelph managed to take down Queen's 3-2 and 4-3 (in a shootout). Nevertheless, Queen's has demonstrated yet again that they are not to be taken lightly by any opponent.

The McHaffies have been on fire in the first half, torching goalies across the league. Morgan McHaffie leads the OUA with 29 points, while Brittany is sitting third with 21. They have combined for more than a third of Queen's' goals. Not to be outdone, Alex Cieslowski has 19 points herself, contributing as well to an offense is the second-highest scoring in all of the CIS.

In the second half of the season, Queen's will host both Laurier and Guelph, so they have a good chance to move up the standings with home-ice advantage then. Ultimately, Queen's will make the playoffs, so their fate for Edmonton will depend on those two series. As they showed last year, though, they do not fear the higher seed.

8. Lethbridge (10-4-0)

The Pronghorns will enter the break atop Canada West, boasting a strong 10-4 record. Defense and goaltending has been the major strengths of the Horns throughout the season, as they managed to light the lamp just 34 times through the first half of the season. Crystal Patterson has played in all 14 games for Lethbridge, picking up five shutouts and maintaining a 1.34 goals against average, good enough for second best in the conference. Patterson also has the best save percentage, an astounding .951.

Offensively, points have been spread rather equally across the first two lines for the Horns. Both Shelby Ballendine and Jenna-Marie Durnin have 12 points, while Kirsten Reeves is the other Pronghorn in double digits with 10.

Truth be told, Lethbridge's start to the season is right around what was expected of them. They split series with both Calgary and Manitoba, but the real surprise were losses to UBC (the T-Birds only win this far), and a struggling Regina team. If Lethbridge is going to be successful, they are going to need to play consistent hockey, and eliminate the rusty play that led to the losses against the bottom-feeding teams.

9. Alberta (7-2-5)

The Pandas will return to the CIS championship this year by way of playing host, but that doesn't mean they will not compete to take home the Canada West championship as well. Going into the break, the Pandas are third in CW with an interesting record that includes five overtime and shootout losses.

Alberta dropped six straight (five in OT or SO) midway through the first half of the season, but rebounded since, winning every game except for their final game before the break. For lack of a better word, the Pandas have played on-par with the other top three teams in Canada West, as evidenced by the six one-goal games against those three teams.

Sarah Hilworth is leading the offense with 16 points, while Monika Moskalski has an impressive seven goals going into the break. Kaitlyn Chapman is the conference's second-best goalie heading into the break, posting a goals against average of 1.10 in eight games, and a save percentage of .947.

As noted, the Pandas have a bye into the championships, but don't think that means they won't get caught up in the competition of the Canada West championships. If hosts are to learn anything from Laurier last year, it's that a few weeks off before the championship isn't always a good thing.

10. Montreal (7-3-1)

Les Carabins land a surprising spot in the Top 10 heading into the winter break, beating out CW's second-place Saskatchewan in the process, with seven wins and a second-place spot in the RSEQ. Of course, losses to McGill are to be expected, though the 6-1 and 10-1 blowouts may be an indicator of Montreal's chances (or not) to shine on the national stage. Losses to Concordia and Carleton also question the reasoning of putting Montreal in the Top 10.

Offensively, Cassandra Dupuis and Kim Deschenes sit tied for fourth in the RSEQ with 13 points a piece, nine of those being goals for Dupuis. Four more players sit with between nine and 11 points, showing that like many others in the top ten, Montreal has a balanced scoring attack.

Rachel Ouellette has been given the nod as starting goalie, and boasts a decent 2.66 goals against average. Her save percentage is well below .900, however, indicating that teams that get a lot of shots can pick up wins against the Carabins. Overall, the Carabins will likely fall out of the top ten come the first or second week back, and McGill will have no problem rolling over Montreal in the RSEQ finals, en route to Edmonton.

Predictions for Final Conference Standings

1. St. FX
2. Moncton
3. Mount Allison
5. Dalhousie
6. St. Thomas
7. Saint Mary's

Canada West
1. Calgary
2. Saskatchewan
3. Lethbridge
4. Alberta
5. Manitoba
6. Regina
7. UBC

1. Laurier
2. Guelph
3. Queen's
4. Western
5. Toronto
6. Windsor
7. York
8. Brock
9. Waterloo
10. UOIT
11. Ryerson

1. McGill
2. Montreal
3. Carleton
4. Ottawa
5. Concordia
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