Playoff race heating up
We already know that the X-Women will finish first and the Mounties will finish sixth but second through fifth are still wide open. What looked like a sure lock on second place for the Tommies at the beginning of 2013 for the Tommies has evaporated going into the final two weekends of regular season play. The Tommies still sit second with 27 points but identical 8-2 runs by the Huskies (26 points) and Panthers (25 points) have them both breathing down the Tommies' neck. Moncton is sitting not too far behind with 22 points but Saturday's games (St. Thomas at Mount Allison and Moncton at UPEI) should mathematically take them out of the running for second place.
Disappointing end of sorts for Mt. A
After a somewhat surprising 4-0 blanking of Moncton just a week earlier, many in Sackville were hopeful that the Mounties might climb into fifth and salvage some pride before hosting the conference playoffs. Despite battling hard against Saint Mary's last Saturday, that dream died with a controversial goal allowed by Meghan Corley-Byrne. Early in the third, both a Mounties player and Huskies player collided into Corley-Byrne who was holding the puck on the goal line and subsequently got pushed into the goal. Despite her obvious objection to the call, the score stood and Sienna Cooke stonewalled each chance Mt. A got after that. Note: It didn't show on the scoresheet but Mounties forward Ashlyn Somers was a workhorse, constantly applying pressure in the neutral and defensive zone. She'll be a treat for Mt. A in the playoffs.
The key to beating the X-Women?
It's hard to predict how to stop a team that is riding a 15-game winning streak but it's at least fun to try to form an educated guess. Like any team, home ice advantage is huge and the X-Women have showed this, building a perfect home record at 12-0. Away from Antigonish, they are only 8-1 — worse, but not appreciably so. In their first of two games in Sackville against Mount Allison this season the X-Women made themselves comfy to the tune of a 6-0 win, with only 14 shots allowed all game. If it counts as bad news, AUS leading scorer Alex Normore is only slightly above a point-per-game player (8 points in seven games) on the road, compared to 19 in 11 at home. In net, Kristy Garrow's goals against average more than doubles when playing away from Antigonish (rising from a 0.65 to 1.35) and her save percentage is only .926 on the road compared to .959 at home. However, both of these "increased" totals would still be among the best in the league. It's hard to find cracks in a team that has only allowed more than two goals in a game once all season -- and that was a last-minute powerplay goal.
Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Jan. 23 in parentheses)
- St. Francis Xavier (1) — The only challenge the team might face is which goalie to start in the playoffs. Back-up Katie Greenway has a 1.45 GAA and .925 save percentage to compliment her 7-1 record.
- Saint Mary's (4) — Sienna Cooke looked solid on Saturday against a hungry and offensively minded Mounties team desperate for a win. She's only allowed four goals on her last seventy-six shots against.
- UPEI (3) — 8-2 in their last ten, the Panthers are ready to pounce and try to be the first team to repeat as champions since the 05-06 X-Women. Consecutive wins by the Panthers this coming weekend could see them jump from fourth to second place.
- St. Thomas (2) — The Tommies play two of their final three regular season games this weekend. They are also clinging onto second place by a single point so every game from here on out is a must-win.
- Moncton (5) — Same situation as the Tommies, playing two of their final three regular season games this coming weekend. Playoffs are already guaranteed for the Eagles but the math is against their best intentions to move into third or fourth.
- Mount Allison (7) — A weekend that featured a huge shutout over Moncton was followed by a weekend with two crushing road losses to Saint Mary's and St. Francis Xavier.
- Dalhousie (6) — Stay the course.