By Ankur Kumar
(WINDSOR, ON) – Game-Ready Goalies, Defensive Dominance, and Flashy Forwards. Whether it was Jenny MacKnight’s opening goal, nine seconds into the contest, or the eventual shutout for Marissa Kozovski, the buzz about the Lancers’ 4-0 win over the nationally ranked third-place Western Mustangs has not quite settled.
The Lancers have to deal with the York Lions this Sunday in Toronto. The Lions are in a three-way tie with the Ryerson Rams and Waterloo Warriors for sixth place with 20 points, in the OUA.
The Lions will host the Mustangs on Saturday before they finish the weekend against the Lancers Sunday afternoon. Despite their lower seeding at the moment, the Lions have plenty to torment the Lancers.
Lisa Stathopulos scored twice in the Lions’ 5-2 loss at South Windsor Arena last semester. After succumbing to that defeat, the Lions stumbled with two more losses, but the scoring touch of Stathopulos has improved; 10 goals and four assists in nine games are numbers hard to ignore. She leads the entire OUA with 15 goals and 27 points overall, while holding second place in each of the aforementioned categories behind Iya Gavrilova of the Calgary Dinos, in upper Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
The top four teams in the OUA are in the tightest contention unlike any other point this season. Just as they have all season long, the Western Mustangs sit comfortably atop the OUA with 30 points, but with the following three teams gaining steam faster than ever, Western may be surprised to find themselves out of first place.
“Of my five years here, our previous veterans have said great things about this season’s team,” commented Windsor forward Candice Chevalier. “Our goal is to be in the top four of the OUA so we can have home ice.”
The Queen’s Gaels are in second place with 27 points, just a mere single point above the Lancers, currently in third. The Guelph Gryphons round out the top four with 25 points.
Western and Windsor have one game each this weekend, as both take on the York Lions, while the Gaels and Gryphons are a marquee feature to kick start the eventful weekend.
In a close points race, the rankings will be shook depending on what becomes of the latter-mentioned contest.
Stathopulos will have stiffer competition on the front lines now that fifth-year forward Jenny MacKnight has rediscovered her offensive magic. In their meeting earlier this season, MacKnight was pointless and had mustered six points in the first eight contests by the time the Lions visited South Windsor Arena.
Alarm bells may have sounded for last season’s OUA leading scorer because, since then, MacKnight has collected six goals and seven assists in seven of the last nine contests.
The support from the back end is crucial to Lisa Stathopulos. Teammate Kristen Barbara has equalled Stathopulos’ team lead for 12 assists and, as Stathopulos chases the national scoring title, Barbara’s 15 points among defensemen are two shy of current leaders Natacha Bergeron, of the Moncton Aigles Bleues and Sarah Casorso of the UBC Thunderbirds.
Barbara leads all defence in Canada with 12 assists. It’s a credit to her last three games where she has posted two goals and four assists after returning from the holiday break scoreless against the Laurier Golden Hawks.
Top gunners from the Lancers will match Barbara on the blue line. Natalie Barrette has cracked the national Top 10 for defensive players with 11 points, tying her for ninth, at the moment, with Kelsie Moffatt of the McGill Martlets and Stephanie Zvonkovic of the Dinos.
Prior to the shutout over the Mustangs last week, Barrette picked up three assists in the first two games back from the break.
Barrette’s 11 points have been a meaningful assistance while team captain Kayla Dodson remains hopeful to alleviate her scoring woes. Dodson found her first goal, against the Nipissing Lakers, since the season opener and followed with an assist against the Mustangs last week.
After seven straight games without a point, the back-to-back effort has many paying attention to how the senior member will close out her final regular season.
The notable plus on the Lancers defence is the return of Adelena Tridico. Perhaps the fifth-year member grew restless watching her teammates enjoy the most successful start in University of Windsor history because, right out of the gate, she has points to her name.
In Tridico’s first game back, on January 9 against the Laurentian Voyageurs, she scored a goal and also assisted on Krystin Lawrence’s seventh goal of her freshman season. Tridico followed up with a second assist that weekend against the Lakers.
The critique for Tridico is to avoid the penalty box. Since her return, she has been charged a minor penalty in each of her three games.
The goaltending matchup is top billing material. Marissa Kozovski is riding high after stopping all 27 shots from the conference-leading Western Mustangs, last Saturday. The first two games back from the holiday dented her numbers, but the 4-0 win over the Mustangs restored her to a 2.15 GAA and .919 save percentage.
On the other side, Megan Lee has posted two shutouts this season and is coming off of a 3-1 win over the UOIT Ridgebacks. Lee stopped 35 of 36 shots and achieved an admirable .972 save percentage in that game.
Lee’s averages are now 2.21 goals allowed per game to go along with a .921 save percentage.
At this rate, the Lancers will stay in the top four but the particular ranking is yet to be determined. At 11-2-4, they have a record that would certify home ice, whereas the York Lions are keen to build upon the 9-7-2 posting, on their toughest trek of the season.
The individual statistics of Stathopulos, Barbara, and Lee say plenty about each of their game play, but how the Lions fare against their two demanding challenges on the road will reveal much more about where the entire team is headed during the season’s tail end.