(WINDSOR, ON) – The Southwest Wildcats women’s junior hockey team is back at it again. Their season started a Saturday ago, as they battled one of the top teams in the province, faltering only late in the third. The Oakville Jr Hornets, the defending provincial Intermediate AA champions, came down to Forest Glade Arena and, for over two periods, ran headlong into the brick wall that was Emily O’Bright.
Outshooting the Wildcats 59-16 through the match, Oakville could only settle for a 1-1 tie going into the third.
O’Bright, who stopped 29 of 30 shots going into the final act, was peppered with another 29 attempts in the final twenty minutes, finally succumbing to the onslaught. The Hornets won 6-1.
The two teams play in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League, the top tier of hockey for girls aged 16-20. The teams in the league refer to themselves as “Junior” clubs, much like in men’s hockey, but are designated Intermediate AA by the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association.
With this technicality, the 19 teams of the PWHL, which span from Windsor in the west to Ottawa in the east, play for both the Alumni Cup, the PWHL title and junior championship of Ontario, and the OWHA Intermediate AA championship as part of the OWHA apparatus.
After a scoreless first period, last season’s leading scorer Savannah Bouzide was awarded a penalty shot, early in the second, when she was impeded on a breakaway. Bouzide, a co-captain of the team, made quick work of Oakville tender Madison Oakes as she wove past the sprawled goalie and took the lead for the Wildcats.
The Hornets started to push back, hammering away at the Southwest keeper for most of the frame. In a mad scramble, with mere seconds remaining on the clock, Oakville’s Emma Maltais was finally able to crack the twine behind O’Bright, bringing the game into the third at a deadlock.
The defending champs flexed their muscles in the third.
Finishing a six-goal unanswered run, the Hornets found final period scoring from Brooke Jovanovich twice, Kayla Fillier, Annie MacDonald, as well as Laura Cote in the dying seconds.
Oakes faced 16 shots for the win while O’Bright turned aside 53 that afternoon.
“We faced a very fast and powerful team in Oakville,” said head coach Jennifer Hitchcock. “They will finish at the top of our league; they certainly have a potent offense. We were able to shut them down for the first two periods and take the lead. Although the result wasn’t what we wanted, I am encouraged by some of the play from our rookies. I don’t believe Saturday’s game is a measure of what you will see all season.”
Recent years have not been easy for the Wildcats. Last season, Southwest finished with a record of 5 wins, 27 losses, and 6 regulation ties, good enough seventeenth place in the PWHL.
“Over the past couple of years we have been working to build a program where our players are getting better every day and are ready to play at the next level,” said Hitchcock. “Last season we were able to move five players on to university hockey and that is something I am very proud of. Those players worked very hard for their opportunities. This season we have an older team with nine players in Grade 12. This provides us with maturity, experience and a work ethic that will help bring our group to the next level. I expect us to be much improved; we are faster and stronger this year.”
The Wildcats are no strangers to moving players through the ranks, most notably being Olympian Meghan Agosta of Ruthven. The newest graduates of Southwest’s program are Ashley and Amy Maitre (University of Windsor Lancers, OUA) and Angeline Taiariol, and Jillian and Halle Crane (Neumann University, NCAA).
This past weekend, the Wildcats were back in action. They traveled to the Golden Horseshoe to compete in the Stoney Creek University Showcase Tournament, an event featuring teams from all over the globe. After a rocky start, the Wildcats would redeem themselves with a .500 record over the course of five games.
On Friday, Southwest would lose 4-0 to the Madison Capitols from Wisconsin before beating the Assabet Valley Red of Concord, MA, by a 3-1 score. The next day, the Wildcats were edged 2-1 in overtime by British Columbia’s Okanagan Hockey Academy and dropped 6-1 by the New England Women’s Junior Hockey League’s New Jersey Rockets.
With the 1-2-1 record in the round robin, Southwest finished sixth of eight teams in their pool.
In a final crossover game against the sixth place team from the opposite division, the Wildcats would strut to a 4-1 victory over the Notre Dame Hounds from Saskatchewan to end the weekend.
Co-captain Ellen Donaldson would lead the team in the point department, picking up 4 assists over the weekend. Avery Mertz scored a pair of goals, while Shannon Fehr, Gioia DiCiocco, and Jessica Jeffery each had a goal and a helper.
Maggi DeWolf-Russ, Taylor Lockwood, and Kiera Jackson added single markers, while assists were assigned to Katherine Carter (2), Sofia Smithson (2), Lindsey Sorrell, Mikayla Fockens, and Aubrey Lefler.
O’Bright had 1.00 goals against average in two starts between the pipes, while rookie Kristen Swiatoschik had three starts with a 2.33 average.
Southwest is relying on its wealth of veteran experience to give them a boost this season.
“Bouzide, Donaldson, Lockwood, and Jeffery will serve as our leadership group,” said coach Hitchcock of her team captains. “All four of these players are great leaders with experience. All of them have elevated their games to a new level this season. We have a solid group of players from our midget program who had a very successful season last year. Those players certainly know how to win and are ready to play at the highest level. Our younger players bring a ton of speed and energy; they are ready to contribute on all levels.”
The Wildcats have a busy week ahead of them.
Southwest will head up to Strathroy on Thursday evening to square off with the Bluewater Hawks. They return for a two-game weekend home stand on Saturday, hosting the Durham West Jr. Lightning at 4:30pm and the London Jr. Devilettes on Sunday at 1:00pm.
Both home games will be played at the Forest Glade Arena.