London, ON- If you were to ask anyone at the start of the OUA Playoffs who were going to be the top three when all was said and done, no one would have said Western. They would have been proved wrong on Saturday afternoon in London when the Western Mustangs clinched the OUA bronze medal and their ticket to the Cavendish U Sport National championships in Halifax.
After playing through three rounds of best of three hockey and bringing each of them to three games, the excuse of fatigue could have been accepted for the Mustangs, but that’s not what the team thought as they trudged through their lengthy playoff campaign.
In the first round, they brought the number one ranked Toronto Varsity Blues to the verge and they beat them.
They did the same to Ryerson.
But when it came to making the Queen’s Cup final against Guelph, they fell after three games in the Western Conference final. But that was not it. Head Coach Clarke Singer spoke after the Ryerson game about how his team’s focus is to qualify for nationals in any way possible, even if it means the third-place game.
Saturday, they faced the Concordia Stingers who had fallen to the Ottawa Gee-Gees the week prior. Both teams knew that there was a qualification spot on the line as this was the year that the OUA had the third berth.
The game was physical as one would expect and it escalated throughout the game. The first period only saw a pair of penalties, the second had four and the third topped them all with seven. The third-place game with a national spot on the line could even be thought of as a larger event than the final. It’s your last chance to win something in the season.
It was Concordia’s Chase Harwell who got the scoring started for the Stingers in the first period, but his goal would be the only game and gold one until the third period. The pace of play was something to behold as both teams tried to win with speed. Early on, the Stingers brought some of their fastest hockey all season despite having sat through an eight-hour bus ride the day prior.
After the opening goal, both teams became accustomed to the pay and that’s where Western began to play their game. They found a way to play their grinding style at a high speed, ending up with a product that Concordia were unable to handle.
The Mustangs first goal came from Stephen Desroches who has found the scoresheet a number of times this season. While he may have tied the game, It was a combination of Kenny Huether and Anthony Stefano that had the Mustangs up 3-1 by the end of the second period.
Huether, who has been firing on all cylinders in the playoffs, added his second goal of the night in the third as the Western Mustangs went on to beat the Concordia Stingers 5-2.
Western Head coach Clarke Singer spoke to the Western media and addressed the play of Huether, saying, “He’s had a good year this year, but an exceptional playoff, and I think he’s been one of our best guys in the playoffs and one of the top guys on the ice for either team. He gets some big goals like the power-play marker with the one-timer and the fourth goal to just give us a little bit more breathing room. Just a great player and a great kid for us.”
While Huether is one of the players to light it up in the playoffs, another was goaltender Luke Perrisini. “Guys did a great job, but obviously with Luke – what can I say? We’ve been talking about him all year and he comes up in the biggest game of the year with his best game. He was the best player on the ice.”
He’s telling the truth there. After nine games of playoff hockey, Perisini finished the playoffs with a save percentage above .940. That’s impressive at any level of hockey.
With the OUA season all said and done, a bronze medal around their neck and a memorable run that will be ingrained the player’s minds forever. Now, the Mustangs refocus quickly as they head to Halifax to take on the best in the country and challenge for the David Johnston Memorial Cup. In the first round, they will play either the AUS champion UNB Reds or the Western Canada champion in the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Cover Photo: Western Mustangs Athletics