TORONTO, ON – With the first half of the season now in the rearview, the race for the OUA McCaw Cup playoffs has arrived. From the defending champions struggling to new faces breaking out to a tight race in both divisions, it was an electric opening half of the 2022-2023 season.
As the countdown officially starts toward the 2023 McCaw Cup playoffs, the second half of the season raises questions about which teams will stay standing and what they need to do to get there.
Can the Brock Badgers solve their struggles at home?
The Brock Badgers kicked off their first season in their new home at Canada Games Park in 2022-2023, but for the defending champions, it’s been anything but a sweet homecoming.
After winning their home opener, the Badgers proceeded to drop their next seven in front of their home fans on the way to a 1-6-1 record on home ice in the first half and a 5-7-2 record overall.
The biggest challenge for the Badgers on home ice has come on the offensive end. After a 2-1 win over Guelph in their home opener Brock hit the back of the net just six times in their final seven home games of the first half.
Goaltender Tiffany Hsu, 27, has stood tall in the Brock crease, delivering an above .900 save percentage in four of her five home starts, but if the Badgers hope to gain ground in the OUA West in the second half, they’ll need to find more scoring up front.
Dynamic duos and the FISU curveball
The scoring leaderboard in the first half of the 2022-2023 season showed that good things come in pairs.
Leah Herrfort, with 10 goals and 21 points and Tatum James, with seven goals and 19 points, take up the top two spots for the Waterloo Warriors.
Maggie Peterson in third with six goals and 16 points, and Jaeden Cherry in fourth with seven goals and 14 points hold the next two spots for the Windsor Lancers. All before the Dominico sisters, Mallory with seven goals and 14 points and Maria with five goals and 12 points round out the top six for Nipissing.
Perhaps the duo most likely to continue to roll into the winter is the pair that led OUA scoring nearly wire-to-wire in the first half in Herrfort and James.
Simply, when they score, the Warriors win. In Waterloo’s brief three-game losing streak in November, James and Herrfort combined for just a single assist but a pair of wins to close the first half; they combined for 14 points with two goals and six assists from Herrfort and two goals and four assists from James.
However, throwing a curveball into the mix is the Lake Placid 2023 World University Games. James must navigate the first few games on her own, with Herrfort gone with Team Canada’s roster. Meanwhile, Mallory Dominico wil have to deal with her sister’s absence as she strives for gold.
Team Canada heads to Lake Placid with five OUA players. Joining Maria Dominico and Herrfort are Queen’s Scout Watkins-Southward, Guelph’s Hannah Tait, and Waterloo’s Carley Bossé-Olivier.
Canada opens their quest for gold on Jan. 11 against Slovakia at 8:00 pm ET.
Can Erica Fryer and Madeline Albert carry Toronto to title?
Despite leading the OUA East Division with an 11-2-0 record, the highest name on the scoring chart that belongs to a Toronto Varsity Blue is Natasha Athanasakos in 22nd.
The reason for the Varsity Blues’ success in the first half of the season comes from a pair of veteran goalies shooting for another McCaw Cup title. Erica Fryer and Madeline Albert have easily been the league’s most dominant pair in between the pipes this season.
Fryer, who led the Blues to the 2020 McCaw Cup, finds herself with a 5-2-0 record and sitting second in the league in both GAA at 1.05 and save percentage at .947. Not to be outdone, though, Fryer’s longtime backup Madeline Albert has taken a step forward to share the crease this season and made the most of her opportunity, going 6-0-0 with the league’s third-best GAA at 1.17 and sitting tied for sixth with a save percentage of .940.
Part of the reason for their goalie’s success has to go to the defence of the Varsity Blues. According to InStat, after seeing 60.5% of shots Toronto faced from below the circles make it through to their goalie a year ago, the Varsity Blues cut that percentage down to 56.1%.
With the Nipissing Lakers just a point behind them entering the second half of the season and riding an eight-game point streak, it will be up to the defence and goaltending of the Varsity Blues to try and carry them back to the McCaw Cup in 2023.What to watch as OUA women’s hockey resumes