TORONTO, ON – The final weekend of January is in the books in OUA women’s hockey, and the contenders are truly becoming clear as playoff season approaches.
With the full cohort back from representing Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, the best players are shining as teams look to gain form in the season’s final weeks.
As the McCawCup Playoffs approach, the final weekend of January was extremely telling.
As the Varsity Blues keep winning, can anyone stop Toronto?
The Toronto Varsity Blues are officially chasing history.
A pair of wins over the weekend pushed the Varsity Blues’ winning streak to 14 straight games and their winning percentage to .905 at 19-2-0. A .905 winning percentage would be the highest in the OUA since 2011-2012, when the Laurier Golden Hawks went 25-0-1 for an almost unfathomable .987 winning percentage.
Toronto opened the weekend with a 4-1 win over Western, extending their winning streak to thirteen and taking two points that the Mustangs definitely could have used. In her first game back since winning gold with Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games, Céline Frappier didn’t miss a beat as she opened the scoring just 3:42 in for Toronto.
Elizabeth Gauthier tied it for Western, but a pair of goals in the second, including Nikki Mcdonald picking up her team-leading ninth, gave Toronto a 3-1 lead after two periods before Madelyn Walsh added an insurance marker in the third.
The following night the Laurier Golden Hawks arrived in Toronto to take on the Varsity Blues. While a pair of goals from Laurier’s Rylee Crego and Chloe Davidson made a 3-0 Toronto lead into a 3-2 game with just over ten minutes left in the third, Natasha Anthansakos picked up her fourth of the season for Toronto with nine minutes to play before Sophie Grawberger added one late to seal a 5-2 Toronto win. All told, eight different Blues hit the back of the net over the weekend, with only Céline Frapper scoring twice.
Despite boasting the second-best offence in the OUA, the Varsity Blues truly have been scoring by committee in 2022-2023 as Natasha Athanasakos is the only Varsity Blue in the top 20 in the OUA, sitting in tenth place with 18 points.
Which is why at this point, the question has become, how can a team stop Toronto?
It is a challenging question to answer, as on their winning streak, the Blues have shown they can roll four lines of offence and complement it with consistent netminding from both goalies. The rest of the OUA has six games left in the regular season to figure out an answer for the Varsity Blues; otherwise, the 2020 McCaw Cup champions will be the odds-on favourites to retake the trophy in 2023.
Carley Olivier returns on fire and helps Waterloo keep rolling
Leah Herrfort and Tatum James spent most of the fall semester working in tandem as the one-two punch that led the Waterloo Warriors to the top offence in the OUA. On the defensive side, Carley Olivier had a quieter start to her season with a respectable six assists in the first twelve games of the year for the Warriors leading into the end of November. Once the calendar turned to December, though, Olivier started scoring and has not stopped.
Olivier picked up six points with two goals and four assists in the final two games of the fall semester before grabbing four points in the opening weekend of 2023 with three goals and one assist. Oliver then joined Leah Herrfort at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University, where she picked up two goals and five assists in seven games and won gold with Team Canada.
On Saturday, both Herrfort and Olivier returned to the Warriors as they were in Kingston to face the Gaels, and both gold medalists picked up right where they left off for Waterloo. Down 1-0, just six minutes in, Olivier found the back of the net to make it 1-1 with her sixth goal of the season. Six minutes later on, the power-play Tatum James potted her thirteenth of the year to tie for the league lead, with both Olivier and Herrfort picking up assists. In the second period, Herrfort picked up a pair of goals herself as the Warriors welcomed back their gold medalists with a 6-1 win over Queen’s.
Playing in the Sunday matinee game, the Warriors finished the weekend with a trip to Oshawa to play the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks and once again, Carley Olivier provided the lion’s share of the offence. After Jessie Fennell opened the scoring halfway through the second, just nine seconds later, Olivier grabbed her seventh of the season to make it 2-0 for Waterloo. The Ridgebacks got one back, but Olivier potted the late empty netter to give Waterloo the 3-1 win and push their winning streak to five games.
Whereas the East division is essentially sewn up with Toronto a mile ahead of everyone else, the OUA West Division title is still up for grabs as the season winds down. With Olivier and Herrfort back and not missing a step, though, Waterloo looks well on its way to finishing the season on top of the OUA West.