TORONTO, ON – As OUA men’s hockey entered its second week, the women’s game dropped the puck on their 2023-24 campaign.
While one weekend does not offer much indication into the authentic level of teams for the rest of the season, it provided the baseline for some intriguing storylines to follow.
As well, it’s the final year with 11 teams in OUA women’s hockey, with uOttawa and Carleton set to join the conference from the RSEQ in 2024-25
49 Sports is back for Week 1 of OUA women’s hockey takeaways.
Nipissing Lakers show dominance on opening weekend
The opening weekend could not have gone much better for the Nipissing Lakers, as they picked up a pair of dominant 4-1 wins against the Toronto Varsity Blues and TMU Bold to begin their 2023-24 season.
Despite critical players from last season’s run to the McCaw Cup final graduating, the Lakers controlled play against an experienced Varsity Blues team on opening night and got top quality conversions from their primary players.
Emma Thomas, Abbey Lunney, Katie Chomiak, and Madison Desmarais all scored in the opening game effort, with last year’s leading scorer, Malory Dominico, chipping in with an assist. Meanwhile, goaltender Chantelle Sandquist pushed aside 22 of 23 Toronto shots.
While head coach Darren Turcotte has retooled the team with younger talents in the offseason, the student-athletes stepped up in the opening week of the season, showing vigor, tenacity and organized play in the win over the defending champions.
At the same time, holding Toronto to 23 shots is a challenging task.
Although the season-opening victory in the McCaw Cup rematch took the primary focus for the weekend, the Lakers maintained their momentum through the second game, downing the TMU Bold in front of the weekend’s largest OUA women’s hockey crowd.
In the second game, Maggie McKee stepped up with a goal and an assist, while Lunney added a similar toll to her tally. Still, Chomiak led the team with a goal and two helpers, vaulting her to the top of conference scoring list after the first week.
The Lakers may look a bit different on the ice than in seasons past, but consistency in effort, systems, and ability to shut down opposing teams and strike in possession makes them even more of a contender after the opening week than they were going in.
Waterloo’s dynamic duo pick up where they left off
If the Waterloo Warriors’ fortunes in 2023-24 rest on the backs of Leah Herrfort and Tatum James, then one game into the season, they are off to a pretty strong start. Nothing more can be said that already hasn’t been about the pair of Warriors veterans. With Herrfort netting a league-leading 36 points and James following in second with 29 a season ago, along with 15 goals apiece, the pair led the Warriors to a second straight OUA West Division title.
With the spotlight on them on Thursday in an opening night matchup against the Windsor Lancers, the pair jumped right back into action. After Faith Mitchell opened the scoring for Waterloo in the first period, seven minutes into the second, Herrfort potted her first goal of the season past Kristen Swiatoschik before James added her first 24 seconds later. The Lancers got one back in the third, but Waterloo cruised to a strong 3-1 win.
The Warriors kept a lot of their depth from their league-leading 85-goal offence from a season ago, but did lose one key piece in Carley Olivier. The two-time reigning OUA defender of the year graduated from Waterloo after a second consecutive point-per-game season with 23 in 23 games. Olivier now looks to move forward to the professional level as she heads to the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s New York franchise’s training camp ahead of its inaugural season.
Meanwhile, the Warriors must find that third piece beyond Herrfort and James that Olivier filled the previous two years. Fifth-year Trisha Cho is now the top remaining scorer on defence after picking up 15 assists a season ago. Whether she or someone else can comfortably step into Olivier’s role will go a long way in helping chart the Warriors’ future this season.
With Waterloo Warriors section written by Richard Coffey