Rolled with the punches, yet still punchless

Despite tough defence and strong goaltending, the Warrior women’s hockey team lost game two of the OUA quarter-final in CIF on Saturday afternoon by a score of 0–1, and was swept by the Guelph Gryphons in the best-of-three series.

The possession game and questionable officiating defined the day, played in front of a reasonably large, but split crowd. Number one seed Guelph brought a large contingent of supporters to cheer them on, and that group managed to drown out the home crowd on more than one occasion. Admittedly, they had somewhat more to cheer about.

Guelph may have only scored once, and only taken 24 shots, but they controlled the game. Current hockey analytics are centred around possession and the concept that controlling the puck for longer increases a team’s likelihood of winning. The Gryphons perfectly fit that narrative, spending most of the game in Waterloo’s zone, holding on to the puck, and creating opportunities.

It’s an incredible credit to the Warriors that Guelph only scored once, on only 24 shots. Their defence was stifling at times, with a blocked shot total likely rivalling the actual shot total, and Guelph rarely finding good looks, even as they spent what felt like minutes at a time parked in the Warriors’ zone. Guelph’s only goal — from second-year forward Averi Nooren — was on a two-on-two breakaway, as the Gryphons found themselves flummoxed by Waterloo’s full-strength defensive schemes. The Warriors had given up an average of almost 30 shots per game in 2014, so holding top-ranked Guelph to significantly less was an achievement.

The good news for Waterloo ended there though: as strong as they were in their own zone, the Warriors were absolutely miserable on offence and in neutral territory. The energy they expended on defence, having spent most of the time around their own net, and from playing long shifts trapped away from their bench meant that they were listless on the attack. Very few of Waterloo’s shots were good opportunities: most were handled by Guelph netminder Stephanie Nehring with little effort.

The officials called a bizarre game. Though attentive enough to call icing on a near-constant basis, they missed carries, hand-passes, and at least one punch thrown. That punch was thought to be a call by both teams — including the player who skated to the penalty box — and the scoreboard operator, until the ref inexplicably waved it off.

As she has been for most of the season, the Warriors’ goalie Rebecca Bouwhuis was a star. She has kept the team in games they shouldn’t have competed in all year, and continued her excellent play this game.

The Warriors’ season is over, but a trip to the playoffs, and another summer of development may signal a different end to next season.