Last season, for the first time in six years, the Brock Badgers women’s hockey team qualified for the OUA playoffs. This past weekend, the Badgers opened up their season with hopes to get themselves back in that position once again.
Brock head coach and former Canadian women’s hockey national team member, Margot Page knows the Badgers have their work cut out for them if they intend to return to the playoffs once again.
“Everybody wants to go back and make the playoffs but it’s very difficult to do,” said Page “I think that’s what everybody wants, we want to get back there and we want to have a better showing when we do get there. But it’s going to take a lot of work because we have a lot of young players that will have to learn to play the game at this level consistently.”
One area the Badgers certainly don’t need to be concerned with is their goaltending and this was on full display on Saturday afternoon at the Seymour-Hannah Centre against the Laurier Golden Hawks. Fourth-year player and starting goaltender, Jensen Murphy, made 34 saves in a 3-1 win for the Badgers. It was the first season-opening win for Brock since the 2011/12 season. Murphy is coming off a season where she posted top-five numbers in saves (732), save percentage (.942) and wins (12), and Page couldn’t say enough positive things about her second-team OUA All-Star.
“She’s consistently strong, there’s never a game that I don’t believe in her and one thing she has is a really strong back-up group,” said Page. “She has Julia Pettella and Emma Belazsi in behind her. We have an amazing trio of goaltending. There’s really no pressure in any way she just gets to go out, have some fun and enjoy it.”
Another positive take away from Brock’s first game was their special teams play. In many cases, it’s almost expected to experience some struggles with the power-play and penalty killing units in the early goings of a season, but the Badgers didn’t skip a beat. As goals by Amanda Ieradi and Kim Brown both came with the five-on-four advantage and the Badgers maintained a perfect six-for-six in penalty killing situations.
When asked if discipline and staying out of the penalty box is an issue the Badgers need to address moving forward, Page didn’t seem concerned.
“I don’t want to take the edge away from the players. We’re a very physical team, we’re a very fast team, we’re a very aggressive team and we’re a very strong team,” said Page. “I don’t mind us doing the ‘crash and bang’. The things I don’t like are the lazy penalties.”
“Some of those penalties I don’t mind them taking because they’re just playing hard. I don’t want to take that edge away from them, that’s a little bit of our make-up,” said Page.
The aggressive play was on full display against Laurier, as the Badgers forced their way to a 2-0 lead. It wasn’t until there was 4:13 left in the third when Laurier caught a fortunate bounce on a point shot to cut the lead in half and make it 2-1. This was expected to be a close game, as the two teams split the season series last year by scores of 3-2 and 2-1. The Badgers didn’t appear to panic after conceding the goal though and Page attributes much of that to the presence of Murphy in goal.
“In the back of your mind, you know you have one of the best goalies in the league back there, that’s who you want in there so all you have to do is keep the puck to the outside and let her be able to see the pucks coming at her,” Page said.
“She is so focused, so technically sound, so athletic and just so poised. She’s really a calming force back there so I think it allows everybody to play their game.”
It may be too early to place a prediction on where the Badgers end up at seasons end, but if game one was any indication, they certainly have an opportunity to find themselves in the playoff conversation once again.
The Badgers continue their regular season on the road this weekend on Oct. 26 and 27 against UOIT and Queens. Their next home game will be Nov. 9 versus Laurentian at 7:15 p.m.