For nine straight games, Annie Berg did not score a goal. This was the same player who had led the team in points last year with 11 goals and 14 assists.
Going into their first game of the weekend against Waterloo, Berg was leading the team in points. Eight assists, not one goal. She’s been involved in the play, she’s thrown her body in the way, and yet, Berg could not buy a goal.
Berg is one of few senior players on the team made up of gifted first year players. The rookies are fast, strong and lead the team in scoring. Compared to them, the veterans are underperforming.
It was not Berg who took the opening faceoff against the Waterloo Warriors, but first-year centre, Emma Irwin. The 18-year-old Medical Science major took the ice with fellow first-year Mishayla Christensen and third-year Niamh Haughey on her wings. She was backed up by first-year defender, Avery Vickers and second-year defender, Rebekah Feld. The only definitive veteran on the ice was fifth-year goaltender Jensen Murphy.
The Warriors have the leading scorer in the OUA, Taytum Clairmont, (18 points, nine of which are goals) It was Emma Cheeseman who took a pass from Clairmont to score the first goal of the game less than two minutes into the game. It was another Badgers rookie, Sarah Brooks who tied it up.
They played the majority of the third tied at one. Then it happened.
The Badgers were on the penalty kill. Kaitlyn Colonna was sitting in the box after taking a cross checking minor. The Warriors were in the Badgers end, they attempted a pass to the point but Annie Berg was there to collect the puck instead. She exploded up the ice in a burst of speed that’s come to be expected of her. She faked a backhanded shot, pulled back and shot the puck above the goaltender’s glove into the back of the net.
The celebration was huge, Berg came off the ice and embraced her teammates in a dramatic show as if to say “finally.” Every one of them was glad to have her dialled back in.
“I think she was feeling the pressure to score. We count on her to score, when she wasn’t and we got a couple losses because of it, I think she internalized a lot of that so I think getting that goal tonight was huge for her. She needed it and we need her to score,” said assistant coach Brad Nicholson.
Mikayla Flanagan scored an empty net goal to put the Badgers at three. They won the game, but not before allowing the Warriors to score with five seconds remaining in the period. This was the second time in as many weeks that the Badgers allowed a goal late in the third period leading by two.
“It’s a 60 minute game. If it’s a 2-1 game and they pull their goalie and get that goal, we’re going to overtime instead of coasting to a one goal victory. So we have to be focused for the full 60 minutes. I know it sounds like a cliche but it’s true. We lost our focus,” said Nicholson.
As the Badgers left the ice, it looked like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. Their leading scorer was back, not only that, but they had played as a cohesive unit for the first time in a while.
“We kind of came out of last weekend a little disconnected,” said Nicholson. “We really weren’t playing together as a cohesive unit and we really talked about that this week and emphasized it in practice and I think it really showed tonight how effective we can be when we work together.”
The Badgers rode their momentum to a 3-0 victory over the nationally ranked Guelph Gryphons. The Gryphons are ranked seventh in the country and the Badgers were able to shut them out completely. Jensen Murphy recorded her first shutout of the season. Niamh Haughey scored late in the first, assisted by Irwin, who added another assist when she helped Mishayla Christensen find the net late in the second. Annie Berg scored the game winner 22 seconds later.
It’s no secret that beating Guelph means something more than just a tick in the win column; after two straight playoff runs were stopped in their tracks by the Gryphons, many of the Badgers go in looking for redemption. The rookies weren’t there to experience the crushing first round sweep of last season, but there’s no doubt that Berg and Haughey remember and there’s no doubt that those goals meant just a little bit more. Murphy, who’s been in net for every playoff-related heartbreak of the last four seasons, stopped all 30 of the Gryphons’ shots. The Badgers had 25 shots.
The Badgers will be at home on Thursday to play the Western Mustangs before hitting the road to play the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sunday.