The University of Toronto Varsity Blues are nationally ranked, No. 4 according to the U Sports women’s hockey rankings that came out on January 14. They’re leading the OUA in the race for the playoffs, coached by two time Olympic gold medalist, Vicky Sunohara. The Blues lead the OUA in shots on net, yet the Badgers beat them 2-1 in regulation.
The Badgers weren’t the favoured team when the puck dropped, but it quickly became clear that they were there to play their best game since coming back from the winter break.
It was the annual Pink in the Rink event in support of breast cancer research. The Badgers took the ice in pink alternate jerseys and the puck was dropped by Lori Fowle, a breast cancer survivor and Junior Badgers hockey mom.
The Badgers took control of the game in the first when Cassidy Maplethorpe scored after the Badgers battled for the puck at the front of the net. Toronto managed to tie things up before the ten minute mark.
The Badgers and Varsity Blues left the ice with one goal each. Both teams would be searching for a game winner in the second, but before that happened a group of Junior Badgers took the ice to play a five minute scrimmage. The Badgers have an incredibly strong relationship with the young women who play in the SCFHA. Junior Badgers are some of the teams most loyal fans.
“Our players are such good role models. They’re out in the community all the time. They’ve created a really nice bond with the Junior Badgers, so it’s a really cool thing when they come and support us as well,” said head coach Margot Page.
A handful of Badgers and Blues stood behind the benches to watch and Maplethorpe even came over the bench to assist on one of the younger girls’ goals.
“I keep saying ‘if you can see it you can be it’ and that’s what we’re doing for them. Hopefully three, four, maybe 10 years from now we might have another Junior Badger come up to be Badger,” said Page.
The second period was where the Badgers truly took control of the game. Mishayla Christensen scored at the 2:25 mark. The Badgers proved something to the Blues and to themselves. They proved that they can shut down the No. 1 team in the OUA. The Blues took more shots than the Badgers, ending the game with 31 shots to the Badgers’ 18.
“We’re just talking about keeping the plays low because we knew that we were pretty successful [when we did that],” said Page. “We talked about double chips coming out of our zone, looking to enter the zone, getting the puck deep and playing it deep. Eventually the points would get open, we didn’t have to shoot, we could just toss it back in,”
One defensive play almost allowed the Blues to tie the game. The Blues broke out of their own end and carried the puck towards the Badgers’ net where Murphy would have been facing a breakaway. Annie Berg managed to get back and lift the player’s stick. The player lost control of the puck and Berg circled around to retrieve it. The officials called a penalty. On the Badgers’ bench, Page was furious, making her complaints clear. The officials met at centre ice and changed the call. Instead of a power play, the Blues would be receiving a penalty shot. Jensen Murphy made the save to keep the Badgers ahead.
“We worked hard on the back check, lift a stick and not only do we think we just have a penalty, [it turns out] we have a penalty shot. Maybe it was better that we had that penalty shot, knowing what happened,” said Page.
The Badgers were able to keep their shots low and focus on defense for the rest of the game because of what Murphy provides behind them. Murphy’s endurance is what puts her ahead of her peers. She has played a full 60 minutes in 16 of the Badgers’ 17 games while still keeping her win percentage above .500 and her save percentage at a .943.
“Knowing that Jensen’s back there all the time gives our players so much more confidence. Sometimes a little bit too much confidence where we might make some defensive errors knowing that she might bail us out,” said Page
This regulation win over the Blues put the Badgers fifth in the OUA with 31 points. Toronto and York lead the league and are safe bets to finish in the top two, but beyond that there’s no predicting who might be one of the eight teams that makes the playoffs on February 14 when the regular season ends.
“We don’t want to look beyond our season to the playoffs because we don’t know if we’re going to be there,” said Page. “You have to get points however you can and I think that’s what we’re going to look at.”
The Badgers have seven games left in their season and the next one is against a formidable opponent, the No. 10 York Lions. If they’re going to be able to push for the playoffs then they’ll have to give the same effort for the remaining seven.
“How can we play well and be proud of where we’re at so you don’t look back and wonder what if, if only? Let’s just play well enough, work together, stay connected with each other on and off the ice and we’re going to be okay,” said Page.
The Badgers have seven games left in their season and the next one is against a formidable opponent, the No. 10 York Lions.