Rookie’s first goal lifts Gryphon hockey women to win

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH — Rookie defenceman Sophie Rodenburg made sure the Guelph Gryphons couldn’t fall back on an excuse in OUA women’s hockey league play Thursday night at the Gryphon Centre.

Rodenburg’s first goal for the Gryphs proved to be a big one as she scored with 2:49 to go in regulation time to give the hosts a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Varsity Blues.

Kaitlin Lowy and Karli Shell assisted on the play.

Goaltender Aurore Beaulieu stopped 20 shots to get the win and her second shutout of her rookie season.

“Toronto’s definitely one of the best teams we’ve seen this second half, for sure,” acting head coach Katie Mora said. “Stealing that win today meant a lot because they beat us in their barn way back in October (also 1-0). Just getting that win today felt good. We were saying in the room that it kind of felt like a playoff game so having a game like that in the second half is really good as playoffs start to get a little closer. It’s good preparation for that.”

Had the result gone the other way, the Gryphs could easily have blamed it on the people who weren’t there as usual head coach Rachel Flanagan, goaltender Valerie Lamenta, defenceman Katherine Bailey and forward Kelly Gribbons are all with the Canadian team that’s playing in the Winter Universiade in Kazakhstan.

Mora and fellow assistant coach Tim Ingram didn’t make any huge adjustments from the Gryphon style usually seen with Flanagan on the bench.

“Her systems always seem to work so we definitely stuck to her type of game plan and made sure we were holding the team accountable while she was away,” Mora said.

The game was a fast-paced affair with little in the way of shots, penalties or even stoppages in play. Toronto outshot the Gryphs 20-17 and there were only seven shots total in the first period. A cross-checking minor to Guelph’s Sophie Contant in the second period was the lone penalty and the game was completed in one hour and 44 minutes.

“We definitely hammered in their heads between periods they needed to shoot the puck a lot more and test this goalie (Valencia Yordanov),” Mora said. “Shot selection needed to be better, but at the end of the day it was just a garbage goal that was the difference. It was kind of ironic that way.”

The win, Guelph’s ninth in a row, put the Gryphs 10 points ahead of the runner-up Nipissing Lakers atop the league’s standings. Nipissing has two games in hand. The Gryphs are at 14-3-2-1 while Nipissing’s at 11-2-3-2. Toronto’s third at 12-1-7-0.

“We’re kind of playing for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Where we finish in the standings is really important because at the end of the day we want to have an OUA final, knock on wood, at home. Every point does matter,” Mora said. “It’s coming disciplined and ready to play every game.”

The victory did secure home-ice advantage in the best-of-three quarter-finals for the Gryphs, the only team in the league to have clinched a playoff berth. Their next win will give them home-ice advantage in the best-of-three semifinals should they win their quarter-final series.

The Gryphs have four games left in their regular season and those in Kazakhstan are expected back for all four. Guelph’s to play at Brock (6-3-9-1) Feb. 11 at 2:15 p.m. and at Waterloo (9-2-7-1) Feb. 12 at 2:30 p.m. and host Windsor (9-1-8-2) Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. and Nipissing Feb. 19 at 2 p.m.