Wong’s goals lift Gryphon hockey women to opening win

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – A pair of second-period goals by Mackenzie Wong less than five minutes apart lifted the Guelph Gryphons to a 3-1 victory over the Waterloo Warriors in a tight-checking opening game of their best-of-three OUA women’s hockey semifinal series Wednesday night at the Gryphon Centre.

“The further we go in playoffs, the more we expect we’re going to come into tight games,” Gryphon coach Rachel Flanagan said. “They’re a really, really fast relentless team and we knew we had to move pucks quickly. They hemmed us in a bunch of times and we just kind of survived.”

The Gryphs scored the only goal of the first period before Waterloo tied it early in the second. Wong scored her two goals in the final seven minutes of the period and the Gryphs turned up their checking to keep the third scoreless.

“Our first period was OK,” Flanagan said. “The second we felt like we had a bit more in the tank and our third was definitely our best period. Our fourth line that has a lot of speed, they’re small but mighty, they really dominated tonight. Offensively, they kept pucks deep, they moved their feet and they generated a number of opportunities, especially in the first and second.”

Wong had a simple tactic that paid off with the goals.

“Just getting pucks to the net, honestly,” she said. “The first one, there was lots of traffic and I just got it to the net. The second one I just sort of forced it in there as well.”

Those goals helped the Gryphs take the crucial opening game.

“It just really sets the tone for the series,” Wong said. “We really wanted to get out there and set the tempo and send a message today.”

Karli Shell scored the first-period goal for the Gryphs while assists in the game were awarded to Kristen Jay, Meagan Lee, Kaitlin Lowy, Katherine Bailey, Ashlee Lawrence and Sophie Rodenburg.

Dana Fairbairn scored for Waterloo with help from Amy Barnard and Angela MacDonald.

Game 2 is to go at Waterloo’s Columbia Ice Fields arena Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

“We know when we go to Waterloo we’re going to be in for a dogfight,” Flanagan said. “It’s a tough barn to play in. It’s smaller so the forecheck comes even faster, but it also means pucks get to you a little bit faster as well. Hopefully, we can turn a few more pucks over with our speed and just be ready and prepared for their speed.”

The last time the Gryphs played the Warriors at Waterloo, they suffered a 3-0 setback. That was Feb. 12, the penultimate weekend of the regular season. They bounced back from that with wins over the Windsor Lancers and Nipissing Lakers the following weekend.

“Similar to our last couple of years, we get a little bit complacent with winning games so we knew that it was coming,” Flanagan said of that loss. “I’m kind of grateful it happened against them. It probably gave them a little more confidence than we want them to have, but it certainly woke our girls up knowing how hard they’re going to have to work against a team like that.”

“We didn’t play our best 60 there and it just shows that if we don’t work hard, then teams can catch up to us,” Wong said. “We just have to make sure we take care of our own business.”

If Waterloo wins Saturday, the third and deciding game of the series is to be played Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre.

Winner of the series will play in the single-game OUA McCaw Cup championship March 11 against the winner of the other semifinal between Nipissing and the Toronto Varsity Blues.

If the defending champion Gryphs win their semifinal, they’ll host the McCaw Cup final as they finished the regular season in first place.