The York University Lions men’s hockey team faces its biggest weekend of the season to this point with a pair of games against the visiting Lakehead Thunderwolves.
The two squads will square off on Friday night (Jan. 11) beginning at 7pm at Canlan Ice Sports, and will return to the same ice the following night at the same time for the final game in the season series.
The results of weekend’s contests should go a long way in determining playoff positioning in the tight Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West Division standings. The two teams are tied for fourth place in the division with 22 points each, although the Lions currently hold the higher spot with more wins – 11 to 10.
The Lions are currently riding a three-game winning streak, dating back to their last game before the holiday break, and have won five of their last six overall. The squad knocked off the Laurier Golden Hawks by a score of 4-3 on Dec. 1, then posted a victory by the same score over the Waterloo Warriors last Friday, winning when team captain Jesse Messier of Keswick scored in the shootout.
Messier continues to be a dominant force on the ice for the Lions as the team’s leading scorer with 22 points in 17 games, putting him in a tie for ninth place in OUA scoring. He is also the squad’s leader in goals (10), assists (12) and power play goals (three).
The team’s most recent victory was also one of its most impressive of the season – a 3-2 comeback win over the then-No. 8 nationally ranked Windsor Lancers. The Lions put together that victory after allowing two first-period goals and falling behind 2-0. But they slowly chipped away at the deficit and took their first and only lead of the game less than seven minutes into the final frame.
The hero of last weekend was Tyler McGee of Timmins, who scored three goals in two games, including the tying and winning goals in the upset of the Lancers, and was named York’s male athlete of the week. He is currently third on the team with six goals and is seventh overall in Lions scoring with nine points.
Goaltender Andrew Perugini of King City has asserted himself as one of the best at his position in the OUA. He is second in the conference with 11 wins on the season, and ranks seventh in goals against average (2.83) and 14th in save percentage.
The Thunderwolves have traded wins and losses since winning two in a row in mid-November, over UQTR and Brock. In their last two weekends, the Thunderwolves have split two-game series with both Windsor and Guelph, and last week they escaped from their contests against the Gryphons with a 4-3 shootout win and a 5-2 loss.
The Thunderwolves are one of the highest-scoring teams in the OUA West – their 67 goals are tied for the third-highest mark in the division – and the squad boasts six players with 10 or more points through the first 18 games of the season.
That group includes Mike Hammond of Victoria, who is the team’s leading scorer with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists), rookie forward Luke Judson of Emo, who is ninth in the OUA with nine goals and third in the conference in overall scoring by first-year players with 21 points, and Matt Caria of Sault Ste. Marie, who also has 21 points and leads all Thunderwolves and ranks sixth in the OUA with 16 assists in 16 games.
This weekend’s games wrap up the regular-season series between the two teams. York and Lakehead previously met in early October on York’s opening weekend and split the two contests played in Thunder Bay. The Thunderwolves dominated the first game to win 7-3, but the Lions came out the following night and recorded their first win of the season by a score of 6-3.
Lakehead fired their head coach within days of that loss to the Lions, and the team is now under the guidance of interim head coach Mike Busniuk.
The Lions will wrap up their five-game homestand next week with games against the Waterloo Warriors Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7pm, and Brock Badgers Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7pm.