The way they won may not have been pretty, but by the end of the weekend, the Pandas hockey team came away from their season opening match ups against the University of Manitoba with two wins.
The Pandas were outshot both games, and by Pandas head coach Howie Draper’s own admission, the team was outplayed as well in Friday night’s season opener. Pandas goaltender Michala Jeffries was an immensely important part of the team, making 62 saves through the weekend’s two games. The Pandas, on the other hand, put the puck away when it mattered to win the season opener 2-1, and Saturday night’s rematch 3-1 in what turned out to be a stronger game for the team, despite still being outshot.
“We weren’t able to find any speed in the first game, so we seemed a little heavy of foot, but sometimes that happens when you’re on the road,” Draper said. “That first game is a tough one. You have to shake off the rust and when that happens it’s a little easier to perform. It seemed to me like that was certainly the case against Manitoba.”
The Pandas ability to get goal scoring when it mattered was a good sign for Draper. The coach had identified the Pandas’ offence as one main aspect that needed improvement this season. The biggest result of this improvement that Draper saw in the preseason and opening weekend of the regular season were the strides the team had taken in speed, with some Pandas in particular standing out.
“Some of the players that I’ve seen take a dramatic step forward for us are Hannah Mousek. She’s a young defenceman and she’s as good as any defenceman in our league. She’s green and maybe lacks a little bit of experience, but when she’s confident and moving her feet, I think that she can be a tremendous aspect of our game,” Draper said.
“Up front, players like Jayden Skoye who’s got tremendous speed. She’s been doing very well and she gives it her all every shift and when she’s doing that she creates a lot of space for her linemates and they create a lot of pressure. Amy Helfrich is one of our strongest players on the breakout despite the fact that she’s not very big, and her speed is starting to come to the forefront for us.”
The Pandas will try and improve upon their opening weekend performance in their two games this weekend on the road against the Canada West conference’s newest school, the Mount Royal University Cougars. Despite this being the team’s first season in CIS play, the Cougars got off to an impressive start with a pair of wins on the road against the University of Saskatchewan.
The Pandas played Mount Royal in their preseason last year, and despite winning one-sided games on the scoreboard, Draper contends that the Cougars were a stronger team than the score suggested and have only improved since then.
The Pandas will travel to Calgary to play Mount Royal at 7 p.m. on Friday night and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. To score another two wins this weekend, Draper knows his team will have to play at a higher tempo than they did in Manitoba, and will have to match the pressure that he knows the Cougars will put against them on the forecheck.
“When you’re away, it’s a little bit more difficult to get motivated or play as well as your opponent, so we just wanted to simplify things and move the puck out, chip it in, get it in deep, establish a good forecheck and create turnovers that way and try to capitalize on the turnovers,” Draper said.
“They have a little bit of speed — they play the pressure game so they want to get the puck, create turnovers and they do that very well. They have a couple of girls who can score goals if you give them the opportunity.
“If you’re able to turn over the puck against us and first of all establish strong pressure and turn over the puck, if they have space they’re going to put away their chances. That seemed to be the case against Saskatchewan and hopefully we’ll be able to compete against that pressure a little bit better than we did last weekend.”
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