Liberty McKague Makes 28 Saves in Road Victory for Toronto Jr. Aeros

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Liberty McKague Makes 28 Saves in Road Victory for Toronto Jr. Aeros
Photo by Mark Staffieri

As the first half of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League enters its holiday break, the Toronto Jr. Aeros prevailed in a crucial road win on December 16 over the Nepean Wildcats at the Carleton Ice House in Ottawa, Ontario. Aeros netminder Liberty McKague was a key factor in the 3-1 win as she faced a barrage of shots.

Less than two minutes into the opening frame, the Jr. Aeros opened the scoring. Rachel Bierbrier had her shot blocked but Breanne Wilson-Bennett picked up the rebound and buried the puck past Wildcats backstop Makayla Campbell. Wilson-Bennett crashed the net after the goal made it 1-0 for the Jr. Aeros.

After the opening goal, the Jr. Aeros continued to add pressure. Alternate captain Audrey Potts and Victoria Andreakos peppered Campbell with shots.

Nepean would find their way into the Jr. Aeros zone, but McKague was up for the challenge. Wildcats forwards Sam Cogan and Katryne Villeneuve tried to open the scoring for Nepean but were denied. Alison MacKenzie intercepted a Jr. Aeros pass in the Toronto zone but was unable to capitalize.

The first period was marked by some fundamentally sound play on defense by the Jr. Aeros. MacKenzie MacNeil and Hannah Rastrick both blocked shots by Nepean defender Lindsay Eastwood. After both shots, Eastwood grabbed the rebound but her shot was not blocked by McKague as she was not third time lucky. Eastwood provided a valiant performance as she continued to pepper McKague with shots later in the opening frame.

Meghan Brennan had the best scoring chance for Nepean as her shot would have beaten McKague, but it went wide. Despite Nepean grabbing the rebound, McKague was there for the save.

Despite struggles for the puck in the corners, the Jr. Aeros showed a lot of grit and Lauren Wildfang was a strong physical presence. Near the end of the period, she blocked a shot by Wildcats captain Cassidy Campeau.

With 45 seconds left, Nepean went on the power play. Despite an incredibly wicked slap shot by Nepean alternate captain Lauren Miller with less than five seconds on the clock, McKague was a stone wall.

The second stanza continued with the Jr. Aeros successfully killing the penalty.

Despite Nepean's best efforts, it would be Toronto that would add to the scoresheet. Against the boards, Wilson-Bennett made a crisp pass to Amanda Pantaleo from her knees. Pantaleo proceeded to bury it past Campbell to make it 2-0 in favor of Toronto. It was a beautiful play.  

The Wildcats showed no signs of quit as alternate captain Addi Halladay went on the offensive. Her shot was blocked and Mackenzie Stone overskated and missed the rebound. Team captain Cassidy Campeau had her shot blocked by Wilson-Bennett. Another play resulted in McKague having the left side of the net open, but Jr. Aeros captain Emma Greco laid down on the ice to ensure the side was no longer exposed.

As the clock displayed ten minutes left in the second period, Toronto nearly added to their lead. Victoria Andreakos streaked down the ice and had Campbell beat, but her shot hit the post.

Nepean also had their own missed opportunities as a Nepean slap shot fell out of McKague’s glove and she had to react quickly.

With 2:26 left in the period, Toronto played with an empty net in favor of an extra attacker. Nepean showed great composure despite the added pressure. Brooke Webster of Toronto had a slap shot at close range. Nepean skater Samantha Cogan showed great toughness in the Nepean defensive zone as it took three Jr. Aeros skaters to fight her off in order to grab the puck in the corner.

The second stanza ended with Nepean having an advantage in shots by a 19 to 18 margin.

The third period was defined by a lot of back and forth. Both teams skated hard and Nepean did not quit. Star defender Taylor Thurston blocked a Toronto shot. A few minutes later, Thurston would deliver a hard slap shot at the Toronto net.

With 12:24 left on the clock, Nepean had a power play and the Wildcats were hoping to build on the momentum. Wildcats skater Katryne Villeneuve weaved her way through traffic, but her backhand went wide. Alyssa Baker deked through several Jr. Aeros and made a pass to Addi Halladay. Her shot was denied by McKague.

Although the Wildcats played valiantly on the power play, it would be Toronto that would get back on to the scoreboard. A blocked shot found its way down the ice into the Nepean zone. With a flurry of Jr. Aeros charging down the ice, Campbell was overwhelmed.

As Toronto enjoyed a 3-0 lead, the final five minutes of the contest consisted of Nepean trying to get a goal. Halladay, Cogan and Myf Thomson led the charge. Nepean continued to pepper McKague with shots.

Eventually, Nepean solved McKague.

Once again, Eastwood worked tirelessly to try and score on McKague. Her shot went through heavy traffic and was deflected by Cassie Sharp. The score was now 3-1.

Even in the dying seconds of the contest, Nepean tried aggressively to score as Sharp released a slap shot with 5.6 seconds left in the contest. With heavy traffic again in front of Toronto’s crease, McKague had to react quickly and made a glove save for the final play of the contest.

Despite the loss, Nepean earned the advantage in shots by a 28-23 tally. 

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