Heading into the homestretch of the PWHL season, the visiting Oakville Hornets and Nepean Wildcats were jockeying for postseason position. A close 3-2 win for Nepean was crucial as the Wildcats are in the lower half of the PWHL standings.
The January 27 affair was hosted at the Carleton Ice House and featured Kristin Gilmour. The Oakville Hornets player was part of the Canadian Under-18 team that claimed gold at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships.
A lot of strong skating was evident early in the period. Nepean’s Mackenzie Stone had the first scoring chance of the first frame. She intercepted the puck and shot at close range, but Oakville’s Camille Leonard made the save.
Earlier in the season, Leonard was chosen for Team Ontario Red, and helped the squad claim a bronze medal at the 2012 Canadian Under-18 National Championships. With 10:37 left on the clock, Nepean’s Samantha Cogan (who is fifth in PWHL scoring) scored on Leonard to provide Nepean with a 1-0 advantage.
After the goal, Oakville regrouped and went on the offensive. Nepean backstop Kayla Thompson found herself tested often. Andrea Benac shot at close range. Oakville’s Hayley Scamurra followed with a shot that hit Thompson in her mask.
Despite their best effort, Oakville would not get the next goal of the game. Nepean’s Alison Mackenzie would add to the 1-0 lead. With 6:54 left in the first, Mackenzie released a wrist shot that floated through heavy traffic and past a screened Leonard.
A mere 22 seconds later, Oakville replied as Lauren Carroll streaked up the ice. A convincing wrist shot was buried top shelf past Thompson as Nepean’s lead was reduced to a one goal advantage.
The first power play of the game would occur with 6:02 remaining as Morgan Kidney was called for a penalty. Nepean went on the offensive and peppered Leonard with shots. Dallis Ferguson and Josiane Pozzebon tried to add to Nepean’s lead.
Although Oakville successfully killed the penalty, the final two minutes of the period would find Nepean back on another power play. With Jennifer MacAskill sitting in the penalty box, Addi Halladay released a powerful slap shot.
Leonard’s reflexes were razor sharp as she managed to stop the shot. Stone followed with another slap shot, but Kristin Gilmour would block the shot, as a real team effort helped Oakville neutralize Nepean’s second power play.
Heading into the second stanza, Leonard continued to maintain her composure between the pipes. Team captain Cassidy Campeau and Pozzebon shot on Leonard at close range.
With 13:30 remaining, the goal that would beat Leonard was another wrist shot that floated into the net. Mackenzie Irvine would be credited with the tally as Nepean jumped to a 3-1 lead.
After the goal, Nepean continued to try and add to their lead. Despite their best efforts, Leonard was not going to relinquish another goal. Samantha Cogan displayed beautiful stickwork as she weaved through traffic and passed to Pozzebon. Leonard denied her as Pozzebon could not add to the lead.
Following the play, Myf Thomson of Nepean would collide with Kristin Gilmour causing concern among the fans. Gilmour was lying on the ice for several minutes. After recovering to her feet, the fans gave her an ovation.
Nepean players such as Cogan, Campeau and Irvine continued to pepper Leonard with shots, but she was determined not to allow another goal.
Benac and MacAskill of Oakville managed to bring the puck across the ice. In both cases, the skaters were shadowed by several Nepean defenders and neither one had a teammate to pass the puck to. Scamurra managed to deke several Nepean players but her shot hit an Oakville teammate.
The final minute of the period found Leonard remaining solid between the pipes. Stone weaved through traffic but Leonard made a terrific save. Dallis Ferguson released a powerful shot but could not bury the puck past Leonard to add to the lead.
With Leonard’s strong goaltending, Oakville was determined to reduce Nepean’s lead. The third period found Oakville enjoying their first power play of the game. With 17:55 remaining, Nepean’s Cogan was sent to the penalty box.
The best scoring opportunity of the power play belonged to Scamurra but her shot was blocked by Nepean alternate captain Lauren Miller. With Nepean successfully killing the penalty, the squad tried to turn the momentum in their favor.
Back on the offensive, Nepean constantly released shots on Leonard. Even with a power play opportunity (with 12:59 remaining) yielded a negative result. Stone shot in heavy traffic and the puck sat in front of an open net. No one could grab the rebound and Kristin Gilmour did an effective job at clearing the puck.
As the third period was developing into a stalemate, the play started to become extremely physical. After the successful penalty kill, Oakville tried very hard to log their second goal of the game. A very crowded Nepean crease resulted in a lot of pushing and shoving.
The result was two Nepean players (Campeau and Pozzebon) along with one Oakville player (Heather Hood) called for penalties. A few seconds later, Oakville’s Heather Platt was also called for a penalty. With a reduced number of players, Leonard still faced a barrage of Nepean shots. Lindsay Eastwood, Meghan Brennan and Stone tried to score, but Leonard played valiantly.
Instead, it was Oakville that would score. With 6:37 remaining, Platt logged the marker for the Hornets. A center ice pass hit her blade and beat Thompson as Nepean’s lead was reduced to a 3-2 tally.
As the period wound down, the level of physicality increased. Cogan and MacAskill knocked each other down. Another Oakville skater was knocked down, and both teams started pushing and shoving. Roughing calls were given to both Oakville and Nepean.
The pressure continued on Leonard as Alyssa Baker and Addi Halladay shot on her. With faceoffs in Oakville’s end, Cogan managed to win multiple faceoffs and shoot directly at Leonard.
In the dying seconds of the match, Oakville opted for an extra attacker by playing with an open net. Scamurra was leading a charge down the ice but the tone of the match would change quickly.
With 4.1 seconds left, she collided with Meghan Brennan and lay motionless on the ice for several minutes. Although Brennan was called for a penalty, the few seconds left on the clock was not enough to regroup and tie the contest.
“It was a rough game. We battled really well through it. Everything we did today, we did as a team,” remarked Addi Halladay. In addition, Samantha Cogan noted, “It was great to get the first goal. We played hard. We did not give up and kept going. We were determined, and in the end, we wanted to get the points.”
One aspect of the game that Nepean will need to duplicate in the postseason is the ability to produce a lot of shots on net. With Nepean in the lower half of the standings, every team they will face in the postseason will have strong goaltending. A continuous barrage of shots will be essential in hoping to pull off an upset.
Although Oakville was defeated, Camille Leonard provided a courageous performance. Had it not been for two goals in heavy traffic, Oakville would have prevailed. She displayed remarkable tenacity as she did everything possible to keep Oakville competitive. If Oakville can manage to score more often, Leonard has the ability to carry them deep into the postseason.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”