‘Backs look for net gains in 2018

Photo by Courtesy of the Athletics Department

Mia Rogers #17 fights off multiple Queen's Gaels during Jan. 2 game.

Luck hasn’t been on the the UOIT Ridgebacks women’s hockey team’s side so far this season, but head coach Justin Caruana is hoping that changes as the calendar flips to 2018.

The Ridgebacks have a record of 5-9 this season, good for ninth place in the 13-team Ontario University Athletics league.

The losses are largely on the back of an offence that has been, well, offensive – in its lack of production thus far.

The ‘Backs have scored just 22 goals (1.57 per game), 11th in the league. It’s a downward turn from last season when they averaged 2.4 goals per game, good for sixth in the league.

Caruana believes the offensive slide is not due to a lack of effort, rather a lack of luck.

“We saw a lot of good things with the way we’re playing the game, the effort we’re bringing, the buy-in we’re getting. We’re very happy that way,” he added, “as girls get more confidence and get more comfortable with each other, I think that’s when you’re going to see more pucks go in the net.”

Heading into the season Caruana believed offence was the least of UOIT’s concerns as the team’s top three scorers from 2016-17, Kassidy Nabouris, Mikaeli Cavell and Chelsea Ball all returned for their senior season.

Nabouris has been the offensive leader for the Backs this season, producing 12 points, meaning she’s been in on 54 per cent of the team’s goals.

Here talents were on full display during the Ridgebacks 5-4 victory over Ryerson University Nov. 25 where she recorded points on all five goals.

Ball is second on the team with eight points (4G, 4A), and forward Megan Johnston is third with seven points (2G, 5A).

Part of the offensive struggles can be linked to the Ridgebacks adding 10 new players to their lineup this season, as they are developing chemistry and adjusting to playing with UOIT.

The Ridgebacks power-play is also a culprit of their offensive struggles, with just five goals in 56 opportunities (8.9 per cent) after sitting at 14.7 per cent last season.

Though the power-play of old appeared to show up in the Ryerson game as they scored four power-play goals.

“We re-adjusted and remodelled some things and we got results,” Caruana said, “I think the big thing is they just simplified it.”

On the defensive side of the puck, the Ridgebacks have allowed 29 goals (2.07 per game) along with 28 shots per game and Caruana is pleased with their play.

“We’re taking a lot more pride in our defensive end and a big thing is we got more mobile on the back end. Where in past years we may have gotten in trouble because of our skating, we’re getting out of those issues because of our skating.”

He also praised the play of goaltenders Briar Hughes and Celine Tessier, who’ve posted save percentages of .920 and .948 respectively in seven starts each this season.

Caruana hopes the team builds off its victory over Ryerson which snapped a four-game losing streak and was also their final game before the winter break.

He hopes UOIT uses that game to build momentum to turn the team’s fortunes around as the calendar flips to 2018.

The Ridgebacks returned to play on Jan. 6-7, with back-to-back games against Nipissing and Laurentian.

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Conner McTague is a second-year journalism student at Durham College. He enjoys sports, music, and politics. He hopes to become a team beat reporter, anchor or sports scout in the future.