The Western Mustang men’s hockey team has done things the hard way this season.
And yet, the hard way has taken them exactly where they wanted to go.
A 5-2 victory over the visiting Concordia Stingers on Saturday afternoon at Thompson Arena in London clinched the final berth in the U Sports championship in Halifax, N.S., from March 12-15.
Kenny Huether led the way offensively for Western with two goals and two assists. Zach Core scored twice and added an assist and Anthony Stefano had a goal and two assists for the Mustangs.
Western came through the OUA regular season with an 11-13-4 record which snuck them into the playoffs in the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Mustangs immediately fell behind 1-0 in their opening best-of-3 series against number one seed U of T but battled back and won the series in three games.
Next up came a best-of-3 series with the second seed, the Ryerson Rams. Again The Mustangs fell behind by losing the first game and again they came roaring back to force a deciding game in Toronto. This time they needed overtime and a goal by Kolten Olynek to win it.
The Rams and Varsity Blues had combined for a record of 41 wins and 15 losses during the regular season.
At that point, Western found themselves a series win away from a spot in the U Sports championship. All they had to do was beat the Guelph Gryphons.
Sticking to the same formula, the Mustangs lost Game 1 and then forced a deciding Game 3. They even took a 2-1 lead into the third period in Guelph on March 1 but the Gryphons scored three times and then survived a late surge from Western to hang on and win.
That gave the Mustangs a last-chance opportunity at a berth in the national championship against Concordia in the Queen’s Cup bronze medal game.
A rule change implemented in 2019-20 mandated that all Queen’s Cup games be played in the province of Ontario which allowed Western to host the game despite the Stingers’ better regular-season record.
Western will be making their 12th ever trip to nationals in men’s hockey to compete for the David Johnston University Cup. The Mustangs have won the overall championship once. It happened in 2002 when Stacey Britstone scored in triple overtime to give Western a 4-3 victory over the UQTR Patriotes.
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