Voyageurs find plenty of positives in opening-day defeat

Laurentian Voyageurs goaltender Shanna Dolighan (31) makes a blocker save during OUA women's hockey action against the Nipissing Lakers at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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Laurentian Voyageurs head coach Stacey Colarossi hoped her players wouldn’t stew on Thursday’s defeat for too long.

She would have been discouraged, however, if a 3-1 defeat against their OUA women’s hockey rivals from Nipissing University didn’t sting just a little.

“I’d be pissed, right?” smiled Colarossi, shortly after the Voyageurs’ season opener at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex. “But there are some teams where they lose and it’s just water off a duck’s back, whereas these guys really want it. I think that’s because the culture of the group has, I shouldn’t say changed, but has grown. We always had a handful, but now, we have a whole group that wants it so bad — they’e amazing in the classroom, they’re working their ass off in the gym, they’re so well-rounded right now. And they’re competitive internally, which I think will translate into games for us.”

Laurentian lost despite a goal from Morgan McCann, who tied the contest early in the third period, and an admirable 37-save effort from Shanna Dolighan in front of a noisy school-day crowd of 562.

“We played them in exhibition about two weeks ago and the game today was a lot better,” said Annie Sheridan, fourth-year forward and captain for the Voyageurs. “We had a few key points that we wanted to work on, just looking at video and stuff from last game, and we improved tremendously, so that’s definitely a positive. Obviously, the score wasn’t what we wanted, but overall, I think we played a really good game and I think everyone is pretty happy with that.”

Brianna Gaffney, Hunter Mosher and Maria Dominico scored for the visiting Lakers. Danika Ranger, whom local hockey fans might remember as netminder for the Sudbury Lady Wolves squad that won an Esso Cup national championship in 2015, was solid in making 22 saves. 

Nipissing Lakers forward Brianna Gaffney (9) directs a puck toward the net of Laurentian Voyageurs goalie Shanna Dolighan (31), while Laurentian’s Hannah Skrinar (22) defends during OUA women’s hockey action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Nipissing scored on the play. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

While the LU crew certainly had its moments in exhibition, those gave way to stretches of poor play, according to Colarossi, who was looking for a more consistent outing to start the regular season.

“Our ebbs and flows weren’t too high or too low today, which is definitely what we want to see early in the year and what makes me happy as a coach, because in our exhibition games and series that we played, we were really high and really low,” LU’s bench boss said. “That was definitely a focal point for us today.

“Our top three lines played a consistent hockey game and we got really good games out of players who have been struggling a little bit, so that was nice to see, and hopefully, we can build on that from a confidence standpoint.”

Both teams had their opportunities early, even as Nipissing doubled up on shots in the opening frame, 16-8, and each goaltender held the fort nicely until the Lakers opened the scoring in somewhat flukey fashion, as a shot from a sharp angle by Gaffney deflected off the inside of Dolighan’s leg and into the net at 12:36.

McCann knotted the score at 3:45 of the second, burying a Payton Bray rebound to the delight of the elementary students in attendance. Regan Toltesi also assisted.

Nipissing restored its lead, however, when Mosher found a loose puck on a wild scramble at 17:02.

After a defensive-zone miscue by the Voyageurs, the Lakers’ Dominico used a quick backhand to score the insurance marker at 16:46 of the final frame. Dolighan was pulled for an extra attacker and the locals swarmed Ranger’s crease, but they couldn’t convert.

Laurentian Voyageurs defender Michele Weaver-Vitale (81) looks to carry the puck up ice while Nipissing forward Jetta Derenoski (11) pursues during OUA women’s hockey action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Few found the win more satisfying, or more meaningful, than Val Therese native Madison Laberge, who last competed at Countryside when the Lady Wolves hosted the Esso Cup there this past April.

“It’s incredible, coming back with a different team and showing what we’ve got,” said the first-year defender, who’s enrolled in the physical and health education program at Nipissing. “I moved away for university and it is an incredible experience to come back and show my hometown, what it’s like.

“There’s a lot of memories. Esso Cup was here, which was an experience of a lifetime, and now playing at the university level, it’s another, higher level of hockey that I get to experience.”

She had nothing but good things to say about Nipissing’s hockey program, led by head coach Darren Turcotte, as well as the university and the city of North Bay.

“It’s an amazing place,” Laberge said. “It gives me everything that I like — school, hockey, volunteering experiences, and it brings me back to my hometown for away games.”

The Voyageurs will hope for a better outcome when the teams meet again, Jan. 11 at Memorial Gardens in the Gateway City, but their more immediate focus will be on the Waterloo Warriors, whom they visit on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., and the Laurier Golden Hawks, their hosts on Oct. 26 at 2:30 p.m.

Sheridan hopes a more complete game on Thursday was a sign of even better things to come.

“We always struggled with our second period,” she said. “Today, we probably had the best second period we played in my three years, going into my fourth year, so I would say that’s a huge positive, playing 60 minutes of hockey, and I hope it continues.”

The Laurentian men are also in action this week, hosting Nipissing on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Laurentian Voyageurs defender Jaimee MacDonald (8) looks to carry the puck up ice while a pair of Nipissing Lakers give chase during OUA women’s hockey action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Laurentian Voyageurs goaltender Shanna Dolighan (31) prepares to make a save on Nipissing Lakers forward Marilyn Fortin (93) during OUA women’s hockey action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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