By Thomas Becker
The St. Thomas Tommies played the part of spoilers Friday night, as they cruised past the UPEI Panthers 4-0 in the highly anticipated home opener.
The Tommies' veteran-laden lineup showed why experience often times prevails over youthful enthusiasm. Fifth-year forward Lauren Henman was a force that couldn't be contained. She racked up four points on three goals and a helper, while fourth-year captain Emily Oleksuk scored the game's opening goal and added two assists of her own.
"I thought we did a great job moving the puck and it allowed us to have those odd-man rushes," said Henman, who was named Subway Player of the Game. "Coach Pete [Murphy] wants us to be a fast team this year and that's what we've been practising in the last month."
It took just 3:34 for St. Thomas to silence the crowd, as Oleksuk took a feed from Henman and sniped it past the goaltender.
The Panthers found a spark after conceding the opening goal and outshot the Tommies 14-7 in the period, but goaltender Abby Clarke turned aside every puck that came her way. She finished with 31 saves for the shutout.
"Abby has been the backbone of this team since she's come here five years ago," Henman said. "She continues to impress everyone, and without her it could've been a different game."
Early in the second period, Olivia Reid's shot ricocheted off Panther keeper Camille Scherger, sending the puck in the air where she lost sight of it. An alert Henman saw the puck hit the crease and deposited the easy goal.
St. Thomas coughed it up in front of the net midway through the frame, but Clarke was there to bail out her teammate with the big save on a Kelly Clements shot.
Henman continued to impress in the third, as she completed the hat trick on goals at 13:45 and 18:46.
"They [UPEI] got us in exhibition and we were motivated. We wanted to show them that we're ready and we're coming this year," she said.
For the youthful Panthers, the game served mostly as an eye-opener of what it takes to become an upper-echelon team.
"The difference is the maturity of the program," said Panthers head coach Bruce Donaldson. "St. Thomas has nine fourth and fifth year players and they came through in the game."
Still, Donaldson was able to find the silver lining in an otherwise disappointing result.
"I liked our effort. I thought we battled well and at times we were controlling quite a bit of the play."
The Panthers hit the ice again Sunday afternoon (Oct. 14) when they welcome the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus. Puck drops at 2 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan