By Alan Hudes
In the final week before the playoffs, the Stingers had more on their minds than just making a statement.
Leading-scorer Cassandra Nasso potted two goals on the night, including her 20th of the year, as the women’s hockey team completed an undefeated regular season, with a 4-0 victory over the Barrie Sharks.
“Honestly, I’m blown away,” head coach Stephanie White said. “From where we came last year (with a 2-16-6 record), to where we are today, standing here undefeated – never would’ve imagined it. It’s a bit of a blessing I guess you could say, but the players earned it.”
Unlike a week earlier – where the team struggled to score, and salvaged their streak with a game-tying goal in the final minute – on this night, the Stingers wasted no time getting on the board.
Only 21 seconds into the contest, centre Tessa Dimitrakopoulos fired a rebound top shelf from in close, to put the Stingers up 1-0. About a minute and a half later, Nasso came flying into the offensive zone, stepping around a defender and roofing a backhand for an early two-goal lead and the milestone goal.
“We wanted to send a message to them that we’re going to be a very tough opponent (in the playoffs and provincials)” White said. “… When you’re the first place team, everybody wants to knock you off.”
The offence wasn’t finished there.
Just past the midway mark of the opening frame, a Stingers point shot bounced through traffic and onto the stick of centre Lauren Bonsell. Without hesitation, Bonsell fed defenceman Megan Higgins – who was playing as a winger instead – and she made no mistake, tucking the puck short-side for a 3-0 advantage.
The second would be dominated by penalties, as each team was assessed two infractions. After killing off their share, the Stingers returned to their scoring ways. With about 30 seconds remaining in the period, Nasso added her second of the game by launching a bullet on net, where Sharks netminder Carol Zaborski had no chance.
“I try to use that all the time. That was my signature (play) from when I was little,” Nasso said. “I just keep working on it every practice to make it a little bit better every time.”
The goal meant the Richmond Hill native finished the season with 21 goals in only 22 games.
With the game out of reach in the third, the Sharks did their best to prevent Nasso from getting a hat-trick, by attempting to make her take a penalty. But the rookie remained disciplined, having learned during the season to avoid the untimely calls.
The Stingers cruised the remainder of the way, giving backup goaltender Christina Liposcak a shutout in a rare, but welcomed start prior to the playoffs. With the post-season around the corner, the team will likely rely on starter Dana Carson to carry the load. One player who may not play though is centre Kristy Stanfield – who is out indefinitely, after sustaining a concussion at the Niagara tournament earlier this month. The rest of the team will prepare this week, knowing they can’t take the top teams lightly.
“During the playoffs it’s going to be a whole other animal basically,” Higgins said. “I think all the teams that we play against have been improving all year and all game they’ve been getting better. The competition is going to be stiffer and they’re definitely going to be looking to finally beat us and make us have a loss.”