The UPEI Panthers will get a good indication of where they stand in the Atlantic University Sport women’s hockey conference this weekend.
The winners of five straight games to start 2013 and seven of its past eight games meet the conference’s top two teams.
UPEI (11-6-1) hosts the St. Thomas Tommies (13-6-1) tonight at 7:30 and travels to Antigonish, N.S., Sunday to play the X-Women (18-1).
“I think it’s a critical weekend for us,” said Panthers coach Bruce Donaldson. “We’ve struggled in the first half kind of putting a string of games together and now we’ve done that in the second half. Now we get to play team one and team two.”
The Panthers have split two regular season and two exhibition games this season with the Tommies.
Marie Soleil Deschenes gets the start in goal for the Panthers tonight.
She has a 5-1 record and sports a 1.35 goals-against average with a .932 save percentage.
“We’re looking forward to her playing her usual best,” Donaldson said.
“The secret with St. Thomas is you have to stay in front of them. They defend very, very well and they love their specialty teams.”
The game is also a special night with both Panthers hockey teams playing at MacLauchlan Arena’s two ice surfaces. The men play at 7 p.m.
Donaldson said it traditionally increases attendance for the women’s game as fans of venture back and forth during intermissions. It provides the team an opportunity to showcase their skill to a larger audience.
“I think they’re a little surprised on how many Island players we actually have in the program and how well they’re doing,” Donaldson said, of the eight Islanders on the 21-woman roster. “They’re key to our success.”
The Panthers have lost a pair of 2-1 games against the country’s sixth-ranked X-Women this season.
St. F.X. has scored the most goals (64) and allowed the fewest (18) in the conference in 2012-13. The X-Women also have three of the conference’s top four scorers.
“I think we matchup well with them five on five, but they have the top power-play unit in the country,” Donaldson said.
He said the team has had a up-tempo week of practice and is excited for the weekend’s two game.
“If we bring that energy level to the weekend I think things should go well.”