Winger Averi Nooren has ventured closer to the opposition net this OUA women's hockey season and it has paid off with her best season for the Guelph Gryphons.
With three games to go in the regular season, Nooren has put up season-best numbers in goals and assists as she sits fourth in the league's scoring race with 13 goals and eight assists.
"I wouldn't say (I've) changed much, maybe just being tougher on the puck and keep on going for it because this year I've gotten more goals where I've stuck around the net," she said as she sat in the Gryphon Centre lobby prior to practice.
"Normally I would kind of be staying away from the net and trying to get the shot on. I guess I've just been sticking with the puck and staying around the net a lot."
"She's always been a fast player, up and down the wing, and I think confidence is part of it and being in her fourth year, the game has probably slowed down a bit around her," Gryphon coach Rachel Flanagan said. "She's really hard to stop and teams are trying. They're getting a little more physical with her. She's got a pretty good training base right now so she's able to take those bumps and hits and keep going."
Getting a little closer to the net means quite a few more bumps and hits, but Nooren has her own plan to keeping them to a minimum.
"You just try to stay on your feet," she said. "They're always trying to push you down so you just keep on moving. I find to get open space is a big thing."
This year's success has also helped Nooren's confidence soar.
"She might not know it but she's playing with a lot more confidence," Flanagan said. "When she shoots the puck, it's going in the net as opposed to over the net or hitting the goalie. A lot of that is repetition, but it's focus as well and being a more mature athlete."
"I think it's just not to get frustrated," Nooren said. "There's a few games where I have multiple shots on net and they should be going in, but they're just not, so I just keep on going with it and it's coming to
The efforts of the team's scoring leader has kept the Gryphs at the top of the Canadian university women's hockey rankings, a position they've held since the week of Nov. 17, 2015, when they vaulted from fourth to first.
"Being ranked One is huge," Nooren said.
And it can also bring huge pressure.
"Pressure is what you make it. It's a projection of the future," Flanagan said. "People feel pressure when they're worried that they're going to fail and that's looking ahead. We're really asking the girls right now to just continue to trust the process and just worry about one game at a time and just worry about one shift at a time. Do your job.
"We've put in a ton of work in the gym and on the ice and with a lot of other things that we're doing so I think it's an earned ranking right now as opposed to it being, oh, we're winning games and other teams are losing around us. We don't feel like we're there because of default. We're putting in a lot of hard work and asking the girls to really trust that if they continue to put in the work and focus on the process right now that the outcome will take us where we want to be."
The Gryphs have clinched a first-place finish with three games to go in the regular season. They'll put an eight-game win streak on the line when they host Laurentian Saturday at 2 p.m.