Sports

MARTLETS HOCKEY PREVIEW: McGill’s Crown Jewel

It’s an unfortunate circumstance of our society that female sports almost always get tucked away behind their male counterparts. Even here on the largely egalitarian campus of McGill, women’s athletics still seem to lack the spotlight that Redmen squads receive. While the Redmen soccer, hockey and lacrosse programs will field extremely competitive, even dominant, teams, the gem of the entire McGill Intercollegiate Athletics line-up this season could very well be the Martlets hockey team-a powerhouse that will challenge for Canadian university supremacy.

Coming off a season in which the team went 12-2-1 in the Quebec Conference-yet missed out on the ultimate goal of a CIS National Championship-a revamped and retooled Martlet team has only one item on its agenda for this campaign: bring the elusive title to McGill’s doors.

“I think that every team will tell you that it wants to win the national championship,” said Head Coach Peter Smith. “However, we feel that we have a pretty good team out on the ice and a team with a lot of potential. Obviously we’d like to come out of our conference and go to the national championship where McGill has a lot of rich history despite not having won the title.”

Top ranked team, top ranked goalie

The Martlets are off to a quick start this season in their attempt to become part of the deep tradition that is McGill hockey. With their recent 3-2 victory over perennial powerhouse University of Alberta Pandas, McGill vaulted itself into the top seed in the national ranking entering regular season play. The players are aware, though, that success can breed complacency and the team is prepared to fight this potential locker room demon.

“The feeling in the dressing room is good right now, we’re calm,'” said Captain Shauna Denis. “We have the top ranking right now but we know that it’s not the first ranking that matters but the last one. So we’re excited but we know we have to keep working really hard. The competition is too good out there not to.”

Undeniably, the foundation of any dominant hockey team is found in the cage and McGill’s net is certainly very secure under the watchful eye of the Martlets’ most prized recruit, Charline Labonté, the 2006 Canadian Olympic gold medal-winning goaltender. Labonté, in her first season at McGill, has already raked in one QSSF player of the week award as well as a CIS national player of the week prize. With an Olympian guarding the cage, the Martlets are expecting to improve on their already low goals against total (20) from last season.

While the rest of the team doesn’t boast any international stars, its strength is in its speed and depth.

Although McGill will be fielding an extremely young team at both forward and defensive positions with nine new players on the roster, the squad has markedly improved in its balance and in team quickness.

“This is probably the first time I’ve ever said this, but we have balance in all positions,” Smith said. “We have 12 forwards, six defensemen and three very good goalies; all of our players can play and the balance is the strength of the team. The girls all want to play and because there is such depth, the girls will have to work even harder for ice time.”

The Martlets, an extremely fast squad, will try to play an offensive style and push up the ice, beating opposing defensemen on the wings and then maintaining puck possession in the attacking zone. Players like Denis, high scoring power forward Vanessa Davidson and the speedy Valerie Paquette will be relied upon to score big Martlet goals and lead this overwhelmingly young squad. The defence will be anchored by another star recruit, Catherine Ward, a very shifty defenseman who excels on both the offensive and defensive ends.

“We’ve got a bunch of young players on the team,” Smith said. “We’re good now, but there is so much potential. We’re going to be a whole lot better.”

Sage words of warning for the rest of the competition in the CIS.

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