There are few athletic organisations that have been pegged with “win gold or bust” expectations. Canada’s Olympic hockey teams, however, are always held to this high standard. Thanks to their consistant success in the past 12 years, the team is now held to the same standards as the Canadian Olympic hockey teams. Coming into the CIS tournament this weekend as defending champions, they were once again amongst the favourites to bring back golden honours.
Yet neither an incredible 18-1-1 regular season record nor an 8-1 tournament goal differential could get them through pool play and to the gold medal game. Instead, they were relegated to the bronze medal game, in which they destroyed Laurier University 4-0.
Before the tournament began, McGill was placed in pool B, which soon acquired the nickname “the pool of death.” The pool featured the Martlets, the Alberta Pandas, the most decorated team in CIS women’s hockey history, and the Calgary Dinos, featuring the best player in women’s hockey history, legend Haley Wickenheiser.
The Martlets’ first match against Calgary pitted four-time Olympic medalist Wickenheiser against two-time Canadian Olympic hero Charline Labonté, arguably one of the top goalies in women’s hockey. The game was as intense as expected, with only two penalties handed out during the game and each team battling over every inch of the ice. Both teams put up an incredible effort, yet McGill committed a small defensive error in front of the net at 11:47 of the first period that allowed Calgary’s Sinead Tracy to score the game’s only goal. Labonté finished the game with 23 saves while Dino Amanda Tapp registered the tournament’s first shutout with her 20-save effort.
Knowing full well that a win was needed in their second game in order to make it to the medal rounds, McGill stepped up to the plate in their matchup against the Alberta Pandas. What was expected to be another intense matchup turned into a blowout by the Martlets as they scored four unanswered goals en route to a 4-0 win. Labonté registered her first shutout of the series, Leslie Oles scored twice while Gillian Ferrari and Chelsey Saunders each added a goal. The game was notably more physical, with both teams combining for 11 penalties and 22 penalty minutes, all of them coming off physical misconducts.
Thanks to the win, the Martlets qualified for a bronze medal matchup against the tournament’s top-seeded Laurier Golden Hawks. Not wanting to end their medal streak in 11 consecutive tournaments, the Martlets once again stormed out of the gate and peppered Laurier goalie Erika Thunder with 26 shots. Their effort was once again rewarded with four unanswered goals, two of which came from McGill all-stars Ann-Sophie Bettez and Melodie Daoust. Michelle Daigneault also scored her first and Leslie Oles tallied her third of the competition to round out the scoring. Labonté was still visibly frustrated over the team’s first loss against the Dinos, as she stopped all 23 shots Alberta sent her way to register a tournament best two shutouts.
Unfortunately for the team, this season marked the final year of eligibility for many key players on the team. Five-time all-Canadian forward Ann-Sophie Bettez, four-time all-Canadian defenceman Cathy Chartrand, and fifth-year forwards Jordanna Peroff and Lainie Smith will not be joining the team next year. Yet the team’s greatest loss is two-time Olympic gold medalist Charline Labonté, who ends her CIS career with a 160-17-3 overall record, a .98 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage.