Skating Against the Best
Concordia’s Women’s Hockey Team Plays in a Conference with Two of the Top Squads in the CIS—But That’s Fine With Them
For any sports team, playing against one of the top teams in the country is always a difficult task.
Now, imagine playing against not one but two of the top teams in the country, multiple times a year, every year.
It’s a reality for the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team, who share their conference with the McGill Martlets and the Université de Montreal Carabins—currently ranked no. 1 and no. 3, respectively, in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
The Carabins have made the CIS top 10 every year since the 2011-2012 season, while McGill has consistently been no. 1 since 2006.
With the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec Conference consisting of only five teams—also including the Carleton Ravens and University of Ottawa Gee-Gees—the Stingers face off against the Martlets and Carabins five times apiece over the course of their 20-game schedule.
But they see that as a blessing rather than a curse.
“I think we’re pretty lucky, because playing against the two top teams all year, it is a challenge,” said fourth-year forward Alyssa Sherrard.
“But in the end it really helps us prepare [ourselves] for other games, teams, playoffs and nationals.”
In this last weekend before winter break, the Stingers had the task of playing both the Martlets and Carabins away from home.
Although they came up short in both, losing 4-2 to McGill Friday and 2-1 against UdeM Saturday, there were many positives for the team to take out of the weekend.
“It was 3-2 right up until the end, and they’re the top team in the country,” said Stingers captain Erin Lally of the McGill game.
“We definitely have a lot of things to look forward to.”
During the past few years it hasn’t been easy playing against top-ranked McGill.
The Martlets have won 52 straight games against the Stingers. The last time the Stingers beat their rivals in red dates all the way back to February 2006.
But it’s not just the Stingers who’ve had trouble against the Martlets. Prior to a 3-2 loss to UdeM in October 2011, McGill had won 93 consecutive regular season games, and the team has finished with a perfect record in five of the last six years.
As for the Carabins, the team’s creation was announced only in 2008, and they’ve been in the RSEQ Conference since the 2009-2010 season.
However, they’ve built quite the foundation within their roster and management.
One of their strengths is general manager Danièle Sauvageau, who was head coach of the Canadian national women’s team that took home the first-ever gold medal in the team’s history at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sauvageau has helped quickly lead the Carabins to success despite the team having only played its first RSEQ game four years ago.
The Carabins have made the provincial championship in each of the past four seasons,
losing to the Martlets in all but last year’s finals, when they defeated them two games to none in a best-of-three series.
It marked the first time McGill didn’t make Nationals since the 2004-2005 season, when Concordia won the provincial championship.
Indeed, the Carabins’ arrival to the RSEQ has mostly made for a two-team race to the top between them and McGill, but the Stingers believe they’ll soon be making it a three-team competition.
“We’re close, I’ve personally seen the gap narrowed significantly these past four years—I think even more exponentially in the last three months,” said fourth-year forward Jaymee Shell.
“I think it just makes us all the more ready knowing that every game, we have a 25 per cent chance of playing one of the top teams in the country. It certainly helps elevate our gameplan; it makes us better players.”
The Stingers’ improved competitiveness has shown on the ice in recent years. Last year, they won a game because the Carabins had an ineligible player on their roster, but also back in October 2011 they won 5-4 in overtime against them at Montréal’s home rink, the CEPSUM.
The Stingers’ two losses to the Carabins this year have both been by one-goal margins, and their last loss to McGill saw them hold a two-goal lead before a third period collapse.
“I think for other conferences that don’t have the top elite in their leagues it’s difficult, because if they get to nationals, it becomes harder for them,” said Stingers sophomore goaltender Carolanne Lavoie-Pilon.
“For us, however, if we finish third in our conference, then technically we’re third in the country.”
While the Stingers have found themselves in somewhat of a slump lately, finishing last in the conference in five of the past six seasons, none of it matters when they face-off against McGill and UdeM.
“It really always gives us a boost whenever we play them, because we have nothing to lose,” said Sherrard.
“But they do.”
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