Concordia 3, Montréal 1: A Title 13 Years in the Making
Stingers Women’s Hockey Team Taste Victory in Thrilling Sudden Death Final Against the Carabins
The clock had just struck zero and the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team were officially Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec champions.
The Stingers raced off the ice, heading straight for goaltender Katherine Purchase. Equipment, be it helmets, sticks or gloves, were thrown into the air and strewn across the Stingers end of the ice. Players shook hands with their Carabins opponents before receiving their individual medals, their championship banner and trophy.
Family members, who had been seated behind the Stingers bench clad in the player’s white uniforms, slowly made their way onto the ice to bask in the festivities as well. It was a true celebration, the likes of which the program hadn’t seen since 2005.
The club got the better of the Université de Montrêal Carabins 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at the CEPSUM. For the first time all season, the Stingers had beaten the Carabins by more than one goal.“This was about Concordia hockey today,” said Stingers head coach Julie Chu. “It was about our team coming together as a family, executing in the end and doing a great job. That’s what happened today. That’s what I’m so proud of.”
Concordia played an all-around strong game, dictating the play and swarming the opponents net for the better part of the contest. The team was on a veritable mission.
After a scoreless opening frame, the Stingers scored a power play goal in the early goings of the second period. Third-year forward Sophie Gagnon potted home a rebound of a Stephanie Lalancette shot 5:44 into the period. Claudia Dubois also collected an assist on the goal.
A late period tally by Montreal’s Marie-Pier Dubé did little to deter the ever-persistent Stingers. Concordia finished the period strong and carried that momentum into the third.
Just 53 seconds into the final period, Marie-Pascale Bernier finished off a give-and-go with linemate Audrey Belzile. Her shot snuck by Carabins starter Marie-Pier Chabot to break the tie and give Concordia the lead once again.
The Stingers did not rest on their laurels and instead pushed on to score an insurance marker just three minutes later courtesy of Dubois. From there, the Stingers, led in large part by their goaltender Purchase, held the fort. The team killed off two consecutive infractions by Bernier and another from Belzile to secure the win.
“We set this as one of our goals,” said Chu. “It’s been a while since we had the opportunity to be in the finals and actually go and vie for it. Last year, we missed out on that opportunity. We were so high after the first round. We weren’t prepared to play in the finals.
“We learned from that experience and got an opportunity with our backs against the wall to come out flying in the Saturday game and did a really great job today as well,” she continued.
The Ever-Humble Coach
As Chu exited the small media scrum just around the corner from the team’s dressing room, she found herself cornered. Her players were awaiting her, armed with a bottle full of sparkling wine and Gatorade. They doused their coach with the concoction, chanting enthusiastically “Julie, Julie, Julie!” Chu smiled, but did not want any part of the accolades.
“It’s not about me, it’s about you guys,” said Chu to her giddy players. “I love you.”
Since becoming the full-time head coach in 2015, Chu has built up a program and brought in a bevy of women’s hockey greats of the past and present to help her coach. In September 2016, women’s hockey legend Caroline Ouellette was brought onto the staff. Former Team Canada netminder Kim St-Pierre was also added to the staff as goaltending coach in the last few years.
In addition, the Stingers have three active players on its staff who split their time between Concordia and Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Karell Émard, Cassandra Poudrier and Emerance Maschmeyer help run practices and attend games whenever their playing schedule permits.
The entire extended coaching staff was in attendance to witness the championship moment, even Émard and Maschmeyer who had just returned late Saturday night from a nine-day trip to China with Les Canadiennes.
“It’s not only the players that are on the ice that have value and who contribute to this success,” said Chu. “The coaches we have from Les Canadiennes give to this team in such positive ways. They send messages to the girls and that’s why our team is also successful. It’s not about just a small group of us, it’s a big group.”
Chu heaped high praise on Mike McGrath, another assistant coach on her staff that she qualified as “co-head coach.” It is not a singular effort to Chu, but rather one involving many people behind the scenes.
“What they do every single day to just work and be committed to the process is what I’m proud of and why we are successful right now,” she said.
An Instrumental Advisor
Chu was able to lean on advice from Les Lawton, Concordia’s long-time head coach and team special advisor.
“Les isn’t on the bench, but he’s a huge part of this,” said Chu.
Lawton was head coach of the Stingers women’s hockey program for 34 years, before being forced to step down due to health issues in 2015. Under Lawton’s guidance, the team won two national championships and 15 provincial titles. He now helped them to another one.
Despite occupying a more distant role with the team these last few years, the Stingers made sure that Lawton was an integral part of the club’s post-game festivities on the ice.
As he exited the ice surface beaming with pride, one member of the team told Lawton, “what a special day and moment this is” to which Lawton replied, “it sure is.”
Chu was quick to point out the importance of the team’s veteran players throughout their run to the provincial title, players that would not have been around had it not been for Lawton.
“The program has already been established and really strong for a long time,” said Chu. “Les Lawton did an amazing job with it. The recruiting class of Claudia Dubois and Claudia Fortin, that was Les that brought them in. They are a huge part of our class.”
Looking Ahead to Nationals
The Stingers will have little time to celebrate as they get set for the U Sports National Championships, to be held from March 15-18 at Western University in London, Ontario.Concordia will look to better their fourth-place finish at last year’s tournament. They will be joined by the Carabins in London, as the RSEQ runners-up also customarily make the trip to nationals.
Chu expects to have her players back on the ice for practice on Tuesday ahead of what is sure to be another exciting run of Stingers hockey.
“We’re going to take a deep breath,” said Chu. “We’re going to make sure that we enjoy this moment but then reset and refocus. It’s preparation for nationals, that’s the biggest thing.”