Fiona Lester has gone through serious upheaval on the ice this year.
The fifth-year women’s hockey player not only transferred to the Gaels after four seasons with the Laurier Golden Hawks — she also made the shift to a new position.
A two-time OUA All-Star while patrolling the Golden Hawks’ blueline, Lester’s now taking faceoffs as Queen’s second-line centre.
Women’s hockey head coach Matt Holmberg was a Gaels assistant when they tried to recruit Lester out of high school. He said her previous experience playing forward in minor hockey helped spur the conversion.
“I remember her being a pretty decent forward,” Holmberg said. “We tried her there for a few games in exhibition and her and [winger] Taryn Pilon, who had incidentally played together in Whitby, had some early chemistry and we’ve been going with that ever since.”
Playing Lester at forward helped the Gaels deal with the loss of Morgan McHaffie, the program’s second-highest all-time scorer.
The move to forward has paid off for both parties: Queen’s currently sits second in the OUA with a 10-2-2 record, while Lester has racked up 10 points. She’s also playing the point for the Gaels’ power play unit.
Lester brought a great deal of collegiate experience to a Gaels squad already full of it. She captured two OUA titles with Laurier and served as their captain in 2012-13.
“She comes with a wealth of experience and is available to provide any insight or information that she thinks might help us along the way,” Holmberg said.
Lester said she had no problems being welcomed in the Gaels’ dressing room — despite coming from a team that has become Queen’s biggest on-ice rival.
“Queen’s has been amazing, my team’s been amazing in terms of welcoming me here,” Lester said. “It’s not like ‘you’re at Laurier, now you’re at Queen’s, what are you doing?’ It’s been great.”
The Gaels and Lester gutted out a 5-4 overtime victory over the Golden Hawks in Waterloo on Nov. 22. While she was held off the scoresheet, Lester still enjoyed returning to her long-time stomping ground.
“I don’t think I had even been in that visitor dressing room before, but it was really nice to play in that rink again and see all the players that I played with and still play at Laurier,” she said. “It was a good experience and a good game.”
The one constant that has remained through Lester’s switch to Queen’s is her commitment to her academic pursuits. Part of her reason for transferring was her decision to pursue a Master’s degree in biostatistics, after completing undergraduate studies in mathematics and biology.
She was named an at-large Academic All-American twice while at Laurier and was the only athlete from a Canadian university to make the first team in 2012-13. She was also named the Outstanding Woman of Laurier in 2013 for her academic and athletic success and her community involvement.
“When you have to get down and do your work for academics, you just get down and do it, and same with athletics — if you have a commitment, if you have to work out, you have to do it and you have to get your work done around that,” she said. “I think having both, one is kind of a break from the other.”
Rick Osborne, Lester’s coach at Laurier, said he hasn’t seen a player able to manage their time as well as Lester. He also praised the work ethic she brought to the team.
“I’d be driving out of town some nights and I’d see her in the middle of winter, dark, on some humungous run through the city,” Osborne said. “She’ll do the tough stuff first because she knows how important it is for reaching her goals.”
Osborne said it was a privilege to coach Lester — but there’s a different goal when she suits up against her former team.
“We had four great years — there is so much respect there, mutual respect going on between her players, our players, myself and her,” he said. “But it’s like Matt will tell you: now the time is we’ve got to figure out how to beat her when we play her.”
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