Character key to Gaels’ season

The women’s hockey team looks to improve on early post-season exit with new recruits

With only two graduating players, the Gaels are looking to build on the foundation of last year’s women team who finished with a 19-5-3 record.
With only two graduating players, the Gaels are looking to build on the foundation of last year’s women team who finished with a 19-5-3 record.
Journal file photo

Women’s hockey head coach Matthew Holmberg is not just looking for talented hockey players; the Gaels have plenty of those. This year’s recruiting class instead has a quality that can rarely be taught. Character, both on and off the ice, is the trait Holmberg identified as one of the most important elements in the Gaels’ winning season last year.

“One of the reasons that we did so well last year was we have a very, very close knit team and they want to win for each other,” he said. “It was important for me not only to recruit good players…but also to add some good people with strong character in the dressing room.”

Ranked seventh in the country and second only to the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks last season, the Gaels’ 19-5-3 record was a stark improvement on being .500 the previous season. With a disappointing first-round exit in the playoffs to tarnish their season, Holmberg wants to refine, rather than throw out their formula.

“We were a very aggressive fore-checking team last year,” he said. “We’re a pretty offensive team so we’re not about to change any of that – that really worked for us last year. You can always improve your defensive zone play and that certainly is going to be something that we look at a little more closely as we enter the season.”

The recruits’ impact will be felt in the depth of the team. Last year, Holmberg went with a smaller roster that featured ten forwards and six defencemen. This year, the women’s team will cycle a full four lines offensively.

“Each of our lines will be stronger and we’ll now have that fourth line we can play and should be able to contribute,” he said. “Now as our players get used to the league and our systems, I do expect that each of them will be able to contribute in their own way.”

Holmberg said that the adjustment from being the best player on their former team to being a rookie again can be a challenge, in addition to a more grueling schedule of games, practices and workouts.

“With this group of players coming in, I’m not worried about that for two reasons: They all have tremendous character and they’ll work hard regardless of the situation and I anticipate that all five of them will be jumping in and contributing quickly,” he said.

This year’s recruits have been picked from the top women’s hockey teams in Alberta and Ontario. Teammates Sofia Troop and Alex Cieslowski from the Mississauga Chiefs of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) have committed to the Gaels for next season. Cieslowski and Troop both contributed to the Chiefs second place finish and their 29-2-3 regular season record. Cieslowski, a 5’10 forward, will bring both her skill and size to the Gaels offence.

Troop played both forward and defence for the Chiefs last year while adding 11 assists in 32 games.

Troop recognizes that her strengths and skills are not limited to her on-ice achievements.

“Wherever I have played, I’ve been a positive force in the locker room and on the ice,” she said in an e-mail to the Journal. “I will be a hardworking, two-way player who plays a physical game and goes hard to the net. I’ve been fortunate to play on winning teams at all levels and I understand what it takes for a team to excel.”

Joining the Gaels are forwards Emily Harrison and Shawna Griffin of the Calgary Flyers, a Midget AAA team. Both were offensive powers for their team in Alberta. Harrison scored 25 goals and had 23 assists in 32 games while Griffin, the team captain, had 28 points in the regular season before adding 8 points in four playoff games.

Shawna Griffin chose Queen’s as it’s able to combine both excellent academics and a thriving women’s hockey program.

“The hockey program seemed to be doing very well and would be a good fit for me ... I thought I would be a good contributor to the team in the upcoming season,” she said in an e-mail to the Journal. “In my mind, being able to attend an excellent University while playing on a high level women’s hockey team who came second in their league last year, was ideal for me.”

Kelly Eustace, a 5’7 defenceman from Oakville, Ontario, is the final addition to the team, from the Oakville Ice of the PWHL.

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