Finding herself back in the net

After a year on the sideline, Stephanie Pascal is Queen’s starting goalie

Stephanie Pascal is back in net this season.
Stephanie Pascal is back in net this season.
Credit: 
Jason Scourse

Stephanie Pascal turns her head. Head coach Matt Holmberg taps her on the shoulder and tells her that she’s going in. It’s the first game of the season for the women’s hockey team, playing against Nipissing, and it’s early in the third period. The Gaels are down 5-2. 

It’s been 377 days since Pascal last stepped into the goalie’s crease during a competitive game, yet that’s the last thing on the third year goaltender’s mind. “Where’s my stick?” she recalls thinking to herself, spotting it at the opposite end of the bench after a short moment of panic. 

For the next 18 minutes and 28 seconds, the past year is forgotten, as Pascal stops all seven shots that come her way. And while the Gaels dropped the season opener, the game marked a major turning point for Pascal.

Pascal’s dream to be a goalie began early. From second grade to her senior year in high school, Pascal played for the Sudbury Lady Wolves. Before then, she played in a recreational league that would rotate goalies every week. That was until her team got a starting goaltender, stopping the rotation. 

“I was so angry because I wanted to be in net,” she said. Her coach knew how much she loved stopping pucks and recommended it to her parents. Pascal jumped at the chance. “That’s when I fell in love with it and wanted to keep playing for as long as I could and play at the highest level I could.”

Over the next ten years, Pascal developed her skills and eventually caught the attention of Holmberg. In December of her senior year in high school, she got a call from Holmberg and accepted a chance to play with the Gaels. In her first year, vying for a spot with a veteran and a fellow rookie, Pascal logged six games, posting a stellar .966 save percentage.

But on October 3, 2015, the final exhibition game before the regular season in her second year, Pascal’s push to become the Gaels starting goalie was halted. Late in the game, Pascal took a point shot to the mask.

“It seemed pretty harmless but I started to get headaches and nauseous in the game,” recalled Pascal, “[I] managed to finish it anyway and told my trainers about it.”

The concussion was more serious than anticipated, keeping her off the ice for more than 11 months. During those months, her future on the ice seemed unsure, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to be back. 

As teammates and coaches recall, Pascal’s eternal smile was seen at games and team meetings. Though being a spectator wasn’t her ideal way to spend a season, Pascal said “it was just kind of a day-by-day mentality.”

“My team, coaches, family and friends were super supportive. They helped me stay positive, telling me ‘you’re going to be back, it’s just a matter of when.’”

When Pascal made her long-awaited return in the third period of the 2016 season opener, her performance secured her the starting job next week. In her first starting appearance since her concussion, she posted a shutout against York, making 31 saves. She posted another shutout in her next appearance as well a week later against Laurier, making 31 saves again. After sitting out from competitive play for elevenmonths, Pascal didn’t allow a puck past her for the first 148 minutes of her season.

“The next two games posting a shutout was just … pretty much what you could imagine coming back but never thought it was actually going to happen,” she said.

Since her incredible start, Pascal has assumed the starting goaltender position and helped lead the team to a 10-6 record, with the Gaels currently riding a six-game winning streak. With eight games remaining and the U Sports Championships approaching, Pascal is rightfully optimistic.

“If everyone’s hitting full stride, which we’re doing right now, and we can keep that going with our work ethic, it’s going to be a great combination.” 

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