Women's hockey close out historic season at U Sports Championships

Queen’s close out historic season at U Sports Championships

Devon Greenough in the consolation semi-finals versus St.FX.
Devon Greenough in the consolation semi-finals versus St.FX.
Photo Supplied By Brandon VandeCaveye

Spending their St. Patrick’s Day in London, ON at the U Sports Championships, the women’s hockey team seemed to be without the luck of the Irish this weekend in their bid for a national medal. Despite losing both of their games at the national championships, the Gaels capped off a dreamlike 2017-18 season.

Coming off a 3-0 loss to the Western Mustangs in the OUA McCaw Cup finals on Mar. 10, the Gaels entered the tournament as the eighth and final seed — a position familiar for a majority of players on the team. At last year’s U Sports Championships hosted by Queen’s, the eighth-seeded Gaels came close to upsetting the top-ranked UBC Thunderbirds, losing 2-1 in the quarterfinals. 

Going into this year’s quarterfinal game against the Manitoba Bisons, the Gaels headed to London with a similar sense of belief in themselves.

“We were excited to play them,” head coach Matt Holmberg told The Journal after the tournament. “Looking at the video, we knew it’d be tough but we knew we could be successful if we played our game.”

With a total of 14 players in their fourth or fifth year at Queen’s, the Bisons showed their experience in their convincing 4-0 victory over the Gaels. Despite the scoreline looking lopsided, the Gaels remained confident in their performance after the loss.

“It was a closer game than first blush,” Holmberg said about the game against Manitoba. Looking at the stats, Holmberg’s statement rings true. On the night, Queen’s was only outshot 27-19. 

Unfortunately for Queen’s, they committed three penalties compared to Manitoba’s zero.  This came back to haunt the Gaels, as the Bisons capitalized on two of those powerplays in the second period to put the game away.  Much to their pleasure, the Gaels left the game with the chance to redeem themselves against St. Francis Xavier in the consolation semi-finals. Continuing their comparison to last year’s U Sports Championships, this game against their rivals from out east was a rematch of 2017’s consolation round. 

After regulation ended in a 3-3 tie, the two teams went to overtime with the opportunity to play on the last day of the women’s hockey season. But after an unlucky bounce in front of the Gaels’ net snuck past goaltender Stephanie Pascal, Queen’s season came to an end.

“We could’ve used a bounce and they got it before we did, and that was that,” Holmberg said. “Overall, I was very proud of how the team played on the ice and presented themselves offthe ice.”

With the consolation round loss marking the end of a grueling six-month season, Holmberg and the Gaels have begun to reflect on a season that saw Queen’s finish atop the OUA’s regular season standings for the first time since 1990. 

In an interview with The Journal, team captain and fifth-year Jess Wakefield discussed the team’s unprecedented progress this season. In her final season at Queen’s, Wakefield scored seven goals and 11 assists. She was also recently named an OUA First-Team All-Star.

“One of the first things I said to the team after the final game was, ‘Thank you for giving me the best last year of hockey I could ask for and for finishing off my university hockey career on such an amazing team,’” Wakefield said.

Leaving the Gaels this season is a class of seven athletes. Clare McKellar, Michele Knecht, Emily Gervais, Micaela Smith, Claire Warren, and Amber Sealey will be joining Wakefield, ending their time with the Gaels. Despite the significant losses, the team’s captain believes the team’s future success won’t be stunted.

“They have a great leadership squad … they’re so strong already,” Wakefield said. “For the rookies, I have no doubt that their team will show them what it’s like to be a championship team.”

In a similar vein, Holmberg remains confident that his team can climb to the same heights next season.

“Seeing what kind of effect a unified team can have on performance and I’m confident the returning players will do a good job of quickly instilling that philosophy on the incoming players,” Holmberg said.

Despite looking forward to next year, Holmberg remains reminiscent of the past season’s success as graduation looms for the players that havespent four or five years under his tutelage.

“I’m most proud of the team as a whole and how united they were,” Holmberg said. “I’m very grateful we got the team where it was.”

“It was a magical season."


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