With the U Sports Championship around the corner, the women’s hockey team is preparing for battle in Napanee.
Queen’s will host the national tournament from March 16 to 19 at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee. It’s the first time the Gaels are hosting the championships since women’s hockey made its U Sports (then CIS) debut in 1997.
Over the past six years, the women’s hockey program has been a high-achieving varsity team at Queen’s, winning a national bronze, two OUA championships and one OUA silver medal.
The tournament will see the nation’s best face-off during the three-day competition. With a 15-12-0 regular season record, the eighth-seeded Gaels are more focused than ever in preparation for tough competition.
“We’re preparing with a 360 degree approach,” head coach Matt Holmberg said. “Not only are we on the ice, but we’re training off-ice, watching video, attending mental skills sessions, managing academics, and yes, some relaxing as well.”
Preparation is essential for the Gaels, who haven’t played a game since they were eliminated in the first round of OUA playoffs by U of T. The Feb. 26 game went into double overtime.
The recent playoff loss against the Varsity Blues could have been detrimental to the team’s confidence, but overcoming adversity served as a motivational tool for the resilient Gaels.
“Seeing the faces of some of my teammates in that dressing room after the loss against Toronto is an image difficult to erase,” Addi Halladay said. “We couldn’t sit on the loss for long. We knew that if we wanted to compete at nationals we had to regroup as a team and continue to physically and mentally prepare.”
Since the loss, the Gaels have pushed forward with the national title in their sights. “We’re keeping our weekly schedule as regular as we can with practice, workout and team video sessions,” Halladay said. “The only difference is we haven’t played a game in a week and a half, which calls for an extra spin class and practice on the weekend to keep the intensity and conditioning up amongst the team.”
The bounce-back mentality is a competitive culture that the coaching staff has fostered.
“The silver lining of our loss is that we have more time to prepare, less travel and less academic stress, which we intend to take full advantage of,” said Coach Holmberg.
“We have great depth at all positions, and anyone can be the ‘hero’ on any given night,” Holmberg said. “We play with confidence, heart and passion and will compete relentlessly until the final buzzer.”
Tactically, Queen’s will do as much as they can to prepare for their competition in the tournament. “We’ll certainly review as much information as we can about our opponents prior to each game but in a short tournament such as this you really just need to stick to your own game plan,” Holmberg said. “I’d estimate that our tactics will remain roughly 80 per cent the same from game to game, with the remaining 20 varying depending upon our opponent.”
The energy and excitement surrounding the host position transcends competition. The tournament is truly meaningful for the Queen’s hockey community and alumni says Holmberg.
“There is an incredibly strong and proud tradition of women’s hockey at Queen’s and this event honors that history.”
The Gaels will likely face-off against UBC in their opening game — a team who has been seeded first all season. The official opponent will be determined this Sunday as playoffs come to a close. Whoever the opponent, the Gaels have tirelessly prepared for their moment.
“I’m confident in our team’s ability to bring an elevated level of play because of the stage we’re on,” Halladay said. “Being at Nationals doesn’t just come to anyone. We’re fortunate enough to have this opportunity and we wont let anyone down. We’re prepared to battle.”
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