MONCTON, N.B. – No question, they left it all on the ice and nobody can ask for more than that, but the lady hockey Mounties would have loved nothing more than to match their football brothers by adding more hardware to the university’s medal cabinet in the athletic centre.
They gave it a real shot but fell to the Aigles Bleus of Moncton who came out with a little more jump in their step to earn the Atlantic Conference championship. But it was hard earned in front of a full house at Louis Leveque Arena in Moncton.
Actually the hometown Mounties were in the best of three series all the way. They fell 2-1 on a “lucky” Moncton goal in the first game and then came home to dominate the visitors although it took an overtime session to settle things as the Mounties triumphed 3-2 to knot the series. Moncton scored the only two goals of the game in the third match to cement the title.
Then in the finale, as in the other two, the goalies for both teams stole the show. Gabrielle Forget was nothing less than spectacular in the Moncton net as the Mounties kept play in her zone throughout much of the third period, holding a 10-4 edge in shots. But the 5’5” Quebecer was ready to put on a show and that is what it was as she slammed the door on such deadeyes as Emily VanDiepen, Lindsay James, Kara Anthony, Jennifer Bell and Megan Cameron as they buzzed her cage.
At the other end Kate O’Brien played her usual pro-like style and kept her team in contention through some rough stretches.
The coaching on both benches was amazing as they made adjustments on the fly. Veteran hockey people like Charlie Bourgeois and Bob Lemieux constantly commented on this aspect of the game, especially during the second matchup. In this outing Moncton used a particularly aggressive style while the Mounties utilized a more defensive system, which, in the long run, paid dividends. After bursting to a 2-0 second period lead Moncton appeared to develop shorter legs and the stronger Mounties came on to put two pucks behind Forget in the third and needed little overtime to sink the winner.
Moncton coach Dennis Ross was awarded coach-of-the-year honours, edging out Zach Ball of the Mounties. But Courtney King brought some hardware home by being named the most sportsmanlike player in the conference.
Full houses in both communities not only observed some fine and astute coaching, but also just how much women’s hockey has come from the early days. Players on both teams showed some great skating ability, particularly in reverse gear, and the stickhandling was superb, often matching that shown by men in the AUS. While body contact, in general, is not allowed there were some good incidental hits with stick checking being the main means of defense.
This year marked the second time in three years that the Mounties have reached the finals after many years of frustration. It appears that Zack Ball has been successful in recruiting some fine talent and with assistants Chris Major, Warren Mason and Nick Porter, has developed some sound systems bought into by the young ladies.
While as many as six young ladies could be among the missing when Ball calls his opening practice next October, he will still have a powerful nucleus from which to ice another contender. Megan Cameron, Lindsay James, Kristen Cooze, Megan Entwistle, Carmanah Hunter and Courtney King are due to graduate but the team is heavily laden with first and second year players ready and willing to step it up to the next notch.
O’Brien, who sat in the wings for her first two seasons, will be back to provide the team with another premiere show, while Emily van Diepen, Danielle Bourgeois, Kelsey Taylor and Carmanah Hunter will be ready to patrol the blueline. The offense will be keyed by players like Kelly Matazazzo, Sarah Gagnier, Marissa Simard, Amanda Volcko, MacKenzie Lalonde, Shelby Colton, Jennifer Dillon, Maria Morley, Hailey Munroe, Jennifer Bell, Samantha Bujold and the up and coming Kara Anthony.
Lemieux, a Dorchester grad who went on to play major junior and, among other places, the WHL, feels women’s hockey has taken a bump up due to the success of the national team. But he believes more emphasis should be placed on the game at the local level and at all ages.
“Just look at what these young women can do,” he commented during the second game, “and think of how much better the game could get with more lsupport at all levels.”
Charlie Bourgeois, who spent eight years in the NHL after leading University of Moncton to a national title and later coaching the team, had no reservation about picking sides in the championship final. Even though he has had a long association with the Moncton school he still was a Mountie fan, due primarily for one reason – his daughter Danielle – is a force on the Mountie blueline.
And while Ball will have a strong core around which to assemble his next challenge he will need to find some “blue chip” performers to help fill holes left through graduation. But he is already well ahead of the curve and expects to open camp with a full house of candidates for the six starting and 15 to 20 other spots.