Following a giant’s footsteps

It was Sunday, January 23, and one of Wilfrid Laurier University’s most decorated and acclaimed athletes ever to don the Golden Hawk crest had just flown the coop to play for Canada at the 2011 Winter Universiade (a mini-Olympics for university athletes).

Liz Knox, Laurier’s women’s hockey starting goaltender for as long as any current student can remember, boarded a flight for Turkey.

Meanwhile, Kristen Kilgallen or “Killer” as her teammates affectionately call her proceeded to do what she hadn’t done all season – start in net for her Hawks.

The Ontario University Athletics (OUA) powerhouse demolished the University of Toronto 6-1.

But it was what would follow that would plant the seeds of trust and confidence in head coach Rick Osborne’s mind that his Hawks wouldn’t be completely lost in net without “Knoxy” when she would graduate later that year as an icon.

Kilgallen would record four wins in five outings, including two one-goal nail-biters and a shootout victory.

Not one puck got by her in the game-deciding skills showoff against Guelph.

Fast forward to training camp for the 2011-2012 season and Kilgallen knows her time is now.

Not exactly wallowing in the shadows but never really getting the opportunity to take the ball and run with it, the team’s backup netminder has the chance to leave a mark of her own and reclaim the OUA title that eluded her squad for the first time in eight years last year.

But following Knox’s consistently brilliant performances may be just as tough a job as The Dark Knight director, Christopher Nolan has in following his brilliant second Batman flick with his third installment next year.

Can Kilgallen carry her team without missing a beat in the backup-to-potential-starter transition?

There’s definitely a lot of people that are going to be putting pressure on the team and myself just because of how well she’s done over the years,” said the Guelph native.

“She’s definitely got big shoes to fill.”

Kilgallen isn’t even alone in trying to claim Knox’s throne.

Rachel Hamilton, a rookie on last year’s team will be gunning for the starting job, as will Winnipeg-based recruit, Erika Thunder.

If no one netminder is clearly more dominant than the other in camp, the team will proceed with a 1A, 1B setup, splitting the starting duties equally between two of the women, according to Osborne.

The kinesiology major is determined to not let it get that far.

“I have to take their challenges seriously and never take anyone lightly, and make sure I’m working 10 times harder than anyone else on the ice and show them that I want to be there and be number one,” said Kilgallen.

Regardless of the outcome, Kilgallen knows her five-game stint with the club last year was a tryout for this season.

“In one of the games, I played really well and was pretty proud of myself and I was sure my coaches noticed that,” said Kilgallen. “They were all smiles when I came off the ice, so I think they had confidence in knowing they made the right choice in bringing me here.”