Marlets comfortable in favourites role

For the number-one nationally ranked McGill Martlets, an undefeated season is nothing new. Their 20-0-0 regular season this year in the Reseau du Sport Etudiant du Quebec (RSEQ) was simply the perennial favourites getting back on track after last year’s loss to Alberta in the national title game ended an 86-game winning streak, that spanned two seasons and back-to-back Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) gold medals.

So it comes as no surprise to anyone, including the Martlets themselves, that they come into the tournament as favourites.

“Honestly, we’re used to being in that position, we’ve had a target on our back all year long,” said McGill head coach Peter Smith. “We know our opposition is going to come out hard against us and we know that here it’s not going to be any different.”

The Martlets cruised through the RSEQ this season, not only going undefeated but out-scoring their opponents 87-22 along the way. Their year-long dominance culminated in an 8-1 blow-out of the Montreal Carabins, who played at nationals last year, to claim their fifth-straight conference championship.

Even after taking one look at the Martlet’s roster it’s easy to tell why they have such success. Three Martlets –goalie Charlene Labonte and defencemen Cathy Chartrand and Gillian Ferrari- have won gold with Canada’s national team, with Labonte being part of last year’s team that dominated the tournament in Vancouver.

“It’s not something we ever talk about or think about,” said Chartrand of the expectations that always surround the Martlets. “Sure, we’re undefeated but it doesn’t mean anything once we’re here because every team is really talented and we have to win all three games to get through.”

With so many high profile players on the team, conventional wisdom suggests there might some problems in the McGill locker room. However, according to Smith, that’s not the case.

“Bringing that kind of experience in makes a huge difference because the younger players really look up to the experienced ones,” he said. “They’re terrific leaders and team players. You wouldn’t be able to come into our room and tell which ones have been an Olympian.”

The Martlets will be kicking off the tournament at 4:00 on Thursday, with a chance at redemption versus the team who knocked them off in the national championship game last year, the Alberta Pandas, who come into this year’s tournament ranked sixth.

However, in Smith’s eyes, this game isn’t about revenge.

“We like to take that part of the emotion out of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really about revenge, it’s just about playing good, solid games and focusing on what we do well.”