Women’s hockey land the fourth spot in country

(Photo by Shelby Blackley)

(Photo by Shelby Blackley)

FREDERICTON, N.B — The clock was fifth-year Wilfrid Laurier women’s hockey veterans Devon Skeats’ and Candice Styles’ worst enemy.

As they played their last game as a Hawk Sunday afternoon, Skeats and Styles skated every minute they could to try to salvage a bronze medal at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship.

But a nearly perfect powerplay by the Canada West Universities Athletics Association (CWUAA) champions, the Saskatchewan Huskies, sent the Hawks home without a medal in a 6-3 loss.

In an eerily familiar game to the opener against the eventual national champions, the McGill Martlets, Laurier couldn’t seal their chances despite having 42 shots on the Huskies second-year goaltender Cassidy Hendricks.

Without that bronze medal, the performance matches their last finish in 2011-12 on the national scale.

“We were certainly snake bitten and we were playing a really tough team,” head coach Rick Osborne said after Sunday’s game. “It was a battle of wills out there between two really tough teams and we came up short.”

The fourth-place result in the country finishes off the 2013-14 season for Laurier’s women’s hockey team. But when the Hawks began the year, there were many question marks.

Osborne brought in eight rookies to fill the holes on his roster, including putting a first-year goaltender in at the helm. Laurier wasn’t dominating the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference like they had in the past and for the first time since Osborne stood as bench boss, the Hawks weren’t first place in the OUA.

“I really felt that we responded from every single little bit of adversity that we faced this year,” Osborne said. “And I was so proud of the rookies, the vets, the way they just kept pulling [the rookies] along … It’s been a long, long season. There’s been ups and there’s been downs, but when you look at it, there were so many ups and so many things to be proud of.”

And for Skeats, who finished her last national tournament with one goal and three assists to tie the team-high of four points, the journey was what was most important.

“That’s the one thing that I’m trying to reflect on right now is the journey we had to get here,” she said. “We have eight rookies, so we had a pretty young team and each and every one of them tried their hardest and played their hearts out. I think the journey is what we need to look at right now.”

Many accolades come from the team, who didn’t necessarily play their best games of hockey against McGill and Saskatchewan.

In a 6-0 win against the Moncton Aigles Bleues, five different Hawks scored a goal, and five out of six skating rookies — the seventh rookie being netminder Amanda Smith and the eighth being Michelle Quick who didn’t dress — recorded at least one point.

“That’s what has allowed us to get here, the fact that we could play [the rookies] all season long,” Osborne said. “And to have that kind of depth and that kind of speed and toughness, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Skeats tied captain and fourth-year Laura Brooker for most points, who also finished with one goal and three assists. Brooker was named to the CIS tournament all-star team. Styles, who was also playing in her final game after five years, was named a CIS first team all-Canadian at the beginning of the tournament — the first Laurier player named to the team since Liz Knox in 2009-10.

Osborne reflected on his two veterans that he has coached for five years. Styles is a skillful player who was turned from a forward to a defenceman, and Skeats has become known for her incomparable speed and competitive style.

“They have been the heart and soul of our team,” he said. “[Skeats and I] have been all over in our relationship in the five years, and I can honestly say I’m really going to miss her. I’m not sure I would have said that after the first year, but I can honestly say I’m going to miss her like hell next year.

“And the same is with Styles. She’s taken everything I’ve thrown at her for five years. She was still battling and they were still going hard right until the final whistle, and that’s all a coach can ask,” he continued.

Only two fourth years remain on the team — captain Brooker and forward Tammy Freiburger, who has the potential to graduate this year or come back for her final year of eligibility.

Skeats has no doubt that this team, who will have the majority of their roster as second and third years, will be on the hunt for another chance at a national banner.

“The people coming back need to remember this game and remember how it feels and next year when they get here, they’ll know and put forth a better effort,” she said.

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