The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team fell 6–1 in exhibition play to the visiting University of Calgary Dinos.
The Dinos come into the upcoming season as defending CIS champions. Their roster has not changed much from last year, when they posted an outstanding 20–4 record. Led by captain Tanya Morgan, the Dinos have a team with a multitude of experienced leaders including Hayley Wickenheiser, the captain of Canada’s women’s national hockey team, widely considered one of the greatest female athletes in sports history.
Wickenheiser was one of the first women to break the gender barrier that can greatly influence women in sports. She played for the Kirkkonummen Salamat, a men’s hockey team in the Finnish second division in 2003, and Eskilstuna Linden, a Swedish men’s third division professional team in the 2008–2009 season. While playing for Salamat in 2003, Wickenheiser became the first woman ever to score a goal in a men’s professional league.
Wickenheiser is currently a full-time student at the University of Calgary, completing her degree in kinesiology and hoping to continue her academic studies. “I am applying to medical school right now and will likely pursue that when I am done competing. I will play through Sochi 2014 and see where things will go. I enjoy playing still, and the Dinos set up is very good to work with.”
Despite the loss, Blues’ head coach Vicky Sunohara was not disappointed in her team’s performance. “They [Calgary] [have] a great team. They’re CIS champions and they didn’t really lose many players either,” she explained. “They’ve got a great team and it was a great way for us to start our season, to play against the best team.
“They only make us better, and we know we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I thought that our team skated well against them… If we play the bottom of the pack teams, it doesn’t show us where we need to get to… I’m not disappointed with the way it started.”
The game began with Wickenheiser winning the faceoff, and it did not take long for Calgary to take the lead. The first Dinos goal was scored by Stephanie Zvonkovic less than five minutes into the game. Blues goalie Nicole Kesteris was able to save most of the shots driven towards her by the all-star Calgary lineup, and Toronto left the first period only down by one goal.
The Blues won the faceoff to begin the second period and came close to getting on the board with strong shots at the beginning of the period, but the Calgary defence stood strong against the Blues’ onslaught, eliminating their opportunities to make a dent in the game. The Blues looked more aggressive than in the first period, but with 2:18 to go in the second period, Wickenheiser scored, followed seconds later by a goal from Calaine Inglis, giving the Dinos a 3–0 lead.
The Blues started the third period still hoping to make a comeback, but Calgary came back on the ice even stronger than before, doubling their goals with a second from Gavrilova, and goals from Erika Mitschke and Sinead.
But U of T refused to be shut out. With less than eight minutes remaining in the game, Jacqueline Scheffel scored for the Blues, off an assist from Courtney Tougas. Unfortunately, Toronto found their rhythm too late, and they were unable to make up lost ground.
Sunohara was the assistant captain to Wickenheiser on Team Canada from 2001 to 2008. Danielle Goyette, the Calgary head coach, played with Sunohara and Wickenheiser on the national team, winning gold in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic games.
Wickenheiser believes that Sunohara is a great coach for U of T as they try to put together a contending team. “I think [you’ll] see teams like U of T really take off in the next few years by keeping players in Canada. With Vicky and other former players coaching, that will really help to grow the game and develop things for sure.”
Wickenheiser’s talent and experience were evident from the beginning of the game: skating smoother, playing more aggressively, and communicating with more skill than any other player on the ice. Despite her talent, her sportsmanship and leadership shone through; she was the first player on the ice warming up between periods and as she led the Dinos bench to shake hands with the Blues’ lineup after the game ended.
“My role [on the team] is to lead them and share my experiences with them that I have had in the game. As much as I lead and help them, they help me as well,” Wickenheiser told The Varsity.
Brittany Kirby, a defenceman for the Blues, was not playing against Wickenheiser for the first time: “I got the opportunity to play against her when I was fourteen years old when I played for a women’s team, so it was nice to see the difference now that I’m so much older.”
The Blues will be hosting Wickenheiser’s Dinos and the rest of the CIS’s top teams at the end of the 2012-2013 season, with the CIS championships being held at Varsity Arena.
With the regular season beginning in just a few weeks on October 5, the Blues are continuing their preparations for their first opponent, the Ryerson Rams, who Toronto met and defeated 2–1 in the first exhibition game. Exhibition games are important for Toronto’s tough schedule this year; they show the Blues which parts of their game need improvement.
“I think it’s a really good measure for us right now because [we now know] what we need to work on,” said Kirby. “We need to know the speed where we’ll need to be at, so it’s a really good start for us.”