WYATT CLOUGH/THE VARSITY

The Varsity Blues’ women’s hockey team has hoisted the OUA Championship trophy 17 times since 1971 — more than any other team in Ontario. Six of those trophies were won in the 1990s, when the team ended each season of the decade ranked first in the OUA. Since women’s hockey became a recognized CIS sport, the Blues are one of only six teams to win the title.

Toronto’s sole CIS triumph came at the end of an undefeated 35–0 season in 2000.

Last season, the team advanced into the OUA playoffs, but fell in the quarterfinals to the Western Mustangs. The Blues entered the playoffs as the CIS’ tenth-ranked team.

The Blues ended the season with a strong 7–3 record in December, finishing the regular season and heading into the playoffs with a 15–10–1 record. Regrettably, this late-season success did not translate into playoff victories.

The Blues faced the 13–13 Western Mustangs in a best-of-three quarterfinal series. Toronto dropped the first game 4–1 as the Mustangs took control with four powerplay goals. Thus, the second game of the series became a sudden death match for U of T, and the Blues were eliminated by an overtime goal.

“The overtime loss in the quarter finals last season against Western was heartbreaking,” third-year forward Amanda Ricker recalled. “We knew that anything could happen because it was the playoffs. We battled hard and truly believed that we gave it our all.”

“The loss hit the team hard because we knew we had a great chance to compete in the OUA final. However, we were able to put the loss behind us and focus on the 2012–2013 Nationals, which we will be hosting.”

U of T will indeed be hosting the CIS women’s hockey championship at the end of the season, and the Blues are hopeful that they will be competitive on home ice.

The Blues enter this season much changed from the team that took the ice last October. Five of Toronto’s key players — including Brenley Jorgensen, Amanda Fawns, and team captain Karolina Urban — graduated at the end of the season.

“No doubt we will miss [the graduated athletes’] leadership and skill on and off the ice, but in their absence we have a great opportunity for existing players to step up into bigger roles on the ice and in the dressing room,” noted fourth-year forward Kelly O’Hanlan.

“As we move into next season, many players have shown great improvement over the summer and the team looks to be in good shape moving into our season opener.”

Some of the Blues’ strongest players can be found in the net: Toronto boasts one of the strongest goalie tandems in the OUA. The pair are remarkably similar statistically, and the Blues are hoping that this will prove a challenge for fellow CIS teams to overcome. Nicole Kesteris holds a .926 save percentage, while fellow goalie Krista Funke has a close .925 percentage, and both players recorded shut outs last season.

Riding strong goal keeping and a fresh, ambitious, group of players, the Blues enter the regular season with a 4–2 pre-season record.

Toronto had the pre-season honour of hosting a Canadian Olympic great. Hayley Wickenheiser and the Calgary Dinos. Although the Blues fell 6–1 in the match, the opportunity of playing against a playe with Wickenheiser’s level of talent was not lost on the Blues women.

“After growing up watching Wickenheiser play, it was a real privilege to hit the ice with her,” O’Hanlan told The Varsity. “Her skill and sense of the game is evident when she steps on the ice. We are hoping to face off against her later this season when we host Nationals.”

The Blues begin their campaign on October 5 against Ryerson University, but they are hopeful that they can win it all at home.

“As a team we are focusing on peaking throughout playoffs and the CIS National Championships,” said Ricker. “We are willing to compete and are excited to host the 2012-2013 CIS Nationals Championships.”

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