For the past few seasons we’ve known what to expect from both the men’s and women’s Varsity Blues hockey teams. Very little roster turnover combined with veteran top-scorers meant that the success of both teams relied more on the performance of the group as a whole, than the individual players themselves. However, the lifespan of a university hockey career is short, and both the men’s and women’s teams now find themselves in a state of transition.
Captains Andrew Doyle and Kristi Riseley — both entering their final year of study at U of T — hope to provide the stability and guidance that their young teams need in order to succeed this season, and are both confident in their teams’ abilities to adapt quickly, and start winning games right away.
The transition from junior and high school hockey to university hockey is significant for young players, says Doyle. “In junior, you’re playing some guys who are 16. Now you’re playing some guys who are 26, so it’s obviously an adjustment.” One that the 15 rookies earning spots on the men’s and women’s hockey teams will have to make quickly if they hope to secure a top spot in the rankings.
Last season, albeit inconsistent, was fairly successful for the men’s team. A dismal start, attributable to injuries sustained by both of the men’s goalies, gave way to a midseason drive that carried the team to the second round of the playoffs. Their run-and-gun offensive style, built around scorers like Mark Markovic and Jeff Brown, overshadowed shaky defense as the team earned a record of 13-13-1.
But this season both Markovic and Brown are gone, and while the men have veterans ready to step into their roles, it appears that the team has specifically recruited offensive players in order to bolster the line. Allowing the team’s veteran forwards to thrive in their roles. Doyle described the team this year as “hardworking and defensively stingy,” an indication that there could be a shift in tactics.
The Blues women’s hockey team is a different story.
While the women had the better season last year, going 16-5-3, they now face their largest challenge yet: the graduation of superstar goalie Nicole Kesteris — arguably the best goalie in the CIS for the past few years. She will be replaced by second-year Katey Teekasingh and rookies Hailey Farrelly and Valencia Yordanov.
Along with the loss of Kesteris, the women also took a hit defensively, with two rookies expected to slot into the top six. However, Riseley maintains that the team’s excellent coaching staff and offensive talent will prove that past successes were thanks to more than just goaltending. “We’re really confident in this group, and everyone’s fighting for their spot in the line-up,” said Riseley, “that competition will only make us better.”
Both captains are confident that their teams will pick up right where they left off, even with the addition of so many new players, “These guys were leaders on their old teams in junior and that makes it a lot easier,” said Doyle about the substantial roster changes. While for Riseley, the expectation is “going out and winning games,” which she remains confident the team can do.
The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team open their season playing Trois-Riviere at home on October 9, while the women play the rival Queen’s Gaels in their opener, also scheduled for October 9.