The Varsity Blues women’s ice hockey team has had an impressive start to their 2021–2022 season. They currently sit at the top of the table, with 21 points from their opening eight games of the season. They have excelled both defensively and offensively, as they have allowed only nine goals this season. With 21 goals, they have scored the greatest number of goals so far among all of their competitors.

Defender Gabrielle De Serres has been a critical part of the team’s success this year, as she leads the league with eight assists and currently has the second highest total points. De Serres is a fifth-year student at U of T who is currently in the Rotman Commerce program, specializing in management. She has been playing hockey for almost 20 years. 

In her 2019–2020 hockey season with the Varsity Blues, De Serres scored eight goals, contributed to 12 assists, and was also chosen as one of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) second team all-stars. The Varsity had the opportunity to speak with De Serres about her team’s 2021–2022 season as well as her experience playing hockey.

COVID-19 and the hockey season

On January 5, certain COVID-19 restrictions came into effect in the province of Ontario, one of which requires the “closing [of] indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms,” aside from a few exceptions. As a result, De Serres’ hockey season has been put on pause until at least January 26. 

However, she has been staying prepared for the rest of the season by working out at home. De Serres said that she owns some exercise equipment, and her team also uses an app which provides the athletes with exercises to complete. Fortunately, outdoor skating rinks in Toronto have remained open, and De Serres might like to go skating, depending in part on the weather. “We’re trying to make the best out of the situation,” she said.

The hashtag #OUAisELITE has been circulating on social media recently, as a response to the recent provincial COVID-19 restrictions, according to which the OUA was not chosen as one of the “elite amateur sports leagues” that can continue to operate.

Commenting on the hashtag, De Serres explained, “I would expect us to be considered elite, [and] the fact that we’re not is quite surprising and also upsetting.” She also added that the decision has “undervalued the kind of effort that we put into playing the sport.” 

“It really is blood, sweat, and tears, and you put so many hours into being able to represent your school on top of actually having to go to school,” she said. 

Managing nerves during games

De Serres explained that even she, as an all-star player, gets nervous before a game. However, for her, it’s only “on a small scale,” and she has some techniques to help her avoid feeling nervous.

For example, although she used to have many pre-game traditions, De Serres no longer practices them before she plays hockey. She explained that these traditions could actually sometimes be counterproductive. “If ever something in my routine went wrong, it just [threw me] off before the game even [started]. And realistically, it doesn’t actually affect anything,” she said.

De Serres offered some advice for athletes who might fear making mistakes while playing sports. According to De Serres, athletes should remember to “focus on the big picture.” She said, “Later on in life, all you really remember is the general feeling that you had associated to, let’s say, a game. It’s not going to be like I missed a pass… you’re not going to remember that in five years.” 

De Serres discussed her objectives when she plays hockey. She said, “My goal at every game is just to have a good time and do my best… it’s not associated with any specific achievements.” For De Serres, this helps to remove some of the pressure she feels.

If you concentrate only on specific objectives related to performance, she said, “you kind of lose the benefit of the sport, and you’re just gonna go into every single game so stressed with so much pressure. It kind of takes away the beauty of the game.” And after all, as De Serres added, “If you’re not having a good time, why are you even there?”