It was a successful 2022–2023 season for the McCaw Cup champion Varsity Blues Women’s hockey team. This success was in spite of the bittersweet ending at the U SPORTS championships, with the team winning the consolation bracket after being upset by the eventual national champion, Mount-Royal University Cougars, in the quarterfinals. Although they didn’t win the National Championship, the Blues have lots to be proud of this season.
The Blues are one of the most complete organizations in Canada with a winning culture from top down. A high powered offense with lockdown defenders and brick walls in the net made up the most dynamic team in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA).
The team fought through adversity throughout the season. Captain Taylor Trussler missed the first half of the season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Meanwhile, forward Céline Frappier was limited to 14 games due to an injury but proceeded to represent Team Canada and win a gold medal at the Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire winter Universiade.
Despite the injuries, the Blues showed how strong of a team they are. Forward Nikki McDonald led them in scoring with 24 points in 26 games, and rookie centre Kaitlyn McKnight got OUA all-rookie honours with 10 goals and 15 points.
In an interview with The Varsity, McKnight credited her strong rookie campaign to the support system around her. “I don’t think I would’ve done this without my team and with how much people around me have been encouraging me and making me better,” she said. “I think that’s something I’ll take into my older years.”
McKnight wasn’t the only Blue to receive personal accolades. Three players were named OUA all-stars: defensive player Olivia Hilton, goalie Erica Fryer, and Trussler — who was also nominated as the T-Holders’ Association’s Women’s Athlete of the Year. Meanwhile, Head Coach Vicky Sunohara was named both the OUA and the U SPORTS coach of the year for the third straight season.
The team spent the whole season playing what they call ‘Blues Hockey,’ which forward Natasha Athanasakos described as “feed[ing] your family, having a relentless work ethic, and being for the team.” It was Blues Hockey that made the 2023 Blues special. They were a skills-based team that found success because they played with heart and passion, and their work ethic helped them win games.
During the McCaw Cup Final, the Blues were dominating the Nipissing Lakers but couldn’t beat their goalie until forward Katy McKenna scored a goal that embodied Blues Hockey on the team’s 44th shot of the game. The Blues never gave up in that game, and the momentum from McKenna’s goal carried into Frappier’s game winner with 28.4 seconds left.
While the Blues didn’t have the success that they wanted at Nationals, they will enter next season with a chip on their shoulders and the mindset of there being unfinished business as they look to capture a National Championship.
It won’t be an easy road for the team next season. It wasn’t an easy road to the McCaw Cup, and it isn’t easy to win a National Championship. This is compounded by the fact that the Blues have five graduates, including Frappier, who has completed her five years of eligibility.
Lineup regulars Madelyn Walsh and Lauren MacDonnell will also be graduating. Walsh was one of the Blues’ key defenders and played a big role in both the power-play and penalty kill. Meanwhile, MacDonnell centered the Blues’ third line and scored two big goals for the Blues in the playoffs. There are three holes that the team will need to fill, which they can do by drawing from their depth from this season or having a rookie join the lineup.
There’s a lot to take away from the 2022–2023 Blues season. They played for each other, they found ways to win during tough times, and they were rewarded for their efforts with a McCaw Cup championship. There’s a lot to build on, and the team will enter next season with something to prove.