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The Blues women’s hockey road to the national championships

Veterans Kassie Roache and Meagan O’Brien reflect on their careers and more

The Blues women’s hockey road to the national championships

Though the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team settled for silver against the Guelph Gryphons in the McCaw Cup Final on March 9, that game wasn’t the end of their journey. The team had their eyes set on an even bigger prize: the 2019 U SPORTS national championship. It’s been 18 years since the Blues won the national championship. This year, the underdog Blues had looked to make some noise against the top-seeded Alberta Pandas while fifth-year forwards Kassie Roache and Meagan O’Brien had hoped to end their varsity careers with a national championship. Unfortunately, they fell short.

Roache and O’Brien credit their extensive athletic backgrounds as the key to their success. Roache started playing hockey at the age of four. “I started skating when I was about two, my parents made a rink in the backyard. And then I started officially playing hockey at age four,” Roache says. O’Brien peaked a little later in her career. “I was put in the Timbits hockey school program when I was seven years old. So that was the first time I ever geared up in my equipment,” O’Brien notes.

Coming from a big city, O’Brien’s earlier life in Brampton was substantially focused on academics and sports. “Throughout my high school career, I played basketball, volleyball, and flag football,” O’Brien says. “I was always trying to be keen on my academics, but I was never one to stay inside and read books.” Her family was also involved with sports. “On my mom’s side I think all the boys in the family played hockey, and then my uncle also played soccer, I think that’s where I got the love of being a goalie.”

Roache comes from a much smaller town. “I’m from Corunna, Ontario, which is a small town near Sarnia,” she says. Her distinctively small hometown gave her a reason to focus on playing sports when she was younger: “There’s maybe 5,000 people when I was growing up.” Growing up, baseball, lacrosse, and hockey were her favorite sports to pass the time. Roache isn’t the only athlete in her family, as her three sisters play hockey and lacrosse as well. “My middle sister Carly, she’s still playing lacrosse right now. They just won their provincial title last summer, so that’s pretty cool.”

O’Brien and Roache both are avid Maple Leafs fans and they grew up idolizing several Leafs players. “If you look at my closet, you can see about five different sizes of a Matt Sundin jersey because I just kept outgrowing it. So that was definitely my favourite player growing up,” O’Brien explains. “I really liked Curtis Joseph and Tie Domi,” Roache adds.

The pressure of playing for one of the top schools in Canada can add some serious weight to one’s shoulders, especially as a rookie. Roache notes that her experience in her first year was quite different from what she was used to.

“When I came in, I think I was one of two people that didn’t play junior, which is the highest level. So not playing at a pace that the other girls were used to, I felt like I was a step behind,” she says. O’Brien agrees with the difference in the overall atmosphere as well. “Especially coming from a team where you were just a senior and you know, probably the leading goal scorer. You come in and you’re like a little fish in a big pond all over again,” she says.

Although playing for a university was certainly different, O’Brien tried to make the best of it. “As a rookie on the team there was obviously pressure to try to keep a spot on the lineup, but we just always tried to constantly remind ourselves to enjoy every moment, even if it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, or if we weren’t getting the ice time we now get,” she explains.

Now both players are in their final year, and have gotten used to the intense schedule of a student athlete.

“It varies heavily, day to day. Some days I’m up at 6:00 am and we’ll go until 9:00 at night. Other days I won’t have anything until 10:00 am or noon, and then I’ll be going till 10:00 pm,” Roache says. She notes that her daily schedule can be hectic and spontaneous. “It’s very hard to be able to wake up at different times everyday.”

This schedule can be very time-consuming, especially for a full-time university student. “You’re always looking at a practice for sure, but some days we have up to three practices,” O’Brien adds. “Daily, we always have at least one practice, and sometimes a workout. And then weekends are games, always.”

Although daily routines can be stressful and busy, they try to make the best of it. “I’d say friends and family help a lot,” Roache says. “To just have people in your life that are there to support your goals and just to help out in any way possible, like send meals up, or bring groceries when they come… I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own, I don’t think.”

O’Brien stresses the importance of friends and family too. “I have the privilege of living not too far away from all of my family in Brampton, so on our days off I’ll try to go have dinner with my parents or my grandparents, or my baby sister… you know, just remind yourself that hockey and school aren’t everything,” she explains.

O’Brien acknowledges that student athletes aren’t necessarily ‘celebrities’ on campus. “You can tell that there’s part of the student population who have no idea about the sports that exist here,” she says. At times, however, O’Brien does have some experiences with fans. “I was at Mount Sinai, my teammate broke her wrist. Someone saw our hockey backpack and came up to us, shook our hands and congratulated us on our success.”

Both take the time to be regular students though. “If I need a break from studying, I’ll just pick up a guitar and start playing,” O’Brien says. Roache, like a lot of students, enjoys watching Netflix in her spare time.

The two players recognize the importance of having a family-like bond with their teammates. “I feel like without the support from teammates, sometimes you wouldn’t make it through your days,” Roache says.

“We’ve always got each other’s backs. And don’t get me wrong, you go through trials and tribulations together… But you celebrate your successes with them,” O’Brien adds.

Despite their closeness, their playing styles on the ice contrast each other. When asked to describe herself, Roache says, “As a player, I would say annoying. Gritty. I’m very aggressive.” O’Brien, on the other hand, plays a more cautious game. “I try to avoid getting penalties, and I’d say I’m like a grinder.”

Despite their varsity careers coming to an end, their love for the game will never change. “I think it just brings a lot of people together and you kind of have a common goal,” O’Brien says. “You have your fans and family that come out to watch you,” she adds. Roache acknowledges what hockey has done for her. “It helps you grow, [develop] leadership skills.”

Both players will be walking away from the game to see where the future takes them. “I’m currently waiting on results of certain applications, but as for my next plans I don’t really know exactly where I’ll end up. But I know I want to end up in medical school and hopefully become a doctor one day,” O’Brien says.

Roache is in a similar situation. “My plans are pretty undecided right now, but I think that one thing that I will always have as a goal for myself will be to just bring what I’ve learned and what I’ve developed over the last five years into my workplace… whether that be a workplace or another hockey team.”

At the end of the day, being able to put on that jersey and represent U of T carries a deeper meaning for varsity players. “It’s an honour and a privilege, and I think I’m just going to miss that student-athlete life and you know, being surrounded by the best teammates ever,” O’Brien says.

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

Guelph Gryphons earn 4–2 victory to win OUA Championship

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

In their first McCaw Cup Final in a decade, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team fell short of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) title in a 4–2 loss against the Guelph Gryphons. Guelph hosted the final, after posting an OUA-best 16–4–2 record in the regular season.

Kassie Roache opened scoring for the Blues, receiving a well-timed pass from Kiyono Cox and wiring a slap shot into the top corner to give the Blues a 1–0 lead. The Gryphons didn’t answer back until there were five minutes left in the opening period; Mallory Young tipped a pass to Claire Merrick, who shot past Blues netminder Erica Fryer to level the score at 1–1.

Fryer was busy early and often in the first period as the Gryphons forced her to make seven saves. The rookie was well poised between the pipes, making 14 saves by the end of the second period and allowing just one goal from the highest-scoring offense in the OUA.

But the Gryphons outmatched the Blues in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away in a contest that had been otherwise level from the opening face-off.

Katie Mikkelsen’s power-play goal 31 seconds in saw Toronto’s one-goal lead evaporate. Kristen Jay put the Gryphons ahead 3–2, with Merrick scoring a late goal to end any hopes of a Blues comeback.

After a strong 60 minutes, the Gryphons lifted the McCaw Cup for the third time in the past four years.

Despite the loss, the Blues season continues next week as they head to Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island for the chance to capture a national title at the USPORTS National Championships.

Blues women’s hockey team earns spot in McCaw Cup Final

Julie Szulewska scores late game-winning goal

Blues women’s hockey team earns spot in McCaw Cup Final

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team is headed to the McCaw Cup Final after defeating the Western Mustangs 2–1 on Saturday at Thompson Arena. The victory came less than 24 hours after the Western Mustangs forced a winner-takes-all match with a win at Varsity Arena in the best-of-three OUA semifinals. This is the Blues’ first trip to the OUA women’s hockey finals in a decade.    

Blues fourth-year forward Jessica Robichaud scored the opening goal of the contest midway through the second period. Fourth-year forward Stephanie Ayres’ pass deflected off a Mustangs defenseman and Robichaud corralled the loose puck, launching a quick shot to beat Mustangs goaltender Carmen Lasis.

The Blues found themselves in multiple shorthanded situations throughout the second period due to their undisciplined play. Toronto committed three penalties in the period and a total of five in the game, while Western only registered two. Mustangs third-year forward Sydnee Baker capitalized on Megan O’Brien’s body checking penalty late in the second period with a powerplay goal to even the score at 1–1, with less than four minutes remaining in the period.

Blues fifth-year defenceman Julia Szulewska tallied the game-winning goal for the Blues with six minutes left in the third period. Louie Bieman played a sharp-angled pass across the crease, and Szluewska fired the puck five-hole and past Lasis.

Western scrambled to level the score in the final minutes of the game. Mustangs head coach Candice Moxley pulled Lasis, with 90 seconds remaining for the extra attacker. While the Mustangs’ overwhelming puck presence forced Blues first-year goalie Erica Fryer to make a few sprawling saves in the final moments, Western was unable to find the back of the net.

Fryer continued her strong play this season, recording 22 saves.

With their victory over the Mustangs, the Blues will face the Guelph Gryphons on March 9 in the McCaw Cup Final and have earned a bid to the U SPORTS Championship.

Varsity Blues women’s hockey in home playoff action

Blues earn crucial Game 1 playoff victory over Nipissing Lakers

Varsity Blues women’s hockey in home playoff action

 

Blues second-year forward Louie Bieman attempts to corral the rebound away from Lakers second-year goaltender Danika Ranger (Click to Expand).

 

Blues fifth-year forward Lauren Straatman and Lakers second-year forward Sam Strassburger stay focused in anticipation for the face-off (Click to Expand).

 

Blues fifth-year forward Meagan O’Brien attempts to get back into the play (Click to Expand).

 

Blues first-year defenceman Jana Headrick looks back at captain Becki Bowering (Click to Expand).

 

First-year goaltender Erica Fryer watches at the puck sails past her crease. (Click to Expand). DANIEL SAMUEL/THE VARSITY

 

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team opened the OUA playoffs with a convincing 3–1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers on February 20 (Click to Expand).

 

 

Varsity Blues men’s hockey falls short against Mustangs

Blues lose eighth straight contest

Varsity Blues men’s hockey falls short against Mustangs

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team dropped their eighth straight game 64 in an aggressive matchup against the Western Mustangs on Friday night at Varsity Arena.

The Mustangs outshot the Blues 32–23, giving the Blues their eighth straight loss, placing them second last in the Ontario University Athletics men’s hockey standings.

The Blues started aggressively as Nicholas Turenko of Mississauga drew a slashing penalty 46 seconds into the first period. The Blues continued their approach as Victoria native Hunter Atchison shot one past Mustangs goalie Luke Peresinni to score.

Western responded in kind with three consecutive goals from Kenny Huether, Anthony Stefano, and Ray Huether to end the first period.

The Mustangs started the second period with a goal 35 seconds in, courtesy of Theo Lewis. The Blues responded with an early goalie change as Alex Bishop came in for starting goaltender Frederic Foulem, who had allowed four goals in under 21 minutes.

Blues defenseman Matt Heffernan drew the first of what would be six penalties in the period. Mustangs Jonathan Laser drew a slashing penalty, which resulted in a Toronto power play goal courtesy of David Thomson. With Toronto’s offense shrinking the gap, Kenny Huether answered and closed the second period with his second goal of the evening.

The high intensity eased up in the third period, as Matt Watson scored to extend the Mustangs lead. With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Blues forward Max Lindsay scored his second goal of the evening, but it wasn’t enough as the Blues fell short to the Western Mustangs 64.

Varsity Blues women’s hockey drop contest 3–1 against Waterloo Warriors

Louie Bieman scored Toronto’s lone goal of the game

Varsity Blues women’s hockey drop contest 3–1 against Waterloo Warriors

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team suffered a 31 loss against the Waterloo Warriors on Saturday afternoon.

Waterloo put a goal on the scoreboard to open up the game with a tip shot by fourth-year forward Alison Hanson, giving the Warriors a 10 lead to end the period. Despite the Warriors’ early lead, the Blues managed to generate eight shots on goal to the Warriors’ five.

The Warriors’ lead quickly disappeared as Blues forward Louie Bieman tied the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the second period. Waterloo’s offense appeared to be more aggressive, generating more shots than Toronto’s. With less than five minutes in the period, the Warriors jumped to another lead as forward Angela MacDonald scored, giving them a 21 advantage. Toronto could not find any momentum as the Warriors’ late push carried them into the final period.

Toronto found themselves on the penalty kill twice early on in the third period, reducing their chances of tying the game even more. First-year forward Taylor Trussler committed both of the penalties by bodychecking and boarding. The Blues could not get past Warriors goaltender Amanda Smith in the final period. Samantha Burbridge sealed the game for Waterloo with an empty netter in the final minute, giving the Warriors a 31 victory.

Toronto’s first-year goalie Erica Fryer made 14 saves in the loss. Smith stopped 18 of 19 shots.

“It was back and forth. We had some good spurts. It wasn’t very consistent though. We really only played with a sense of urgency when we were down, like the middle of the second period and the last 10 minutes of the third,” said Blues forward Louie Bieman, when asked about the team’s performance. “So, it’s hard to win when you’re not playing a full 60 minutes unfortunately.”

Bieman scored the team’s only goal. “Megan made a pass out front. And the goalie had been dropping all game. So I just dragged it around her, had a wide open net.”

When asked about the team’s preparation for future games, Bieman said, “Don’t worry too much about this game. We have another one tomorrow afternoon. Have a quick turnaround, think about it a bit tonight. But, rest up, get ready to play tomorrow.”

Why I root for the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017

Why I root for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Canada’s game is back and, for a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, this season couldn’t come soon enough! Growing up in a hockey-centred household and being from Toronto, I was raised a Toronto Maple Leafs fan but soon discovered the joy in team rivalry. My brother and I have been fans of the Penguins for as long as I can remember. From collecting hockey cards to playing street hockey and not missing a single play, you could say that hockey became less of a game and more of an identity for me.

The Penguins have had a rough start to the 2018–2019 season and are currently in last place in the Eastern Conference. Here in Toronto, my dad doesn’t hesitate to remind me that the Leafs are in second, with 14 wins and six losses.

There’s plenty for Penguins fans to be optimistic about, though. The team is led by star captain Sidney Crosby, and only a few years prior, in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins became the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 19 years.

I have no doubt that our time is coming soon and that the cup will once again be held by the Penguins. Sharing in your team’s victory and having bragging rights is hands down the best feeling as a fan. But all that aside, I think that love for a team goes deeper than the jersey you wear to moments you share with fellow fans. The ability to celebrate a team as fans and stand connected through our love for the game is why I truly believe that hockey is a game that unites people.

Why I root for the Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks almost won the Stanley Cup in 2011

Why I root for the Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks were in Game 7 in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, facing off against their archrivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had tormented the Canucks for the past two years, defeating them in the second round of the 2009 and 2010 playoffs in six games both times.

But this year was different for the Canucks. They won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in the regular season, while Chicago barely snuck into the playoffs and found themselves pitted against the top-seeded Canucks in the first round.

The series started off well, as the Canucks took a commanding 3–0 lead. However, Vancouver was blown out in Games 4 and 5, and Chicago won Game 6 in overtime to send the series to Game 7. “Here we go again,” was the mindset of every Canucks fan.

Early in the first period, Alex Burrows scored a one-timer off a great pass from Ryan Kesler to give the Canucks an early 1–0 lead. However, for the remainder of regulation, Chicago’s rookie goaltender Corey Crawford stood on his head to keep his team within one. With three minutes and 17 seconds left in regulation, Chicago took a penalty. It looked like the Canucks would have a great chance at getting the insurance marker, or at the very least, they would be able to take two minutes off the clock.

In typical fashion, though, that isn’t what happened. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored shorthanded to take the game to overtime.

The stage was set for the best regular season in Canucks history to end in the first round, especially with Burrows taking a penalty early in overtime. With the man advantage, Toews set up a perfect centring pass for Patrick Sharp right in front of the crease, but Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo slid across to make the save.

Around five minutes into overtime, Chicago defenseman Chris Campoli made what looked to be a routine breakout pass, but it was intercepted by Burrows. He walked into the slot and fired a shot over the right shoulder of Crawford to win the game for Vancouver. The Canucks bench all came onto the ice to mob Burrows.

Towels were waving across the stands of Rogers Arena. “Finally,” CBC commentator Jim Hughson exclaimed. “After three seasons and 19 playoff games against Chicago, for Vancouver, it’s a wonderful day for an exorcism.”