Being the captain of a hockey team is a big responsibility. Solid performances night in and night out, heightened determination and effort in important moments of the game, an unwavering sense of respected leadership and being an ambassador for the sport are all necessary obligations for a successful captain. For some, these characteristics have to be learned and fine-tuned after first receiving the captaincy of a team. For others, like Dinos women's hockey captain Caitlin O'Hara, they just seem to come naturally.
O'Hara, despite only playing in her second year for the Dinos, has shown leadership qualities beyond her age in her first season as captain of a team consisting primarily of rookie and sophomores. She excels at her position on defence, stifling opposing forwards with sound positioning, creative stickwork and great decision making with the puck, but also possesses the ability to break into the offensive zone and unleash a deadly shot when scoring is needed. On the ice, she quarterbacks her team from the defensive zone, making smart decisions on setting up plays and rarely making any mistakes or taking any penalties, while off the ice she is a wise yet soft-spoken figure of guidance. It was because of O'Hara's combination of skills, hockey insight, professionalism and bright future ahead of her in the sport that she was chosen to wear the "C" for the Dinos this year by new head coach and women's hockey legend Danielle Goyette, a choice that O'Hara says still humbles her.
"It was an honour to be selected by someone with Danielle's experience," she said. "She's changed the atmosphere in the dressing room this year."
Born and raised in Calgary, O'Hara grew up around hockey with a family as equally immersed in the sport as she is. She started playing at age six and followed it through until 14. The game began to play a larger role in her life when she was accepted into a local hockey-related, athletic performance school. Despite her added focus on hockey O'Hara maintained a devotion to the importance of academics, which she says helped her become the student-athlete she is today.
"The school was very sports-specific, but they were also very concerned about grades," she recalled. "It prepared me for university because you had to keep your grades up in order to still play hockey. Student-athletes are very unique people because you have to live with both things."
Her dedication towards obtaining a strong education didn't end after high school. After playing for the Calgary Oval X-Treme, one of Canada's finest professional women's hockey teams, in Grade 12, O'Hara turned down an offer to return after graduating, instead deciding to play for the U of C.
"With the X-Treme it was very hockey- and training-focused, while the Dinos are more flexible with school," she said. "For women's hockey, you're not guaranteed to play professionally for a living, so it's important to have a university degree."
Still, she reflects back on that one year with the X-Treme as an experience that has positively influenced her on-ice abilities today, as well as being her greatest hockey accomplishment.
"Playing against the competition of the Western Women's Hockey League gives you confidence and helps you not worry about the university level," she said. "Being able to play with older girls allowed me to improve as a player and a person."
Although O'Hara's choice to play for the Dinos instead of the X-Treme the past two seasons may seem like some to be missing a great opportunity, those that know her well or have ever seen her play know that her future in women's hockey is only going to get brighter from here. The same can be said about her team as the young yet strong Dinos will only continue to grow with O'Hara leading the charge on the ice.