The Dinos women’s hockey team has wasted little time building on last year’s national championship season, starting this season with an 8–1–1 record and leading the Canada West conference.
The Dinos, featuring Canadian hockey legend Haley Wickenheiser and Russian national team star Iya Gavrilova, knew they would have a target on their backs coming into this season. The Dinos have shown no signs of pressure from the extra attention early on, rolling right into regular season after an undefeated preseason road trip to Ontario in September.
“The players trained hard this summer and came back knowing that every other team is going to play us hard,” said Dinos assistant coach Tara Hammer. “The effort has been there from the start and our preseason trip to Toronto was a good opportunity for the team to bond.”
While some of the team’s most noteworthy names are sure to draw interest from opponents and hockey fans alike, the coaches take pride in the team’s depth. Due to international tournaments, Wickenheiser has only suited up for six regular season games this season leaving players like Jenna Smith and Stephanie Ramsay with greater responsibility.
“They are key members of the team,” said Hammer of Wickenheiser and Gavrilova, “but other teams are starting to pay attention to other players as well. We feel like we have a lot of depth in our lineup and teams are forced to focus on more than just two players.”
Nine players have scored more than five points in the team’s 10 games this year, while goaltender Amanda Tapp has continued the stellar play that earned her tournament MVP at last year’s CIS championships. Hammer expects similar game-changing performances during this year’s run, even if those players aren’t recognized with awards or praise from beyond the locker room.
“Last season, we had many unsung heroes that emerged to help us win the championship,” she said. “At this point we are seeing lots of good things happening and are expecting many players to step up their game as we get closer to the playoffs.”
Breakout performances from a variety of players will help the team in their goal to defend their CIS championship. The loss of star players and coaches to national team commitments in preparation for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is an imminent challenge for next year’s squad.
Wickenheiser and Gavrilova will almost certainly be called to play for their respective countries, while Dinos head coach Danielle Goyette also has assistant coach duties on the Canadian national team. Losing such big names may seem daunting, but it’s the nature of running a high-profile hockey program. Hammer is confident the team will continue to be competitive and stresses the positive impact of current high-profile players and team performance in future recruiting efforts.
“We are going to lose players to graduation every season,” explains Hammer, who has spent time in November recruiting in northern British Columbia. “Our program needs to build season by season and the success that comes from the team’s efforts help draw new players to our program.”
The U of C women’s hockey program — in only its fourth season — has had tremendous success. Students should take the opportunity to appreciate the current incarnation of the team while they can. However, the Dinos coaching staff is working hard to ensure that future seasons will be equally as competitive.
The Dinos are currently ranked second in the CIS. The regular season runs until Feb. 8 when the CW playoffs begin.
“Our vision is to continue to build the program and attract high-performance athletes,” said Hammer. “We have great facilities and support at the university and it’s definitely an exciting time to be a Dino.”