They came so close, but in the end, the University of Calgary Dinos women's hockey team was still one heart-shattering step shy of their goal. All season long, the Dinos had their sights on number one, but despite tearing through their playoff opposition all the way to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference finals, the lady hockeysaurs were unable to make that last required push to grab gold, losing in four games to the Grant MacEwan College Griffins.
Both the Dinos and the Griffins came into the finals red-hot, deserving to be there after respectively upsetting the two teams that tied for first place in the ACAC during the regular season, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans and the Mount Royal College Cougars. The third-ranked Dinos fought valiantly for their cause but were unable to slow down the surging, fifth-ranked Griffins, who played their best hockey of the season in the past month and proved to be the stronger team down the stretch.
"GMC improved a lot since Christmas and kept the momentum going into the finals," remarked Dinos head coach Danielle Goyette. "The series was tight [and] not a lot of goals were scored. GMC played great but I feel the series against SAIT took a lot out of our team and we didn't recover enough to be at our best."
After splitting the first weekend of the best-of-five finals with a win and a loss, both teams had a week to prepare themselves for the remaining and deciding games. Game three at the Olympic Oval started well for the Dinos, jumping out to a 1-0 lead 5:28 in. With a power play at their disposal, defender Ali Webb fired a shot from the blue line that hit something in the crowd in front of the Griffins net, turning the area into a pinball game with the puck. It eventually made its way to forward Lianna Legere's stick, who put it home to secure her team-leading fourth goal of the playoffs. The lead wouldn't last the period however, as GMC tied things up with 6:11 left, thanks to a Dinos defensive zone turnover leading to a partial breakaway that was finished by Melody Howard, her team's leading goal scorer during the regular season.
The entire series was a tight, low-scoring affair, so when the game remained tied up at 1-1 going into the third, it seemed likely that the next goal would stand as the game's winner. Unfortunately for the Dinos, it did. Griffin Lauren Chiswell beat Dinos netminder Katie Urness with a sneaky wrist shot through a screen with only 6:53 remaining and Grant MacEwan stood their ground from there, skating away with both a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead, heading up to St. Albert needing only one more victory to clinch gold. The effort was a lacking one for the Dinos, who felt they played under their abilities on the evening and needed to improve upon that if they wanted to bring the series back to Calgary for game five.
"Our game plan all year has been to work hard," noted defender Sarah Clowes after the loss. "We need to step that up and leave no regrets on the ice."
Knowing what needed to be done and having the capacity to do the same proved to be two different things for the lady hockeysaurs as they were unable to rebound from the night before, losing game four as well by a score of 3-1 and forcing them to settle for silver. Despite their best efforts and some incredible hockey, it wasn't enough for the Dinos, surrendering a series that fate just didn't allow them to win.
"I think we are two equal teams skill wise and it really came down to special teams and who wanted it more in the end," said captain Cait O'Hara. "Both teams worked hard the entire 60 minutes of every game and, with a few bounces here and there, all of the four games could have gone either way."
Even though the Dinos fell shy of their aim of a championship, the girls still have good reason to hold their heads high after an undeniably successful year. Few expected the team to finish the regular season at a solid 12-6-4 after going 7-13-1-1 in 2006-07 and even fewer imagined they could fight their way to the finals, but the Dinos effectively silenced their critics. They showed the league that they are no longer the underdog of years past and are now a contender for years to come.
"Our season went extremely well, better than expected," said Goyette. "We gained respect from our opponents and proved we could compete against any team. As far as I'm concerned, our season was very successful and I know we did not win it all but we gained a lot of experience along the way."
O'Hara agreed with her coach's statements.
"Even though we didn't take home the gold, I believe we won a lot more than we lost," she said. "I think that this season proved that the Dinos are serious about competing and always getting better. We improved drastically since the beginning of the season and even more so since the Christmas break. I think that shows a lot of character for our team. Those of us who were on the ice that day will never forget how heartbreaking it was to watch the other team celebrate. That feeling will push us to always want to be better and know what we are working for."
With the 2007-08 hockey schedule now behind them, the Dinos can look towards their bright future. The majority of the young core will return for next season a year older and more experienced, aided by a squad of new recruits eager to play under legend Goyette and take part in the newly-rejuvenated women's hockey program at the U of C. Indeed, there is no extinction in sight for the rampaging Dinos.
"My goal is to improve every year as a team and as individuals," concluded Goyette. "We will continue to work hard both on and off the ice, challenging players to take them to the next level. The future of the Dinos hockey team is to be competitive and a contenderÂ--not just participants in the league."