Through eight different winters in their youth, Tayler Murphy and Kailey Lapensee were teammates as members of various Sudbury Lady Wolves’ teams.
Just for good measure, the pair also joined up with the Mississauga Chiefs of the PWHL, one year before going their separate ways for university hockey: Murphy a forward with the York Lions, Lapensee a defenceman with the Ottawa Gee Gees.
Given that York competes in the OUA while Ottawa joins forces with the various Quebec powerhouses in the RSEQ, the locals would be limited to perhaps a little summer interaction or maintaining contact via social media.
Come the fall, Murphy and Lapensee will re-unite - and it’s both academics and hockey that will bring them together once more.
Both of the young women have been granted entry into the Masters of Business Analytics program at the prestigious Schulich School of Business at York University. It seems only fitting that the tandem should find a way to play out the end of their respective careers, far more on their own terms.
“With everything that happened, of course, I really wasn't ready for my hockey career to be over yet," Murphy said recently. Enter the possibility of post-graduate studies.
“When I was researching masters or graduate programs, I found one here at York that really sparked my interest. Those two (academics and athletics) went hand in hand and everything seemed to be aligning, so the fifth year just seemed like something I needed to do.”
It’s great news for a highly energetic and outgoing local product - Murphy and her sister, Makenna, created the Dream to Be fundraiser for girls hockey. The fact is that Murphy, as well as all of her 2019-2020 York teammates, were denied a chance to compete at nationals after the Lions advanced to the post-season for the first time in her three years at the school, victims of the glut of sport cancellations that came as early as mid-March, 2020.
The story, for Lapensee, is similar but different.
Playing an exhibition game in her freshman season, in her hometown, versus the Laurentian Voyageurs, Lapensee would suffer an ACL injury that would cause her to miss the entire year. In fact, between injuries and the pandemic, the graduate of College Notre-Dame has truly only managed to squeeze in about a year and a half of hockey into the four year stretch that culminates with her undergraduate degree in Finance.
“I obviously would have liked to play more in my four years,” she said recently. “In my third year, I was getting my game back, breakouts were coming more easily to me, my passes were getting cleaner and slowly, my game was getting back to what it was. It was nice to be able to contribute and really be part of everything.”
As is so often the case in university sports, success will mostly parallel experience, though ups and downs are inevitable, for a whole slew of different reasons. Suiting up in all but three of her team’s 72 games from 2017 to 2020, Murphy would register 10 goals and 18 assists, all while carving out an important role as a key defensive contributor for coach Dan Church and company.
“I think I am a fairly overall strong offensive player, but I can definitely improve by getting on the game sheet a little bit more,” she said. Forced to watch from the sidelines far more often than her long-time teammate, Lapensee reflected on her time with the Gee Gees as she prepares to close out her U Sport career with the Lions in 2021-2022.
“I would describe my four years at Ottawa as a roller coaster in terms of my hockey career,” she said. “In my first year, I did not contribute at all, and that’s frustrating because you come in with so much energy and excitement. But on a personal level, I will always remember my first goal, at Carleton.”
“It was when I came back, in second year, between my ACL injury and my MCL. And as a team, last year, with things pretty rocky (ten year coach Yanick Evola stepped down, mid-season, giving way to Chelsea Grills), we ended up beating Montreal, one of the very few times we have ever beaten them.”
“We somehow managed to pull it together and come out with a win.”
Now, however, comes the time to look forward, even as a one year hiatus for all involved adds a certain sense of uncertainty.
“I don’t think we have high expectations - we dropped those last March,” said Murphy. “Anything that happens, we’ll be prepared for. We’re basically expecting the worst and are happy to accept anything that is better than that.”
“The fact that I know Tayler and that everyone will have been off hockey for a while helped me feel more at ease about going back in again,” added Lapensee. “From what I’ve been told, my vision and passing will be key - those are my strongest skills. Those are things that I really have to focus on, but I’m at my best when I’m relaxed and not worrying too much about everything.”
At this point, both Murphy and Lapensee would concede that the decision to return for a fifth year as a student-athlete reflects far more the student and far less the athlete. In a job market that is ripe with uncertainty, any potential edge on the resume can be critical.
“I’ve always said that I was going to use up four of my five years of eligibility, mainly because the Schulich program that I am in at York is only four years long - you can’t stretch it to five years,” said Murphy. “"But I had also been considering additional schooling, just to give me an edge in the industry.”
“I had wanted to look for a masters program that could help me excel in my computer skills and whatnot - it’s such a huge part of the jobs that are available,” suggested Lapensee. “I got in, so I was very excited, but still wasn’t sure I wanted to play hockey, just knowing how demanding the masters program can be.”
“But with both me and Tayler in the program, and we planned to live together, I knew that I would feel left out, seeing her playing everyone weekend.”
And for this Sudbury duo and so many others, they have been left out of sport far more than they would prefer over the course of the past year. Tacking on one extra year, and doing it together, just seemed like the thing to do.