What was once a trickle has now turned into a steady stream of Sudbury Lady Wolves' talent making the next step.
Each and every year, the watch is on for the upcoming graduating class of locals who will combine both their academic and athletic pursuits, largely in Canada, though a small handful will venture their way south of the border.
By my current count, 16 or so young women who spent the bulk of their formative years within the SDGHA are now playing post-secondary hockey. (though truthfully, we may have missed two or three as there is no standard on-line tracking system to easily access “Sudbury female hockey players competing in the OUA/AUS/NCAA/etc...”)
Not all northern Ontario prospects see it through to the end – for a whole variety of reasons.
But for many of those who do, those who strike that near-perfect balance, memories can be bountiful.
Entering her fourth year with the Mount Allison Mounties in Sackville (NB), Jenna Miller has now surpassed the 60-game plateau in the three years in which AUS (Atlantic University Sport) hosted competition since the fall of 2019. Finding the back of the net at least once each and every year, Miller has noticed concrete differences in her role as she completes her Commerce degree and contemplates post-graduate studies.
“Up until this point, there are players who are older than you,” said the 5’10” right winger. “Although you may have a leadership role on the team, there are always players you are able to get help from and seek advice from, both in the school and hockey aspect.”
“Now, being one of the oldest on the team – and we have quite a big rookie class this year – it’s a lot different,” Miller added. “I’m helping the young players out a lot more than I ever have. It’s just a bigger sense of responsibility – but it’s well worth it and super fun to be doing it.”
And as pretty much every single varsity athlete will note, the enduring takeaways often occur off the field of play as opposed to any sport-specific achievements. “From year to year, players come and go, but having the core group of players that I have spent the past four years with is irreplaceable,” said Miller.
True – although it’s a pretty safe bet that local blueliner Madison Laberge and the remaining members of the 2021-2022 Nipissing Lakers women’s hockey team will ever forget the run to a national silver medal that they enjoyed last spring. Now comes the challenge of matching that performance.
“I think we all worked hard throughout the summer to keep up our fitness, just like last year,” said the 21 year old fourth year student within the Concurrent Education program, a future teacher if all goes well. “We’re trying hard not to put too much pressure on ourselves.”
After racking up eight points in 14 games a year ago, the smooth-skating puck-moving defenceman has already recorded nine (1G-8A) in just seven games to date, an offensive output that finds Laberge tied for third in scoring in the entire OUA. “I think the biggest change in my game has been confidence, especially this year,” she said.
“I coached all summer so I worked on my skills as I was coaching.”
Much like Miller and all of her former teammates who have ascended to the next level, Laberge needed to endure, first hand, the reality of the additional demands as one works their way through the various echelons of rep hockey. “I don’t think that I was personally prepared for the competitiveness and lifestyle of university hockey,” she said.
“At the same time, you grow up playing competitive hockey so you have to commit everything to it. But at university, you have to commit so much more time and effort.”
With a record of 6-1-0, Laberge and the Lakers find themselves leading the way in the OUA East. Coming off a season in which she was recognized as both MVP and Best Defender in the West Division, Carley Olivier has added another six assists to her career stats, helping the Waterloo Warriors bolt to an 8-0-0 start as they show the way in their bracket.
Over in the RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec), the Ottawa Gee Gees are right at the top of the standings in a conference that also houses traditional powerhouses McGill, Concordia and Université de Montréal – much to the delight of Sudbury native Taylor Scott.
The 20 year-old member of the 2019 Esso Cup silver medal Lady Wolves team has racked up three points in eight games in this, her sophomore year, with her team sitting at 6-1-1 in the early going. “We have a really strong team this year,” said Scott, a third year Human Kinetics major.
“We picked up a few players in the off-season that really helped us. All around, our offense is much better this year. If there is a year where we will compete with them (the traditional powers), this is it.”
Recognizing what was at stake, Scott went full bore over the summer with personal trainer Rick Kilganon and achieving results that she noticed the moment she stepped back on the ice at training camp. “My goal in the off-season was to step up my game, step up pretty well everything so that I can get opportunities,” she said.
“My role changed a little this year. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to play on the power play, so that’s nice. And my shot has improved – I worked on that. That also comes with being stronger, but you have to be able to aim better as well.”OUA Talent
Alexie Olivier (Guelph) – a good solid start to her rookie season of play with three assists in her first six games
Katie Chomiak (Nipissing) – another reason why the Lakers are off and running with four goals in her first six games
Kelsey Dunn (Queen’s) – has overcome some injury adversity quite nicely, racking up four points in eight games for the Gaels
Jaiden Duncan (Laurier) - local defenceman is hoping to open the door to more playing time in 2022-2023
Ellie Laberge (Nipissing) – sidelined due to a torn ACL sustained at the end of January, the younger sister of the Nipissing star defenceman may yet make a return before the end of the 2022-2023 campaign
Mylène Lefebvre (Montreal) – nearing the end of her career with the Carabins, the daughter of the new Sudbury mayor has enjoyed playoff appearances regularly, as well as a trip to nationals<
Aoife Mahaffy (Carleton) – the former captain of the 2021-2022 Lady Wolves is already making a name for herself, picking up assists against both Montreal and Concordia in her freshman season
Joelle Gagnon (Bishop’s) – looking to help Bishop’s new entry into the RSEQ garner some early credibility, Gagnon netted her first career goal earlier this month against the Gee Gees
Madisyn Papineau (RPI) – the daughter of Sudbury Wolves’ GM Rob Papineau has already hit the scoresheet a couple of times this fall with the Engineers after compiling a goal and four assists in 2021-2022
Mireille Kingsley (Providence) – despite posting sparkling stats in 2021-2022 (1.65 GAA; .939 SV%), the graduate of Collège Notre-Dame still waits patiently behind German national team goaltender Sandra Abstreiter
Danika Lalonde (SUNY Canton) – with two goals and five assists in six games, the local product is already lighting in up in NCAA Division III play in upstate New York
Jacinta Eshkakogan (Sault College) – situated in Ontario but competing in the U.S.-baed ACHA, Eshkokogan has found the back of the net in a couple of instances for the Cougars in her first year in the Lock City