The road to ringette revival on the campus of Laurentian University was not going to be an easy one. Lead organizer and team manager Jade Lockie was under no false illusions of immediate competitiveness, and the recent University Challenge Cup reinforced that belief.
Still, the mere fact that Laurentian was able to muster a team that would join a dozen other U-Sport entries was reason alone to celebrate. "We are just happy to be able to represent Laurentian, as a school, and hopefully help grow our program into something that we can be proud of," noted Lockie, a second year Geology student, a week or two before departing for Cup play in Woolwich.
"It's not all about winning for us," she added. "We know we're not going to be the best team in Canada this year. It's about developing." While the concept of a club ringette team at L.U. has existed in the past, it has now been a few years since women donning the crest of the Voyageurs have taken to the ice.
Lockie is somewhat emblematic of the talent that she has assembled. A 19 year old native of Dorchester, she balanced ringette with time spent in figure skating, karate and baseball, during the summers. "I eventually just narrowed it down to ringette when I was around ten years old," she said.
"Now, I've been playing for 16 years, and I ref and coach as well." Such was her interest in the sport that during her freshman year in Sudbury, Lockie was one of four local players to travel, with some regularity, to Sault Ste Marie, competing with a Belles (U19) team that was based out of the Lock City.
As she garnered some familiarity with the Sudbury ringette scene, her conviction that a university-based program was possible would grow. "When we first started to get the team going, we had a lot of people that were interested, but they ranged from playing the highest level of ringette (AAA), to girls who literally had never been on skates before," recalled Lockie.
Unfortunately, the end goal was not an all-inclusive intramural program. The field needed to be narrowed if the Laurentian ladies were to enjoy even a modicum of competitiveness with programs that have run for years.
"Everyone on our team has played at least high level houseleague, some as high as AAA ringette," she stated. Of course, this endeavour could not possibly move forward if Lockie and company could not find a way to successfully recruit a goalie.
Enter Sudbury native Jenna Gilchrist.
A second year student of Bio-Chemistry, Gilchrist is easily among the majority of those who have jumped aboard who can proudly proclaim themselves as "student athletes", and not "athlete students", when it comes to their relative priorities.
That, in itself, created some challenges. "We tried to focus on our off-ice activities to try and get our commitment in," explained Gilchrist. "We tried to keep our cardio up by doing the off-ice." Getting practice time was difficult enough on its own. Finding practice times that accomodated all of those who wanted to partake in this venture was pretty much impossible.
A tournament in November in Oshawa certainly helped move the needle forward. "I think it was just a matter of meshing with each other," said Gilchrist, a long-time member of the Sudbury Ringette Association. "We haven't really gotten to know how our linemates play."
"Oshawa definitely helped us out with that, but playing against other teams was kind of a culture shock." Not that the team needed any help in understanding the uphill battle that lie ahead, but the lowering of expectations came quickly.
"The level of play on the ice is significantly better than what most of us have ever played before," said Lockie. "In terms of our team, just because of our school commitments, it's not as regimented as it would be in either "A" or "AA" (ringette)."
The team might not have hit the win column at the University Challenge Cup, but an 8-5 loss to the Brock Badgers and 7-3 setbacks to the Western Mustangs, Ottawa Gee Gees and Dalhousie Tigers would suggest the gap is not insurmountable.
All in good time.
"We have a lot of first year players," noted Lockie. "When I started this team, I really wanted to make sure it was sustainable."
The balance of the Laurentian ringette roster includes Thea Meulensteen, Nadia Degenais, Melissa Kay, Emily Mussio, Jaimie Cayen, Mandy Steele, Allison Gravelle, Madison Strods, Karly Schutz, Olivia Milani, Jenna Dubeau, Hayley Chase, Natalie Reed, Janelle Robichaud, head coach Harry Hirsimaki, assistants Freedom Warne and Margaret Gilchrist, and trainer Alexandra Patterson.