There are very few minor hockey tournaments of note, of any reasonable size, across the province of Ontario, where one cannot easily track down a handful of Sudbury connections.
The 2019 Stoney Creek University Showcase just had more than most – for good reason.
With four members of the national silver medal winning Sudbury Midget “AA” Lady Wolves making their way down to the PWHL (Provincial Women’s Hockey League) to close out their minor hockey careers, and with all three of those teams among the 64 team field that attended the heavily scouted event, there was already a sure base of local interviews to be had on the weekend of September 13th to 15th.
Throw in a few surprise bonuses along the way and it made for a hockey-filled weekend that had the feel of home away from home.
Goaltender Mireille Kingsley and forward Katie Chomiak were already penciled in to the lineup of the Mississauga Hurricanes a few months back, long before the unanticipated call-up of current Lady Wolves' blueliner Ellie Laberge, for the tournament, was made known.
According to the Valley East native who suited up with the podium placing 2018-2019 Sudbury midgets while still bantam-aged, the astonishment meter rose to a whole other level when she not only looked right at home with the older PWHL brethren, but also managed to find the back of the net in a round robin game on Friday.
“The goal was a complete accident,” suggested Laberge. “I was trying to shoot the puck so that it would bounce off the goalie’s pad and bounce to the other girl coming in, and it just went in. It was a fluke, honestly.”
There is, by contrast, nothing fluke about the appearance of Kingsley with the Mississauga squad, with several of the PWHL teams well aware of the pedigree of the Hockey Canada identified netminder who leaves for Providence University (NCAA) next fall. Facing tougher competition on a more consistent basis, Kingsley is focused on fine-tuning her game prior to becoming a Friar.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement, so building off what I learned this summer is important,” she said. “I’m just going to try and keep improving my game. Motivating myself and building off my team, and them building off me, makes for a good environment, with everyone working super hard.”
While there is certainly some chemistry that Kingsley must gradually develop with a whole new defence corps, Chomiak had much less time to play with in order to adjust to a completely new set of linemates. “In the beginning, I thought that it was going to be really difficult to adjust, just because I had been playing with the same girls from Sudbury for two years,” noted the 17 year-old who has already committed to the defending U Sport champion Guelph Gryphons for next year.
“But we were at training camp with each other for four days, on the ice twice a day, and we all became friends really fast, so it was easy to adjust.” Good thing, because the Hurricanes will need Chomiak to transition to the new league with much of the offensive punch that she displayed during her time with the Midget Lady Wolves, now forming a consistent scoring threat, along with her linemates.
“We’re hard workers, but we work smart,” she noted of her line. “We’ll get the puck in the corner and we won’t just throw it away. We’ll look in front, look to see who is open and make a play with the puck.”
Madisyn Papineau, for her part, opted to sign on with the Oakville Hornets for 2019-2020, a scholarship to the RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) Engineers already safely in hand. Like the others, Papineau sees her time in the PWHL as a great stepping stone prior to making the jump to the post-secondary ranks.
“I definitely think this is a great step this year, just so that next year, when I have a bigger adjustment to make, that I will have part of that already under my belt,” she said. “I come from a french school (Collège Notre Dame), a french community, and I’m going to an english high-school now. The vocabulary is new and different, so learning that takes a little while.”
Same holds true, on the ice. “It’s a matter of calming my hands down and having more patience with the puck, trying to set things up instead of rushing it,” said Papineau. Former teammate Taylor Scott can relate. A forward with the Ottawa Lady Senators of the PWHL, the 17 year old University of Ottawa commit is already noticing a difference in the level of play from the midget ranks.
“Last year, I had a lot more time and space to think and make the nice plays,” said Scott. “This year, someone is on you right away, so you have to just do the easiest play. And you have to be harder on pucks.”
Not to mention that there is an increased attention to detail when it comes to all aspects of her game. “My defensive zone is something I am working on right now,” said Scott. “I feel that I can still get tied to the puck, following the puck around. As a winger, I am supposed to stay up high with my defence, so that’s one part I am trying to work on.”
Yet not all of the Sudbury connections were on the ice. A member of several different Lady Wolves teams growing up, smooth skating defenceman Corie Jacobson went on to enjoy an impressive four year career with the Clarkson Golden Knights that included a pair of NCAA championships.
After playing a year of professional hockey in Munich (Germany), Jacobson opted to make the move to the coaching ranks, joining a highly successful program at Stanstead College in Quebec, working with a squad that currently features two players with the national U18 team.
“I still thought about playing, obviously, but in terms of the women’s leagues, there are not a ton of options, sadly, for post-collegiate play,” noted Jacobson. “I thought that coaching would be a good way to stay involved with the game that I love and gain some work experience, as well.”
Though her daily schedule does involve some classroom teaching, it’s out on the ice where Jacobson is truly in her element, dealing with the continued evolution of girls hockey. “In my early years of high school, I was a pretty offensive “D” and I would say that I was pretty rare,” said Jacobson.
“There might have been one per team. But in today’s game, there are so many defencemen that have great skating ability and offensive punch. We try and teach them to get up in the rush, start or join the rush, as long as they are adding that extra layer of attack when they are out on the ice.”
Only time will tell if coaching is also in the cards for Lady Wolves alumnus Taylor McGaughey, though it would surprise very few. Along with twin sister Meagan, the girls and their Ottawa Gee Gees teammates were in Sudbury, last weekend, for an exhibition game with Laurentian, one in which Taylor potted the game-winning goal.
“It’s my fourth year and I think it feels the same on the ice, however I do have a lot more going on off the ice, so it’s getting trickier and trickier to balance both as I go on,” she acknowledged. “I really just want to get the best experience possible in my last year.”
For if the likes of Laberge, Kingsley, Chomiak, Papineau and Scott wonder just what their future in post-secondary hockey might hold, Jacobson and McGaughey offer the ability to reflect.
“I’m just really thankful that I got a chance to keep playing the sport that I love, throughout my university years,” said Taylor McGaughey. “It’s sad to see it coming to an end soon, but I’m really thankful.”