Three former Sudbury Lady Wolves would see the final chapter to their season cut short in Prince Edward Island, last week, the U Sport Women's Hockey Championships cancelled, mid-stream.
Just weeks earlier, an equal number of former Lady Wolves would close out their university careers, all three of whom would progress to the point of playing prominent roles with their respective teams.
It's safe to say that the Sudbury Lady Wolves organization remains a force to be reckoned with, within the landscape of post-secondary female hockey.
Few teams were as excited to attend nationals as the York Lions.
Not only did Sudbury native Tayler Murphy and her teammates help the Lions qualify for post-season play for the first time since 2011-2012, the squad made the astounding leap to third, in league standings, before sweeping past both Waterloo and Nipissing to earn one of two OUA spots at the cross-country playdowns.
"I think there were still people who doubted us, thought that we would fall off, eventually, that it wouldn't last," said Murphy, now in her third year with the team. "But we just kept growing with confidence, and we all bought into the system. Honestly, I think it's our culture that got us to where we were this past week."
A regular since she first arrived, Murphy has now registered 10 goals and 18 assists in 69 games, though she has seen her primary role altered through the years. "I think he (coach Dan Church) and I both know that I am a more defensive-minded player who will step up, when I need to, in the offensive zone."
"But I will protect the house first, I guess you could say, rather than jumping ahead of the play."
York was among the four teams (of eight) that had not yet contested their first game in P.E.I., before the plug was pulled, a reality that Murphy suggested was tougher on some more than others. "I think one of the hardest things for our team was seeing the seniors go through this," she said.
"For the rest of us, there's always a chance that we can make it back, and that's the goal for next year. But the seniors' season ended after three practices in P.E.I., about to play a game the next day. It's pretty upsetting for them."
As for the possibility of extending her stay with the Lions to the maximum of five years of eligbility, the graduate of St Charles College suggested that she has yet to decide, though pursuing a Masters in order to remain in school one year year is certainly an option.
"My career (in business) is obviously really important, but even this year, it was hard for me thinking that next year is going to be my last year of hockey," said Murphy. "Hockey is really important to me too, so it's definitely a factor in trying to decide what I want to do."
By contrast, Montreal Carabins' rookie forward and Sudbury native Mylene Lefebvre can enjoy an even more optimistic perspective than Murphy. Though her team's upset of the top-ranked Concordia Stingers, in the RSEQ semi-finals was huge, Lefebvre and the Carabins already knew they would enjoy nationals again one year from now, with the Universite de Montreal in as host team in 2021.
Dressing in 17 games, Lefebvre netted her first U Sport goal this year, adding another in the playoffs, as she sought to carve out a niche within the roster. "At first, I had a lot more ice time than expected," said the 18 year old Business major. "Closer to the end of the season, when we were struggling, the coach was giving more ice time to the older kids, which is normal for that to happen."
"It was important for me to know the aspects of the game that I am really good at and enhance those," Lefebvre added. "I pride myself on being a pass-first player, more on the defensive side. It was nice, knowing my coach could trust me to be out there, making smart and safe plays in the offensive zone as well as the defensive zone."
The Carabins had dropped their opening game at nationals, 3-2 in overtime to the St Francis Xavier X-Women, prior to the cancellation of the competition. In the opinion of Lefebvre, however, the season highlight was undoubtedly the fact that the fourth place Carabins (9-6-4-1) wiped out the gold medal dreams of the first place Stingers (15-3-1-1), a few weeks before COVID-19 would do the same for all teams.
"That was probably one of the best feelings that I have had since winning the provincial championship with the Lady Wolves last year," said Lefebvre, alluding to the series which saw Montreal outlast Concordia 2-1 in triple overtime in game one, drop game two 5-3, but capture a spot in the Quebec final with a 3-2 win, as Lefebvre netted the middle goal for her team.
"We came in as underdogs, but we were able to reset," she added. "We were able to beat the best team in the country because we believed in ourselves and really clicked as a group."
Rounding out the trio at nationals was Lauren Hancock, a first year forward with the University of Toronto Blues. The Garson native appeared in eight games this year for the veteran-laden squad that claimed first place, in the OUA, with a record of 18-4-0-2, before moving on to also earn the post-season banner thanks to a 3-1 win, over York, in the provincial final.
And though former national Midget AA champions Taylor and Meagan McGaughey, as well as Karli Shell, would not meet up, one last time, out east, prior to their respective graduations from Ottawa (for both twins) and Guelph, they leave their programs as clear-cut contributors, during their tenure.
After amassing six points in her first two seasons with the Gee Gees, Meagan McGaughey would finish fourth in team scoring this year (6G - 6A), enjoying a much different outlook than when she first graduated from College Notre-Dame four years ago. "Honestly, it was about the hockey, but it was also all of the opportunities that I had because of being a varsity hockey player," she said.
"I got to do a lot of community work, volunteering at the hospital, all of these privileges that we had. That's kind of the realization that I am having now, those things, the hockey aspects, getting the chance to see your teammates every day - these are all things that should not be taken for granted."
"Maybe I didn't always have that perspective, throughout the years, because you're so focused on everything else, but then you're done, it goes by so fast," said McGaughey. Of course, the twins were also blessed, in a sense, from their close friendship with Melisa Kingsley, the Sudbury Lady Wolves alumnus who passed away after battling cancer at the age of just twenty.
"Hockey was something that she wanted to do so badly, and it helped us realize that it is a gift to get to play, every day," said McGaughey. "When times were tough and you don't feel like going to practice, early in the morning, you remember that it was her dream, all she wanted to do. Even when things are tough, be grateful."
On the ice, McGaughey will always enjoy the ability to look back on a shared experience with her sister, both of whom wore the "A", at various times, for the Gee Gees. "Our style will always be pretty similar, both gritty players who will find the net occasionally, but not the nicest goals," she said with a laugh.
"We didn't play together my last couple of years as we had in the past, but we proved that we could be just as good apart as we were together."
With three trips to nationals during her five years as a member of the Guelph Gryphons, Karli Shell has plenty to be grateful for. And as she reminded me, the cancellation of the U Sport championships technically allows the Gryphons to retain the status of defending national champions for one extra year.
Still, a first round playoff loss is uncommon territory at Guelph, though not necessarily a bad thing, according to Shell, who is considering extending her hockey just a little bit more, joining some former Guelph teammates in Austria next year.
"It was definitely tough, coming off the year that we had last year," she said. "But going into this year, we knew that it was going to be a much different team. I think the biggest thing that surprised me was just how close the league was this year."
"The playoff race was so tight. I had never really been in that position before, where we were fighting for a playoff spot right down to the last weekend of games. That was kind of scary, but it's good to see the league developing."
As for her university legacy, Shell takes comfort in the variety of manners in which growth was achieved, leading into early adulthood. "When I first came to university, I was a leader on my team back in Sudbury, and I thought how the heck am I going to get to that position here."
"Over the years, you gain some leadership skills. And looking at my stats, they were pretty even. I definitely took on the role of setting up plays. I'm not a fan of scoring goals, although it is nice to score some goals, but I prefer to set people up."
"I think I developed not only as a player but a lot off the ice, as a persopn, with skills that I can take forward in life."
Skills, apparently, that are shared by many of the other talented graduates of the Sudbury Lady Wolves hockey program.