Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Feature!

Of the written kind, I mean.

Here's the piece I wrote on the goalies of the Concordia University women's hockey team, the Stingers. It was published in today's edition of the Link.


Passion brings Stingers goalies together

But a little competition is healthy for women's hockey teammates

By Naila Jinnah

On paper, Concordia Stingers goaltenders Meggy Hatin-Léveillée, Audrey Doyon-Lessard and Stephanie Peck don’t have much in common, apart from sharing a spot on the women’s hockey team.

A quick glance at the roster shows that the girls have different eligibility years, come from different CÉGEPs and are in programs that couldn’t be more different: honours psychology, exercise science and marketing respectively. But one look at these three masked warriors and all those differences come crashing to the ice.

Goalies are a special breed, a saying that rings especially true for collegiate teams. For years, these girls have been the only goaltenders on their team, left aside at practices while the rest of the players worked on drills. They have become more self-sufficient than their teammates, often learning on their own and from their own mistakes. They have been the starting goalie every game—by default. But CÉGEP brought not only a new level of play but also a new reality—competing for the starting spot with at least two other girls.

This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is the risk of spending most of the season on the bench rather than on the ice. On the other hand, practices are a bit more fun when you have a companion to run goaltending drills with.

“With the three of us, practice is more fun, because it’s like a team of goalies!” said Hatin-Léveillée, laughing with her goaltending partners.

“Being goalie is a very special bond,” she added. “Aside from our field of study, we really understand each other, even if others don’t. We know we can rely on the other two to understand, so we don’t feel awkward or out of place.”

Hatin-Léveillée and Doyon-Lessard have been splitting the load for one season, but Peck joined the team this year. They were an instant fit.

“I totally felt welcome with them,” said rookie Peck. “I knew right away that they got along really well because it showed. It really makes a difference when you get along with your goalie partner.”

This year, the girls need to get along with someone else too. For the first time in four years, the Stingers have added a goalie coach to their staff. Dave Paré gets on the ice with the girls during practice and his feedback is definitely appreciated.

“Last year we couldn’t improve on anything because no one would tell us what the problems were,” Hatin-Léveillée said. “But this year, in practice, our coach tells us what we do and we can improve our game.”

“It makes us feel more part of a team and more important, in a way.”

“I think it shows that we just prioritize the goaltending and that it’s really important,” said Peck. “We need that kind of help and it’s good to have that kind of support.”

The girls also get a lot of support from each other—they spend a lot of time together and the comfortable chemistry that was established during training camp turned into friendly competition as the season started. At the beginning, Hatin-Léveillée and Doyon-Lessard were the goaltending duo of choice, and while Hatin-Léveillée got many starts, there was no clear-cut number one goalie. But on Oct. 28, 2007, Doyon-Lessard was injured in a game at Carleton University.

“I tried to cover the puck and was going forward, but the girl sort of skated on my head,” explained Doyon-Lessard.

She was diagnosed with a concussion, an injury that is particularly hard to recover from since it requires complete rest. After over two months on the injured reserve list, Doyon-Lessard finally made it back between the pipes on Jan. 6, 2008 for the championship game of the Theresa Humes tournament, replacing starter Hatin-Léveillée. The Stingers lost 7-0 to McGill.

“It was great for me to play,” Doyon-Lessard said after the game, “but I didn’t like the reason why I had to go in.”

Meanwhile, Peck was back at her usual seat in the stands. The third goalie is often lost in the rush, but she is just as much a member of the team as the other girls. Like Doyon-Lessard when she was injured, Peck needs to attend all practices and games, even if she’s not dressing for the latter. The average observer doesn’t notice her, but she is far from invisible to her teammates. And while the seats in the stands are mostly comfortable, it’s not Peck’s spot of choice.

“It’s really tough coming in as a third goalie,” she said. “People don’t understand unless they’ve lived it.”

“With goalies, there are only three spots, and two that dress,” said Hatin-Léveillée. “With players, there’s a lot more room to work with. They have twelve!”

“I’ve lived it,” she added, “and now Steph is going through it.”

“It’s a real learning experience,” Peck said. “It’s definitely going to make me better for it. Stronger. It’s humbling too, because you have to earn it. Everybody has to pay their dues.”

The bond between these three girls is apparent in their interactions on and off the ice, and their unofficial ranking on the roster is not of much concern to them.

“We try to stay together and keep it equal in practices,” Hatin-Léveillée said. “And come game time, for sure there’s going to be a goalie who plays and a goalie who doesn’t dress. I think that’s the only time that there’s a difference.”

“In practice, we don’t see number one, number two, number three. We don’t see a difference.”

But for Hatin-Léveillée, having a new partner in crime didn’t change the way she approached the game. Competition is important, but the girls each have a different role to play on the team. They push each other in positive ways.

“It’s never taken for granted,” Hatin-Léveillée said. “I’m not number one for sure. We have to work for it, earn it, and if I play a good game, more points for me!”

“It’s a competition, but at the same time it’s healthy, because we’re not bitching about it and we’re not being mean about it. We want our spot and we want to deserve it. If I don’t feel like I deserve it, I don’t want to be the one in nets.”

“It’s not like if someone has a bad game, you’re like ‘yes!’ You put the team first,” Peck agreed.

“We all can do it, and we all know that everyone here can stop the puck wherever it is,” said Hatin-Léveillée. “When it happens that we have bad games, we know it’s a mental thing. So we go up to each other and tell the other goalie to get back in there and to be strong mentally.”

The girls don’t really see each other outside of hockey, although that’s probably a good thing. With practice, workout sessions, school and homework, it’s hard to find time to relax, not to mention that non-hockey friends tend to get jealous.

“You’re with each other every day,” said Doyon-Lessard. “We see each other more than our family!”

It is this commitment to the game that enables the girls to make these sacrifices. Their love for hockey is apparent on and off the ice, and their passion brings them together just as it divides them.

“We have that thing in common that we love to come here to play hockey in the morning,” said Hatin-Léveillée.

“But like it or not, we’re here to play hockey, and we all want the same thing,” concluded Peck.


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