This year is all about Whānau for the Lions women’s hockey team.
A Māori language word for extended family, Whānau represents how close and tight-knit the squad has become over the past several years as they’ve bonded together both on and off the ice. Lions head coach Dan Church sees the camaraderie the team shares as a huge positive for the group and the most important factor in the team having success this year.
“The key to our success this year is the Whānau, which is family,” says Church. “Whānau is about the depth of community and culture that we’ve been able to create in almost 50 years of women’s hockey here at York and it’s about wearing the logo with pride. The camaraderie that we’ve developed will be a huge part of our success this year. We’re a team where the sum of our parts is the most important thing. It won’t just be one person getting the job done for us; collectively, we’re going to perform as a unit and try to be the most competitive team on the ice every game.”
With only two graduating players from last year’s roster, the Lions’ tight-knit core group of players comes into the year mostly intact. Offensively, the Lions will be led by returning veterans Kelsey McHolm and Erin Locke. McHolm led the Lions in goals last year with seven while Locke led the team in points with 12. Joining them up front will be Tegan Duncan, who missed some time last year but is someone Church will look at to make an impact with the forward group. Fifth-year veteran Chelsea Tucker and sophomores Brooke Anderson and Courtney Gardiner will also be counted on to chip in offensively and lead the Lions’ attack.
On the back end, the Lions defence will be a mix of veteran savvy and talented newcomers that Church thinks will be strong in their own end and also help out the forward group by contributing offensively.
“One of our anchors on defence is our team captain Jenna Gray, who is really important for us and plays physical and a solid two-way game,” says Church on who he expects to lead the defence this year. “Taylor Davison is also a real standout for us since she’s such a great skater and has come a long way defensively in her time with the team, and Cynthia St-Cyr has a great stick and uses her size and strength well. We also have Kayla Hosegood and Sarah Power, who provide great depth to our defence and really give us a chance to be successful.
“We also have three outstanding new defenders in Julia McLennan, Caroline Eagles and Natalie Dean coming in. We were hoping to land one of them, so being able to recruit all three is a huge bonus. They should all really enhance our lineup both offensively and defensively, and I’m really excited to have them join our team this year,” he said.
In goal, returning veterans Lauren Dubie and Eva Hall will be joined by new recruit Serena Vilde in the crease this season. Dubie has been solid for the team as she’s received the lion’s share of the starts in the past two seasons, while Hall has been bitten by the injury bug during her first three years but is healthy coming into the season and has the talent to steal games for the team. Vilde is a tall goaltender with the potential to be successful in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and will push the veterans for playing time this season.
The Lions fell short of the playoffs last year as they finished six points out of a playoff spot and in 10th place in the OUA standings. A 0-6 start to the year put them behind the eight ball early in the season, but the team played much better the rest of the way and showed they have the potential to compete with the top programs in the OUA.
“My expectation for us this year is that we continue to grow,” says Church on what he expects from his team this year. “I’m not sure what the cap on that will be, but if we can pick up where we left off, at the end of the year we’ll be in a position to compete for a championship and move into the top half of the OUA.”
The Whānau with this team is strong and this season they hope to show the rest of the OUA what a united group is capable of as they make a run up the OUA standings, adds Church.