A team’s recipe for success is not easily quantifiable; there is a comingling of factors that determine whether they will succeed once they get on the field, court, or rink together. For all the talent and resources a team may have, if they don’t actually play as a team they will fail. The UTM women’s hockey team is now realizing that their greatest asset is this connection, and if they continue to play for each other with the team-first mentality, they can accomplish something great.
For the first time since the mid-1990s, the women’s Division 1 hockey team is back in first place. With an undefeated 4-0 record that helped earn the team the GP8 Sportwater Team of the Month title in January, the women’s hockey team is finding ways to beat U of T and OCAA competition by stressing the importance of teamwork.
Head coach Jasmine Sheehan, a former CIS hockey player now in her third year of coaching UTM, is not surprised.
“This is something we’ve been building toward for a while,” she says. “Teams that are successful find a way to win, and that’s something that I try to instill in the girls.”
It’s not about being fancy with the puck or finding ways to score highlight-reel goals; according to the head coach, it’s about dictating the pace of the game by controlling possession and “grinding it out”.
The undefeated streak the team has been on will no doubt motivate them once the playoffs begin in March.
“I believe we have the capability to win the division finals,” says fourth-year goalie Brooke Smyth. “Chemistry is essential to the success of a team, and that is something that our team possesses.”
Now in her third year on the team, Smyth gives two reasons why her team has a good chance of winning the title this season: they’re a high-scoring team, one that finds ease in putting pucks in the net, and they work well as a team—something Smyth believes cannot be taught in practice. “[We] are like a family—we all get along and support each other and this is reflected on the ice,” she said.
Recently, the women’s team got a taste of OCAA competition in an extramural tournament at Wilfred Laurier Brantford, where they won the championship.
After finding a comeback in the tournament despite early losses to two of the top teams, UTM faced Fleming College in the final, a game that ended in a shootout. Sheehan recalls the stressful shootout situation she found her team in. “The shootout was definitely a little nerve-wracking; any time it comes down to a sudden death scenario, you can never be too sure what’s going to happen,” she says.
The shootout went for seven rounds, with UTM calling on seven different shooters, before the team secured the win. Sheehan credits goalie Smyth with maintaining her composure and keeping her team in the game. “I couldn’t have been more excited to bring the win home for UTM,” says Smyth. “We heightened our level of play against OCAA opponents.”
For Smyth’s teammate and PhD student Alyssa Molinaro, winning against OCAA teams will hopefully motivate the team in their run for a division title. “Knowing that we can compete at that level and beat some of those teams who have been playing and practising together for much longer than us is really motivating,” she says.
One of the biggest motivational factors the team identifies is their head coach, according to fourth-year player Paula Drozdzal. “Our success would not be possible if not for her,” she says. Drozdzal and her teammates agree that Sheehan’s experience and patience have been huge for helping the team play at a consistently high level.
Despite the team’s efforts against OCAA competition, there’s little chance of a venture into varsity men’s or women’s hockey anytime soon, not for lack of talent but because the OCAA governing body effectively dissolved the league in 2004 when only three teams were able to participate.
“It’s a shame because hockey is our national winter sport,” says Sheehan, who has been integral to the growth of the women’s hockey program. “Regardless, in the meantime we are hoping to participate in more tournaments against OCAA opponents and are going to continue to build upon our foundation.”
The team plays their next game before the playoffs against Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 1 at Varsity Arena.