Sports  A quest for perfection

Martlets hockey looks to extend streak, shake playoff blues

Last weekend, the McGill Martlets, the women’s hockey team, walked away with two wins against the Concordia Stingers and Ottawa Gee Gees. The Martlets have had nothing less than a stellar season thus far. They sit in first place of the Réseau du sport étudiant du Quebec (RSEQ) division by a wide margin of points. In addition to that, they are on a 17-game winning streak, which adds to their regular season winning streak of 43 games dating back to last season. When The Daily asked the Martlets’ Head Coach Peter Smith to what he attributes his team’s success, he credited their work ethic. “Yes, we played two very physical teams and they did push us,” he said. “In the end, we agreed as a team that our hard work paid off and we walked away with two wins.”

With that said, McGill’s is not an overly physical team. But, when push came to shove, they shoved back. The Martlets rely on playing a system that utilizes their speed and precision as effectively as possible. They blend acute hockey intelligence, speed, tenacious offence, disciplined defence, and solid goaltending to form a winning squad. Watching the Martlets play is like watching surgery; every play is deliberate and precise and, if a play doesn’t work, they simply re-group and try again. In addition to this team’s overall talent, there are still names that warrant special mention. At the end of Sunday’s game the three stars announced were Katia Clement-Hydra, Leslie Oles, and Gabrielle Davidson. This is not the first time this trifecta has received such adulation. This season, they have tallied a total of 44 goals and 45 assists over 16 games. Smith noted that these three players “have stepped up hugely, not only through their contributions in points, but also [with] the leadership they provide and their work ethic.” This trio is reminiscent of the Triple Crown line of the 1975-88 Los Angeles Kings, the first line in National Hockey League (NHL) history to combine for over 100 points in a single season. This line has great potential; although they don’t play together regularly during five on five play, on the power play they are a formidable force and a major contribution to the Martlets’ offensive punch. The Martlets also have the benefit of great goaltending. Andrea Weckman started on Sunday with a save percentage of .935 and three shutouts in nine games. She is ranked first in the RSEQ conference, right ahead of her teammate Taylor Hough who is ranked second and has a save percentage of .897 in six games against tough opponents.

With a team built around a large group of returning veterans, it can be hard coming in as a rookie, especially on a team as good as McGill’s. But the Martlets also have several new rookies this year who are making their mark, one of whom is seeing significant ice time. On defence, Emily Davis, whose play resembles the Pittsburg Penguins’ Olli Määttä, has played 15 games this season. In that time, Davis has tallied 3 points along with only 12 penalty minutes. Although her total number of points is not especially high, her presence is felt on the ice. In a few years, Davis could emerge as a keystone of the Martlets defence. For now, she is paying her dues and working her way up the ladder. As Smith said: “It’s a big jump both athletically and academically for these players to make, but they are working hard and doing good. [They] still have some learning to do, but I am very happy with their performance.”

With a squad of such skill and depth, it is really no surprise that the Martlets remain unbeaten this season. The Martlets started off the season strong and, with the playoffs coming up, hope to continue their success. It is fair to say that they have a lot of pressure on them and expectations are at an all-time high. McGill has had success in the past at the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) Cup, winning back-to-back titles in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The Martlets’ most recent CIS Cup championship came back in the 2010-11 season. Unfortunately luck has not been on their side since then.

In 2011-12 McGill was listed as the top-seeded team at the CIS Cup but was eliminated in the first round by an underdog Calgary team. Calgary went on to win the entire tournament. The year after, the Martlets found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They failed to qualify for Nationals for the first time since 2004-05, losing to Université de Montreal. You would think the team’s regular season success and recent post-season blues would start to play mind games as the playoffs approach, but that’s not the case. As Smith says, “I have a short term memory. We all just focus on the game at hand.”

The Martlets still have some regular season games left to play and, given how the team is playing, it is not unrealistic to believe that they could finish with an undefeated season. They are also talented, hard-working, and tough. After two early exits from the playoffs, you can bet they’re going in with a chip on their shoulder. They want to prove they are the best team in women’s hockey by bringing that cup home to McConnell Arena.