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Dal women’s hockey refuses to let anything hold them back this season

The Tigers have faced adversity, but won’t be giving up in these playoffs

The Dalhousie University women’s hockey team is looking to finish what they started last season as they prepare for the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) playoffs. 

We just wanted to come back with vengeance,” said Gabrielle Noordijk, a fourth-year defender for the Tigers. “We want to prove we are a team that people need to respect.”

Last season, the team went up against the University of Prince Edward Island in the first round but wasn’t able to win the final game of the series, sending them home sooner than they had hoped. 

“I think that loss just showed us how close we could’ve been,” said Olivia Eustace, a Tigers forward.

Despite these sour feelings, the team is determined to come out on top this time after getting more experience in the playoffs last time. Noordijk feels the team learned a lot about how to approach the final game of the series especially. 

“We just felt like we didn’t play a great game [in] that third game,” she said. “It was just not our game, and that happens, but it just showed us that in these series, if they’re three games, you have to come up with two really good games. [We] can’t be putting up a bad performance.”

The Tigers have also worked on turning their mentality around to build up their program, instead of staying stagnant. 

“The mentality is ‘we want to win,’” said Noordijk. “I don’t think everyone expected that we could win with the past history, but now we’ve really turned it around. We all hold each other accountable and have created a really high-performance environment. We all want to be better.”

The Uncontrollables

While the Tigers have managed to come out with a similar result to last season in the regular season, the team faced some unique setbacks right from the start. 

Troy Ryan, the Tigers head coach for the past two seasons, recently started a new position as head coach for Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) Toronto, leaving the Tigers with a hole in their coaching staff.

“There’s been a lot of adversity with our group,” said Eustace. She added that the team has been learning to focus on what is within their control, and “that was something that was out of our control obviously.”

Eustace highlighted how supportive Keifer House and Ava Keis, the team’s two assistant coaches, have been throughout the season. 

“We have a great supporting staff with our assistant coaches, so it was easier to lean on them,” she said. 

The team has also been helped by a variety of Dal athletic staff members, including Tim Maloney and Cindy Tye, executive and associate directors of athletics and recreation, as well as Chris Donnelly, the men’s hockey head coach. 

However, the team also feels they were able to overcome this challenge by relying on each other.

“We knew that we had each other, so we really just had to lean on each other and figure out how to get things done on our own,” said Noordijk. “We had goals that we wanted to achieve and we weren’t going to let this coaching situation deter us from reaching those goals.”

“We came together as a team and we controlled what we could on the ice,” said Eustace.

This support has allowed the team to focus on their controllable on-ice issues, one of which is the number of penalty minutes they’re racking up. In total, the Tigers have 220 penalty minutes, the most in the AUS. 

“We spend a lot of time on the [penalty kill] and it’s hard to score if you’re down a player,” said Noordijk. “We do have a pretty good kill, it’s just when you’re killing however many times in a game, you’re bound to get scored on, so that’s something that we’ve all been trying to tighten up.”

Tried and Trusted

With a lineup of mostly returning players, the Tigers have become a close-knit group, which helps them both on and off the ice. 

We have a lot of experience playing together, so there’s a lot of trust there,” said Noordijk. “I’ve played with the same partner for the last three years, so I know her, she knows me, and I know exactly what she’s going to do, so it’s really easy to have confidence and trust in each other because we’re really predictable.”

Eustace has also had a lot of success playing with her familiar linemates this season, Brooklyn Paisley and Kennedy Whelan. The fourth-year neuroscience major has the fourth most points in the AUS, with 14 goals and nine assists. 

“I think the three of us play really well off each other and we all bring different strengths to the table,” said Eustace. “We support each other and that’s one of the things we have had to do a lot this year on all zones of the ice.”

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