The 2018-19 Réseau du Sport Etudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season didn’t finish the way the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team had hoped. After winning the RSEQ championship in 2018, the Stingers were eliminated in the semifinals by McGill last playoffs in what was a learning season for them.
This year’s Stingers roster will present a more mature group than last season, when 11 players were rookies. Stingers head coach Julie Chu said the team experienced a lot of growth over the past months, which is a big factor in approaching the new season.
“It’s the commitment it takes to play at this level,” Chu said. “It’s the patience to know that with so many first-year players, it takes time to get to the level we need to be in regards to fitness, conditioning, overall execution on a consistent basis, and just understanding the system at the next level.”
The ending of the Stingers’s last season pushed the players to work even harder this summer. Chu said it’s incredible to see the effort and commitment players made over the summer, and how it helped them improve their game.
“Over the summer, all of our returning players wanted to make a commitment at getting better, and making sure that by the start of this season, they were in a much better position [than last year],” Chu said. “Because of that, we’re in a much different spot and we’re able to compete at a higher level [since the beginning of our exhibition games].”
Stingers forward Claudia Dubois will be one of the team’s veterans in 2019-20, as this season will be her fifth. Having been part of both 2018 RESQ’s championship team and last year’s team that lost in the semi-finals, Dubois said she’s gained enough experience to be a leader this season.
“It’s for sure a big role in the team,” Dubois said. “I just want to lead by example the best I can with the rookies, and guide them in the best direction as possible for the upcoming years at university.”
Dubois said players took a step back at the conclusion of last season. Even if the Stingers were hoping for a better result, Dubois thought this was a needed lesson, as it’s been a couple of good years for the Concordia women’s hockey program.
“I think to have experienced that as a team was a reset for this season,” Dubois said. “We know we’ll have to work hard for everything. It was hard at the beginning of the off-season, but as we were moving forward this summer, it became a motivation for all of us in discussions and practices. We’re looking forward to play McGill, but any team in the league will be sort of a revenge and opportunity to prove it was a mistake [last season’s results].”
Chu said the current Stingers roster is not only a great one, but also the ideal kind of group for players and coaches. She explained that compared to last year with all the rookies, this year’s team presents a better mix of players from all years.
“We can’t have a team of only rookies because that’s a lot of energy,” Chu said. “Yet, we also can’t have a team of only returners. Now that we’re introducing five new players to our program, it’s just adding to the veterans that we have here, which makes it better. What we have here is a really good balance of different qualities and skills that players bring to our team, lineup, and practices every day.”
With most players having already played their first year at university level, Chu said everyone seems more settled in than at the same point of the year last off-season.
“We don’t have as many players going through their first moments of figuring out everything like last year, where half of our team was new,” Chu said. “A lot more energy was spent on things as simple as understanding how to register for classes, or even moving to Montreal. It’s really fun to see our team coming together, and be in a good position in order to continue moving forward and getting better in this early part of the season.”
Stingers forward Rosalie Bégin-Cyr, RSEQ’s highest-scoring rookie and one of the Stingers’ 11 first-year players last year, said most of the team will now have made a little step forward with that first season completed.
“We now know how the league works, as well as the team’s system and everything that’s around it. We certainly have a really talented group right now with quality players in all positions.”
Dubois said players know they have what it takes to win. However, she explained the team is focusing on one step at a time, and doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
“We’re focusing on the first half of the season [that goes] until Christmas,” Dubois said. “We started playing better in the second half of the season last year. It wasn’t too late, but it didn’t help us at the end with the standings and the playoffs. We want to win and we know we have the team to do it, so we’ll proceed one step at a time and it all starts now.”
Feature photo by Laurence BD