“Antigonish is pretty small,” says Maggie Mac Neil about her hometown. The Nova Scotia town, with under 20,000 residents, is also home to St. Francis Xavier University. “The town relies on the university,” Mac Neil says.
“When people ask where your parents work, the answer is pretty much the school, the hospital or St. F.X,” says Alynn Doiron.
“Everybody knows everybody, everyone knows everyone’s business,” Mac Neil says about ‘The Nish’. “It’s a nice town,” Doiron chips in. “Everyone is involved in hockey. Hockey’s pretty big,” she continues. “Huge,” Mac Neil says.
Ahh, hockey. It’s what brought the two of them to Concordia. It’s what brought them to Whitehorse, Yukon for the Canada Winter Games and for the two rookies on the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team, it’s even how they first met.
“I guess it was when we were in puppy-dogs at [age five],” says Doiron when asked how long she and Maggie knew each other. “We weren’t formally introduced,” Mac Neil chimes in, “but we had played hockey together,” she said with Doiron adding that they never really played on the same minor hockey teams growing up.
However, despite not playing together too often growing up, the two rookie Stingers do have a bond that separates their relationship from the rest of their teammates.
“It’s nice to be able to talk about gossip from back home,” Mac Neil says. “There’s only so much you can talk about to people who don’t know who you’re talking about,” she said.
Welcome to Montreal!
Not a lot of things happen randomly in a small town like Antigonish. However, not only did Mac Neil and Doiron not plan coming to Concordia together in advance, they didn’t even really realize it until the summer.
Concordia Stingers women’s hockey head coach Les Lawton first saw Doiron and Mac Neil on television at the Canada Winter Games when they were representing Team Nova Scotia in Whitehorse. The coaches of the Nova Scotian team was Lisa and Lesley Jordan, sisters who played together for five years for Lawton at Concordia. Lisa is now the head coach at St. Mary’s as well as an assistant coach for the Canadian National team and Lesley is the coach at Dalhousie.
Doiron was the first to contact Lawton, and she says that he was very interested from the start and brought her for a recruiting trip where she saw the Corey Cup men’s hockey game between Concordia and McGill. Later on, Mac Neil also contacted Lawton because Montreal was a city that interested her. Lawton also pursued his interest in Mac Neil and even drove for four hours in a snowstorm to watch his recruits play.
Mac Neil and Doiron have had their share of adjustments to first a new city and second to university life.
Mac Neil mentions the first road game at McGill as her wake up call to how big the city is.
“I went into it thinking ‘Oh, it’s just McGill – that’s in Montreal’ but you had to get to [Concordia] an hour before the game because it takes 30 minutes to get there and you have to pack the bus and I was like ‘Nope, this isn’t home!'” she said.
Doiron and Mac Neil are also two of the four Stingers who live with teammates. Mac Neil with fellow rookie forward Catherine Rancourt and Doiron with fifth-year assistant captain Angela Di Stasi.
“I feel more informed living with Ang,” Doiron said. “She’s always like ‘We’re going here’ and knows what’s going on,” she said.
“It’s better,” says Mac Neil. “The night before the game, I don’t have to worry about my roommate being loud, because we’re on the same page,” she said. “We usually just do something low key together like watching movies.”
Rollercoaster of Emotions
“Besides leaving home for the first time, it was the most emotional day of my life,” Mac Neil said. That day was Nov. 16 when the Stingers were set to fly to Halifax for three games against Dalhousie, St. F.X. and St. Mary’s.
The flight was delayed on the runway for over an hour. Then, in the air, the flight flew into heavy winds – so heavy that the plane could not be landed and would have to be turned around back to Montreal.
“After being on the plane for what seemed like an eternity, the captain spoke telling us that we were approximately two minutes from Halifax,” Doiron remembers. This is when Maggie and I did a little dance in our seats and let out our relieved laughs. Not long after, the pilot’s voice came back saying that due to weather we’d have to turn around and go back to Montreal. I thought he was joking when he said it but once reality set in, my heart sank. A few minutes later the captain alerted us to get back to our seats in a hurried, unofficial tone,” she continued.
Back at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montreal, the search for a new flight got underway. Stingers women’s hockey coach Les Lawton and forward Kelly Feehan set out to re-book the tickets.
The players were left to sit in the airport wearing their brand new maroon tracksuits and wait to hear what would happen. Reality sunk in and the team was fairly certain they would miss their game for that afternoon against Dalhousie.
“Airports are usually my favorite venues to people watch,” Doiron said. But, that day it wasn’t a place to watch people, we were being looked at by passers-by who must have been thinking ‘what are 25 people all dressed the same doing lying on the floor of the airport seeming to be in no rush to go anywhere,'” she said.
As options were quickly ruling themselves out at the airport, Lawton announced to his team that the trip had to be cancelled and told the players to start getting into taxis. All of the players were disappointed, but Mac Neil and Doiron who were looking forward not only to the trip but playing in front of friends and family, especially got emotional.
“I usually cry once a year, but I definitely cried that day,” Mac Neil said.
In the end, Air Canada ended up getting Concordia and others from the first flight to Halifax and the Stingers played their two remaining games on the tour, against St. F.X. and St. Mary’s.
Concordia, despite spending most of the previous day in an airport or in a plane, took St. F.X. to a shootout before falling to the undefeated team ranked No. 4 in the country.
“The best part of the game was how well our team actually did,” said Mac Neil. “As a kid I had always put St. F.X on some sort of pedestal because they’ve always been the best in the Atlantic University Sport conference. The thought of winning never crossed my mind in preparing for the game but I think it was really one of our better games of the year,” she said.