The Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team spent all but one week as the best team in U Sports during the 2019-20 season.
For 14 weeks straight, the Stingers were voted to the No. 1 spot—and for good reason. This was the best regular season of Julie Chu’s head coaching tenure. The Stingers finished as the top team in the RSEQ (arguably the toughest division in U Sports) with a 15-3-1-1 record.
The Stingers were forced to hold off the Université de Montreal (UdeM) Carabins and McGill Martlets. All three of these teams should have consistently been ranked in the U Sports top five every week this season. All season long, not only did the Stingers survive those games against UdeM and McGill, they thrived, consistently winning hard-fought matches. The Stingers won the RSEQ division title for the first time since 2004-05.
Even though this team preached the “one game at a time” mentality, going into the playoffs, the expectations were that the Stingers would be heading to Charlottetown, P.E.I., to push for a national championship. Those expectations came to a crashing halt during the semi-finals of the RSEQ playoffs when the Stingers lost the best-of-three series to the Carabins.
Let’s start with the positives: they scored goals like nobody’s business, they fired a TON of shots on net. The systems on special teams figured themselves out and proved to be impactful. I’m sure if U Sports kept track of possession numbers, the Stingers would be close to the top as well. But the Stingers’ success this season was in large part due to the following two reasons.
Three seasons ago, the Stingers won bronze at nationals. If that proved that the Stingers had the ability to compete with top teams, this season proved that they are a top team.
Despite not making it to the national championship this season, the Stingers proved themselves as a force in U Sports. No other team in Canada would have fared as well in the RSEQ as they did. Chu has built a team designed for long-term success in a gruelling division. She’s brought in rookies capable of immediately becoming impact players. Veterans play key roles in creating that winning culture. Goaltending continues to be one of the most underrated aspects of this team.
The Stingers played well as a team all season, but it didn’t hurt to have some of the top players in the country either. Rosalie Bégin-Cyr led the RSEQ in points with 28 in 20 games (she also led the U Sports top scorers in PPG).
Claudia Dubois capped off her five-year run with Concordia by being named team captain and becoming one of the best two-way forwards in U Sports. She also put up 23 points—the highest point total of her career—to finish second in RSEQ scoring, only behind Bégin-Cyr.
Audrey Belzile continues to be one of the most exciting players in U Sports and scored 22 points during the season. Brigitte Laganière exploded for 18 assists on defence, all while becoming one of the premier defenders in the division.
Alice Philbert went 12-4, sported a 1.99 GAA and 0.921 SV% while backstopping the Stingers to a division title. On any other team, Philbert is THE star player. On the Stingers, she flies under the radar more than she should. Emmy Fecteau led all RSEQ rookies with 17 points and played on the top line for a good chunk of the season.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock that the team cleaned up at the RSEQ awards. Chu won her second Coach of the Year award, Bégin-Cyr was named the division’s MVP and Fecteau was named RSEQ Rookie of the Year. Bégin-Cyr, Belzile and Laganière were all named First Team All-Stars. Alexandra Nikolidakis and Dubois were named Second Team All-Stars.
Now, remember that this team is only losing two players to graduation this year. With this type of talent returning to the roster, the expectations for next season are already sky-high.
Six-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has a great quote in the Netflix series Drive to Survive that goes “It’s easier to chase than to lead.” I think that sentiment sums up the Stingers pretty well this year.
They were vaulted to the top of the U Sports rankings in Week 2 and they held the position until the end of the regular season. For 14 weeks, the Stingers played with a target on their back. They managed to push past this, but you could tell that they were getting their opponents’ best every single night. Not many teams took days off against Concordia.
Despite this, even from a critical standpoint, the Stingers’ faults were either minor or addressed.
By no means did the Stingers get complacent—quite the opposite is true. All season, Chu spoke about how she and her team were focused on fixing the chinks in their armour. As the season progressed, the team won games by playing faster than anyone else. And all season long, that style and mentality worked. The team won a lot. They scored a lot. They played their game. Even the Stingers’ power play struggles managed to turn around and the team finished at 15 per cent.
Unfortunately, sometimes you play a team that just figures it out.
In the semi-finals, the Stingers struggled to gain momentum against the Carabins because they played a different style. While the Stingers focused on getting the pucks to the slot through speed, the Carabins played along the boards, keeping the Stingers to the outside and forcing the puck into scoring chances. The Game 3 shot map shows this well.
During the regular season, the Stingers were able to win those battles. In the playoffs, it was the Carabins who won those same battles. Credit where credit’s due, the Carabins played a great playoff series, a series that can be added to the ever-growing rivalry between the two squads.
While the Stingers are probably disappointed in how their season ended, there’s no way this stops the momentum the program has built over the past three seasons.
Even though the Stingers won’t be making the trip to P.E.I., make no mistake—this is a team capable of competing for a national championship next season.
Photos by Cecilia Piga