After a tragic shooting incident that left one woman dead and 19 other people injured in September 2006, Montreal’s Dawson College is approaching the end of the school year with a women’s hockey team to be proud of. And it illustrates how this sport is growing at every level in Canada. Certain players who start out at the AA level may go on to join Canada’s National Women’s Team someday.
“I think when [the shootings] happened, [our reaction] could have gone either way,” said Scott Lambton, who’s in his first season as the head coach of the Dawson College Blues. “Fortunately it brought us together.”
Studying at Dawson College away from their families, a handful of players were comforted by their teammates. “They learned how they could be safe with us,” said team captain Karell Emard.
Since the Blues entered the AA Collegial Hockey League in 1999, they’ve made remarkable progress. After posting a record of one win and 23 losses two seasons ago, the team is heating it up in Montreal with an undefeated record and currently playing in the semi-finals.
Rookie Dawson forward Kathryn Tooley said that the team started training early in August last year, practicing three days a week, with one or two games on the weekends.
Tooley, 18, said the team has really come together this year: “It’s like one big family. Everyone is there for each other.”
“They just work their hearts out, and it’s been great watching them play hockey,” said Tooley’s mother Janet. “They’re just a terrific group of young people.”
Because Dawson College is a preparatory college for university, it loses many of its players every year. In fact, six to seven girls will be leaving the team after this season. Since many Dawson players were stars on their previous teams, Lambton said that keeping the team cohesive is a challenge at the beginning of the year. However, he has found that when individuals buy into the team concept, everyone wins.
“We worked hard all year long,” said Emard. “We have such a great spirit. I have never been as close with my teammates as I am right now.”
Lambton, a former Montreal Bantam AA Team coach, added: “With the new Hockey Canada rules, it’s really helped this team. It’s really let the finesse players play.”
Vanessa Emond, an 18-year-old rookie from Quebec City, has demonstrated outstanding skills, finishing the year with 44 goals and 29 assists.
“I really appreciate the finesse and the skill level of it all, and I hope it continues,” said Lambton, who was part of the Dawson College women’s program for four years before assuming the head coaching position. “[Female players] are a lot more open to learning. I really appreciate that. And I’m so impressed by the Team Canada women because they’re so much more willing to give advice.”
After recruiting from all over Quebec and having three players who didn’t speak any English at the beginning of the year, Lambton said he was amazed by how well these young women have done. Balancing education, time management, and learning a new language was a major challenge for these girls, and Lambton is always concerned about the entire team: “Yes, we’re hockey coaches, but we’re caring people as well.”
And there’s been more good news.
After the shootings, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens called Dawson College to help out. This led to the signing of an agreement between the two groups. The Canadiens will donate the ice at the Bell Centre for one day a year for a Dawson College Blues fundraiser until the fund reaches a mutually agreed-upon level. For the women’s hockey team, this means a fund to support female graduates of the college who plan to attend university to further their academic and hockey careers. The team raised $3,000 for the fund on February 19.
Named after Catherine Ward, an alumnus who helped to lead the team back from its downward spiral, the fund will supply scholarships that will be awarded to two players, with at least one scholarship going to a Canadian university. Ward is now pursuing her academic and athletic career at McGill University, in addition for playing for Canada’s National Women’s U-22 Team.
The team has stayed strong regardless of personnel changes. The Blues played part of the playoffs without the help of their five strongest players due to the Canada Games this year, but still stayed cohesive to remain undefeated. The Blues’ latest clash with archrival St-Jérôme on April 5 was a close one. Their fans cheered them on to a 2-1 victory, with Vanessa Emond scoring the late winner. The team has currently amassed 27 wins, and heads into the second game of the semi-finals on April 10, just one win away from the finals.
Win or lose, the Dawson College Blues have already succeeded by making their community exceptionally proud.