When Shannon Doyle skated off the ice after Boston University fell to the University of Minnesota in the 2013 NCAA women’s national championship game, it marked more than just the end of another hockey season.
It signalled the beginning of a very long layoff from hockey.
Doyle had played her entire junior season with the Terriers with a full labrum tear in her left hip. Surgery in September 2013 and more than six months of rehab would be needed before she would be back on the ice.
The Baldwin, Ont., native is one of 58 players on the ice this week at Canada’s National Women’s Team Fall Festival in Calgary. The opportunity to be under the watchful eyes of the coaching staff and management team of Team Canada helped motivate the defenceman on her road to recovery.
“The year that I got hurt was the year the centralization team (for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games) was already picked, so I knew that goal wasn’t there for me,” says Doyle. “But, I was like 2018, that’s the next Olympics and this is the time you need to get it done. That really drove me – this is the process I need to take to make sure I’m back properly for these camps.”
That process started on crutches. “When I could finally start walking I had to get my mobility back; I had a lot of people doing movements with my leg just to make sure my muscle was working.”
With her muscle reawakened, Doyle was able to take to the pool, then the treadmill – albeit at a gingerly pace. “It was one-minute escalations each, so the first day it was a one-minute jog. The next day it was two minutes and so on.”
Finally, in March of this year – six months after surgery and 12 months after her last game – Doyle was back on the ice.
“I would love to say it was the best feeling in the world, but I was actually pretty shaky,” she says. “I felt really out of it.”
While it may have felt like the training wheels had just been taken off, Doyle says getting on the ice again was just what she needed mentally.
“That’s the place you go to get rid of stress and just feel great again after a long day, and I hadn’t had that outlet for a really long time,” she says. “I really missed that part of it – just being out there in the quiet.”
She also missed the camaraderie of being with her teammates, including fellow camp attendees Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Lefort and Samantha Sutherland.
But not being on the bench or in the weight room provided Doyle with some unexpected insight: it allowed her to learn more about her teammates – and herself.
“I got to observe people a lot more because I had time to focus on them and not on myself during games,” she says. “I know what makes them tick a little bit more, so I think that’s a really valuable thing I picked up on and I try to focus on instead of focusing on myself.”
As she worked toward her master’s degree in education, Doyle did find a new hobby to take up her time.
A classmate – perhaps figuring she found a ringer – invited Doyle to try broomball. “I fell a lot, so that probably wasn’t the best choice. I was really bad at it.”
Now back in a more familiar arena, Doyle looks to take that next step to Canada’s National Women’s Team.
She made her national program return in August, attending Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp for her first game action in 17 months. Having played for both Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and Canada’s National Women’s Development Team in the past, Doyle knows exactly how special it is to represent her country.
And after more than a year away from the game, she’s now competing for the chance to do it again.
“Playing for your country is an amazing feeling that few people ever get to do,” Doyle says. “In the back of my mind, it would be so much more rewarding to know that all my hard work and all those long months of rehab – and all the little things – paid off in the end.”