Experiences and lessons will last well after the last puck is dropped
By Neale McDevitt
Two consecutive undefeated seasons capped by a pair of national championships – by now, most McGillians are well aware of what the McGill Martlet hockey team has accomplished. We’ve been reading about their inexorable march to perfection in the sports pages for two years.
But what does it take to be that good for that long? Sure, a team needs talent, but sports history is littered with teams laden with all-stars that have self-imploded at critical moments. Recently, the McGill Reporter sat down with four members of the championship squad to ask them about the keys to the Martlets’ success.
What was the highlight of this season?
Chantal Gauvin (Captain, defence, fourth-year Management): Defending the national championship that we had won last year, for sure.
Vanessa Davidson (Assistant Captain, forward, fourth-year Physical Education): I agree with Chantal. It was tough to repeat because we had a target on us all year.
Shaunn Rabinovich (Defence, first-year Science, Applied Kinesiology): For me, because it was my first year, it was also playing with these great players.
Gabrielle Smith (Goaltender, fourth-year double major Music and Education, minor in Environmental Studies): It was great to see how much we grew as a team this year.
Was it harder to repeat as champs?
CG: Absolutely. It is hard to become No.1 but it is even harder to stay No.1. But it also helped us stay focused because we felt like every game meant something, like we were defending the team’s reputation.
How important was it losing in the finals three years ago?
CG: The emotion that was associated wth that loss was such that, as soon as we started training everything we did was to make sure the team got back to that gold medal game. Every thing had to be that much better – perfect – because we just didn’t want to feel that way ever again.
Before the finals what was the atmosphere in the locker room?
CG: Our team had an overwhelming sense of calm. We knew what we had to do.
GS: We were giggling, we were singing – it was no different than any other game of the year. On the ice, there was a problem with the national anthem and we all laughed.
Give me a sense of the feeling you had when the final buzzer sounded and you had won again.
GS: There was a big sigh of relief. We did it.
How does a team go undefeated two straight years?
VD: It starts with the coaching. Peter [Smith] makes sure we never play to the scoreboard. Even if we have big leads, we never stop playing. I think that helped down the road. Especially in the first game [of this year’s national championships], we were in overtime, we knew what to do, we did it and won. That’s what’s so special about our team – we just never give up.
GS: We have a lot of superstars on this team but it isn’t them as individuals that make us win. It’s all of us together – as much the players sitting in the stands as the players on the first line. We pick each other up.
SR: From the younger perspective, the leaders are unbelievable. Not just the girls with letters on their jerseys but all the girls pushing and supporting each other. I think everyone on the team sees how much they can grow when they look at the veterans.
Shaunn, what’s it like for a rookie coming to this team?
SR: The girls teach me so much and they make new players, like me, feel so comfortable. Even if I see something in practice that they could improve, they listen. They understand that you can learn from everyone, even a player with less experience.
How big an impact will it have on the team to lose head coach Peter Smith to the Olympic team next year?
GS: I think the team’s values and principles are going to stay pretty similar. A lot of veterans are coming back, so I think we’ll be able to help carry on. Also, the coaches who are taking over are super-capable and have been with us so long. Amy Doyle has been coaching with Peter for a long time and she knows what to do.
VD: Also, Peter has had national team commitments in the past, so we’ve done this before. As players, we have to have respect for our coaches and respect for one another. Just because Peter is gone it won’t be like “OK, let’s just sit back and relax.” Everyone on our team knows their role. I think we’ll do fine.
Next year, the team will also lose players to graduation and the winter Olympics. How tough is that?
VD: We’re definitely losing some key players but we have other players to take their place. Now it’s their turn. Losing Catherine Ward, an incredible defenceman, you can never replace a player like her, but we have different players with different qualities and we all have to come together to make it work.
Any fear of losing that mental edge for next season?
GS: Not at all. As defending champs, we’ll be facing the same challenge as this season. We don’t dwell on the past too much, every year we start from scratch.
How tight is this team?
CG: We’re not a team, we’re a family. We’re so close, I think
we care about each other more than teammates usually do.
SR: When I came here I was worried about being away from my family and the girls made me feel so welcome right away. I love each and everyone of them so much, I would do anything
for them. Even the coaches – Amy is such a great, great person and I feel like a daughter to Peter.
GS: We have a lot of individuals on our team, a lot of people who are a little “different,” but everyone is welcome here whoever they are.
VD: I hear about other teams having cliques and, right from my first year, that just doesn’t happen here. We don’t even use the word “rookie.” We’re all players.
How hard is it being a student-athlete?
SR: Playing hockey and going to high school was so different from this. In the first semester, I did all right but I wasn’t seeing the kinds of marks I was used to in high school. I feel like I had to overcome a lot but I learned so much from the older players on the team watching them on the bus reading and working. In the second semester, I really grasped what it means to be a student athlete. Now that hockey’s over I’m in the library eight hours a day. I really enjoy the balance of practicing and then having to study.
CG: It’s all about time management. There’s only so much you can do; you can play hockey, go out, study. But if you want to be successful, you have to make the right choices.
What has being part of this team taught you?
GS: We get so much out of this that goes beyond hockey. We’ve learned what work ethic is, what leadership is, how to work with people, how to deal with stress, how to manage our time and energy. Personally, I spent a lot of time on thebench [playing behind national team goaltender, Charline Labonté] and I learned how to deal with situations that I might not be happy with. Whether we won a national championship or not, the things we’ve learned being part of this team will stay with us forever.