Written By John Short
Year after year, Deanna Martin informs her team, her colleagues and other interested listeners that winning a women's hockey championship in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference is a tough job. Every year, at the end of the season, she looks inward and recognizes that such predictions are entirely accurate.
This year, for example, Martin's NAIT Ooks were dominant on offense and most often outstanding at using power plays and penalty-situations to their advantage. But this talented and hard-working team won bronze, not gold, when the final counting was done.
"I'm getting tired of collecting bronze," she said ruefully, looking at four attractive medals on a wall. Also featured are the three gold medals the Ooks have collected during the coach's successful 10-year run. Also on display are three gold medals – one for each ACAC championship. "I like gold a lot better," she smiled. "My players feel the same way."
Despite her success, or perhaps because of it, Martin has already given her program a shot in the arm for the 2018-19 season that will begin in eight months or so. Several promising prospective players have already been introduced for next year "and there will be quite a few more" before long.
"Every coach has to get the fastest start possible," she said. "Really, you never stop looking for prospects. Our whole league gets a pretty good share of the good ones; it's a big reason why the ACAC is such a difficult place to win."
Win or lose, players mature and move on. Replacing them – especially the best players – is perhaps the hardest part of every coach's job. Several newcomers have been introduced already and the stage is set to welcome more. "It's almost standard for us to introduce seven or eight new players every season. We'll have about the same number for next year."
One of the newcomers is Martin, of course, has ample experience in seeking and finding capable newcomers to fill the inevitable gaps, but five-year defender Kaitlyn Whaley, for one, leaves a major hole. "She is only the sixth player to play five years for the Ooks," the coach explained.
"Kaitlyn matured in almost every way and is a great example of the value of programs like ours. She took several programs and worked hard academically and as an athlete. We'll miss her, for sure."
A combination of praise and respect was also saved for other retiring veterans, including top scorer Kendra Hanson who, like Whaley, is a Manitoba product. Defender Hannah Fouillard and forwards Hayley Douglas and Alicia Mihalikova are also moving onward.
As she continued to learn from the upset loss to the Red Deer Queens in their semi-final series and prepared to watch a final with the MacEwan Griffins, it was automatic for the coach to review the recently-concluded Ooks season.
"We were one point out of first place (behind MacEwan) in the final standings, and we had the best goals-for of all teams. In goals-against, we were tied for the best but there were some gaps at important times."
The playoff loss, in Martin's view, required minimal explanation. "We were good at times and not good at other times. As for Red Deer, they earned the win. They really wanted it."
2017-2018 Award Winners
Rookie Of The Year – Megan Leblanc
Leadership – Brittney Savard
Silver Torch (MVP) – Verca Kuzelova