Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
It’s been a successful season so far for the U18 Lady Dukes – Belleville Bearcats AA hockey team on and off the ice and finally it’s about to continue now that provincial restrictions have been eased.
“Everyone is itching to go,” said Kelly Sage, head coach of the Lady Dukes, which are part of the Belleville Bearcats Girls Hockey Association. “Tuesday we have our first practice so I’m sure there will be a lot of energy there.”
The Lady Dukes, which haven’t played since Dec. 12, have a 4-1-4 record in Ontario Women’s Hockey Association league play, but have had strong showings at a few tournaments as well.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Sage remarked. “We have a tremendous group right now. Everyone seems to gel really well.”
In mid-October at the Stoney Creek Showcase, the Lady Dukes won five straight games before losing the championship contest 1-0 when the Durham West Lightning scored in the final few minutes of play.
Sage believes Durham West remains undefeated to this point, with the Lightning’s only blemish a 1-1 tie against the Lady Dukes in league play.
“When we started the program back up and brought the under-18 AA back to Belleville three years ago, that same (Stoney Creek) tournament we were playing for 35th, 36th place team so there’s a lot of girls on this team now that were there and went through the struggles and are reaping the benefits of their hard work,” Sage said.
Hard work is paying off, for sure, but Sage said the Lady Dukes are a tight-knit group and share the joy of teammates earning school or Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) commitments.
“When one of our girls gets committed to a school or a PW team, there’s no looking down the line saying ‘oh it should’ve been me,’” the coach said. “There’s cheers, there’s high-fives, people are crying, they’re so excited for their teammates. Everyone’s there for the same reason and we all have the same goal at the end of the day.”
There has been plenty of good news to go around. Lady Dukes captain Emily Moore and goaltender Cassidy Dobson have both committed to join the Sault College Cougars women’s hockey team in Sault Ste. Marie. Cougars hockey teams compete in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).
“Both well-deserved, they’re going to make a tremendous impact on that team right away as freshmen coming in there,” Sage said.
Defenceman Abby Hicks, meanwhile, has committed to the York University Lions.
“The coach of York has been down to watch her play with us a few times this year and really likes what she sees,” Sage said. “Abby is a very strong, very smart defenceman.”
Elyse Ives is also heading to York University, but to join the field hockey team instead of ice hockey.
“She just made Team Ontario too (for field hockey) which is huge for her, so super-exciting,” Sage said.
There’s a trend on the Lady Dukes of players who excel in multiple sports, including playing on a variety of high school teams.
“I think is super important for all athletes, that their main focus might be hockey, but there’s so many benefits of broadening your horizons and being able to compete at different levels and with different teammates,” Sage said.
A number of players are committing to PWHL teams and there will be more opportunities coming up for players to showcase their skills to team coaches and scouts.
They’ve played well at tournaments in North York and Brampton and were hoping to attend other events in Scarborough and Quebec City. The team has applied for entry into other tournaments as well, but those events could depend on if any local restrictions are imposed for the host centres.
“The tournaments at this level are more showcases,” Sage said. “Everything is kind of streamed so if the university or college coaches or PW coaches can’t make a game, you’re able to watch it all.
“It’s a little disheartening that we’ve had three years of half seasons and cancelled games, but we did get some hopefully good news that OWHA is planning to do a provincial championship this year.”
If all goes well, the provincial championships would be held in April. The Lady Dukes will look to build on their early regular season success during the final stretch of the regular season before playdowns begin.
The Lady Dukes are scheduled to host the Scarborough Sharks this Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Duncan McDonald Memorial Gardens pad 2 in Trenton.
Team members are goaltenders Cassidy Dobson and Addy Cochrane as well as Jennifer Keller, Hailey Putnam, Mackenzie Tyner, Hailey Robinson, Elyse Ives, Emily Moore, Peyton Armstrong, Siyerra Vandewal, Abby Hicks, Kaya Brahaney, Sierra Wood, Lilia Brown, Maci Davis, Sydnie Johnston, Makenzi Jones and Taylor Adams.
“We’re hoping to make our mark. The way the season started out, we’re hoping even though we’re proud and excited about what we’ve done so far, but the best is yet to come for us,” Sage said.
“Offensively we have been very strong this year so we’re going to clean up our D-zone, maybe try to hit a few more power plays when we get those breaks and just stay focused at the end goal. That provincial championship, that’s where we want to be right in the mix there. Not let the last two months of the halt slow us down and continue to build on where we were before we got shut down.”