By Dan Plouffe
As the Carleton Ravens play host to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the first battle of the season between the Quebec women’s hockey conference rivals, both teams are starting to see their coaches’ touch on their programs now that they’ve been in their respective positions for three and two years.
For Yanick Evola’s Gee-Gees, the coach’s influence shows in the massive number of first-year players added to their roster with his first true recruiting class.
“Last year I kind of took the team they gave me,” notes Evola, who has just 10 returning players on his team to go with 15 rookies. “I didn’t feel we were good enough as a team, so we made a few changes. A few players left on their own, a few players graduated, so I had to recruit a lot to bring in players that share my philosophy and have the talent to be in this league.
“My goal is to bring a national championship to Ottawa, so we have to make sure we have quality players. That’s why we’re in this reconstruction period, but we’re hoping for the best this year.”
Some of Evola’s top newcomers include former U18 Team Canada member Elarie Leclair, Carling Chown from B.C. and defender Valérie Watson, one of six rookies from Quebec, where Evola previously served as Édouard-Montpetit College coach.
“I think we have a little more talent this year so hopefully we can finish up plays a little more this season,” Evola adds, noting patience will be important, although the team wants to get back into the playoffs after finishing at the bottom of the division standings last season despite being just five points from second place. “The biggest, biggest goal for me and the coaching staff is to progress day after day with a young team.”
For Shelley Coolidge’s Ravens, the focus also isn’t on specific performance goals either, it’s about winning battles for loose pucks, driving the net hard, and regrouping quickly on transitions, but there’s no doubt that Carleton’s experienced group can make some noise this season.
“We have a lot of returning athletes who know what it takes to win at this level,” highlights Coolidge, who coached the Gee-Gees for six seasons before switching over to Carleton three years ago “We have a really solid, committed team of athletes.”
Coolidge’s influence can be seen through the large, quality coaching staff she’s assembled that includes many former standout players as well as mentor coach Julie Healy, who carries loads of national team experience with Hockey Canada. Plus there’s simply the overall setup and functioning of Carleton’s women’s hockey program.
“Our off-ice fitness throughout the summer, across the board, people improved their results,” Coolidge notes. “If you’re coming back better than the season you finished off, it says to me that they are following my coaching philosophy of being the best for yourself and your teammates.”
The strength of the Ravens, who went 7-8-5 last season, begins in the net with a trio of second-year goaltenders capable of stepping in with Tamber Tisdale, Victoria Powers and Eri Kiribuchi.
Carleton also owns three fifth-year leaders up front with Sara Seiler, Kaila Lassaline and Claudia Bergeron, plus the team’s clutch shootout performer Melanie McKnight, a fifth-year defender.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the leadership we have with the program,” adds Coolidge, who also enjoys seeing some of Ottawa U’s veterans that she recruited excel on the ice and as young women. “There are some incredible leaders over on that side too.”
Second-year captain Érika Pouliot along with fellow forward Fannie Desforges are the two big leaders for the Gee-Gees, while Carley Porcellato and forward-turned-defender Jodu Reinholcz are key players on the back end.
The Gee-Gees opened their season last weekend with a 4-2 defeat to Concordia and then a 3-0 loss to the McGill Martlets, who have been a step ahead of the Quebec pack for many years now and are backed by Team Canada goaltender Charline Labonte.
Carleton took three of a possible four points from matches with Montreal and Concordia, and Evola knows the Ravens will be yet another strong opponent in a conference where there are no weak teams.
“Carleton did some great recruiting, and they have great coaches at Carleton, so we know they’re going to prepare their team well,” says Evola, who’s inviting everyone, especially minor hockey teams, to come watch some exciting hockey at their games this season. “It’s going to be really close competition again this season.”
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