Day 10 Recap: Female hockey team seeks to follow golden footsteps
By Dan Plouffe
Hockey, hockey and more hockey – that’s the life for a pair of Nepean Wildcats on Ontario’s Canada Winter Games female hockey team. If not for the Sunday plane ride that forced them to miss one contest with the Wildcats, it could have been 10 consecutive days of hockey games for Ashley Allard and Noami Baechler.
They play so much hockey in fact, that their sport was the only one in action Monday during the second “off-day” after the first week of the Canada Winter Games, as a new set of athletes arrived in PEI for week 2. (To get in three preliminary group games and four playoff rounds, the hockey tournament needs a full seven days.)
“We’re feeling ready,” Allard signalled in an interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe. “We’re going to go day by day and do the best we can. We want to play our best game on March 5th – that’s the goal.”
March 5th is of course the final day of the Canada Games when the hockey medals will be decided. The Ontario female hockey team is seeking a return to the podium after missing the medals for just the second time ever at the last games in 2019.
Allard and Baechler would like to follow in the footsteps of their Wildcats teammate Tristan Thompson (who won 2022 Canada Summer Games gold while playing lacrosse), and the Ontario male hockey team (who won a wild overtime championship final over Saskatchewan on Saturday).
When the female hockey team arrived in PEI, they came across the male team and joined in their game of spikeball. And then they came out blazing in their first Canada Games action yesterday afternoon in Charlottetown, demolishing Manitoba 7-0.
Allard scored two goals and an assist, while defender Mackenzie Clarke of the Ottawa Lady Sens had an assist. Baechler served as backup goalie (she’s slated to start tomorrow’s match against Nova Scotia).
“It was great. We forechecked really hard, we pressured pucks and we didn’t let go of the gas,” recounted Allard, who followed her older brothers into hockey, including fellow centre Owen, a Soo Greyhounds OHL player.
“We’ve just gotta keep going here, keep the culture going and just build on that win.”
Ontario faces Nova Scotia and Alberta in their pool, and with yesterday’s win, they’re already well-positioned to avoid last place and Thursday’s qualification playoff round. Quarter-finals, semi-finals and medal games run Friday through Sunday.
That’s an even busier schedule than the usual pace with the Wildcats, who are 19-7-10 and sixth place in the Ontario U22 Elite league’s east division (they’re also only seven points back of second place, with three games in hand).
On top of hockey, there is school too, and both Wildcats excel in the classroom as well. Allard has a high-80s average at All Saints Catholic High School and is headed to the University of Connecticut this fall, while Baechler is a 95% student at De La Salle high school and will study/play at Yale University the following year.
“Time management is key,” underlined Baechler, highlighting supportive teachers as another crucial ingredient. “It does require some extra work at lunch for extra help or staying after school, but at the end of the day, you gotta do what you gotta do. ‘Suck it up, get it done,’ I think is the expression.”
Ottawa Lady Sens defender’s family lives & breathes hockey
Like the Wildcats had with teammate Thompson, Mackenzie Clarke also had someone she could look to for insight about the Canada Games experience – her older brother Brandt was a member of the 2019 Ontario male hockey team.
“The memories will last forever” is what Clarke’s brother shared from his Canada Games experience, she told the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Mark Colley. “[Brandt] remembers every day of it and just how much fun it was, how much you learn.”
Brandt’s final memory of the 2019 Games was not the most pleasant as his team lost the championship game in overtime (though he enjoyed a better fate in OT this year when he started the play that led to Canada’s tournament-winning goal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax).
Clarke hails from a big hockey family. On top of L.A. Kings draft pick Brandt, there’s another older brother, Graeme (drafted by the New Jersey Devils), her cousins play, her dad played and her grandparents did too.
“We’re really competitive,” Clarke said of her siblings. “They push me to be the best I can be and vice versa. It’s just really fun in the basement, while we’re working out together or shooting pucks on the ODR, even just ping pong. It’s fun and they’ve always been amazing role models to me.”
Baechler and Allard are now usually on-ice rivals of Clarke’s (her Ottawa Lady Sens are two points ahead), though they are past teammates and “great friends.”
“Getting to share this experience with them is gonna be really special,” highlighted the John McCrae Secondary School student who’s headed to St. Lawrence University this fall.
Day 11 Preview: Week 2 kicks off with a fury
On top of the three hockey players, eight out of the 10 local athletes competing in week 2 of the Games will be in action Tuesday.
Skiers will have the first chance to add to Ottawa athletes’ medal haul, which hit double-digits come the end of week 1, thanks to:
· Cléante Théorêt (gymnastics): gold, 2 silver
· Quinn Beauchesne, Tristan Boudreau, Maasilan Etchart, Chase Hull, Peter Legostaev & Harry Nansi (hockey): gold
· Matthew Freitag (speed skating): 2 silver
· Iman Shaheen (squash): silver, bronze
· Alex Don (trampoline): silver
· Rachel Mallard (speed skating): silver
For a total of 2 gold, 7 silver and a bronze for 10 medals.
Cross-country skiers Isaac Fortin, Addison Frank, Antoine Gauthier, Clara Hegan, Robin Mason and Helen McCulligh have interval start classic races starting at 9 a.m. ET at Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park in North Wiltshire, PEI, while alpine skiers Dylan Brett and Luka McKinlay will hit the slopes for the male super-g at Crabbe Mountain in New Brunswick at 10:50 a.m.
James Budrow has his first para-alpine races Wednesday. Kanata’s Durvishan Thananchayan is the final local athlete on the week 2 calendar. His archery competitions also begin tomorrow.
Event livestreams are available at www.canadagames.ca/watch.
You can find links to schedules, and all of our Games coverage in one place, through our Ottawa at the Canada Winter Games central webpage:
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