High Schools Hockey Junior Leagues

Sens trio will stay teammates with St. Lawrence Saints NCAA women’s hockey

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By Sam Loveys

Having three players from the same team make it to the NCAA level is a rare feat on its own, but Ottawa Sens U22 Elite graduates Kassidy Lawrence, Mackenzie Clarke and Jill Hennessy took it one step farther and all chose the same school.

This fall, the close friends will move to upstate New York on scholarships to play women’s hockey together for the St. Lawrence University Saints.

Moving away is a familiar experience for Lawrence, a goalie who came to Ottawa from Cobourg last year to join the Sens’ junior women’s hockey program, while Clarke and Hennessy have known each other since they were little.

“When I moved to Ottawa this year, I didn’t know anybody and it was kind of stressful,” Lawrence recalls. “I’m so happy to be going this fall with two girls I know. I think it’s perfect.”

The trio visited St. Lawrence together and met with the women’s hockey team, grabbing dinner and chatting with current team members.

Several players on the Saints’ roster hail from their neck of the woods, including former Nepean Junior Wildcats forward Hillary Sterling and Sens alumni Caitlin Whitehead and Gabi Jones. That’ll help ease the transition to joining an NCAA program and living in another country.

“I’m excited for the USA,” Lawrence signals. “The thing that messes with my head the most is the miles and kilometres. But once I get used to being there, I’ll be fine.”

Beyond the cultural adjustment, the three will have to adapt to the higher level of play in the NCAA and increased physical play.

“That will be interesting, especially with the older girls,” Clarke indicates. “We also have a couple international players, so that will be neat as well.”

Clarke expects the individual skill level for passing, stick-handling and playmaking will increase a fair bit too. The defender likes that style of play, having developed her abilities along her two older brothers, who are both pro players (L.A. Kings defender Brandt and New Jersey Devils prospect Graeme of the AHL’s Utica Comets).

“We’re a very competitive family,” Clarke highlights. “We have a little net in our basement where we’d always practice target shooting. There were so many little games we’d create and compete in, it was really fun.”

Read More: Mackenzie Clarke out to avenge brother Brandt’s heartbreaking hockey loss at last Canada Winter Games

Friendly competition between siblings helped elevate their level of play on the ice and served as motivation to improve, notes Clarke, who plans to study conservation biology at St. Lawrence. Her love of animals, including the fish and two dogs she grew up with, helped inspire her choice of major.

Hennessy says she’s especially excited for the university experience itself. While Canton, New York, isn’t a bustling city — it has a population of just over 7,000 — life on campus will be a new experience, highlights the forward who will study business.

Beyond their studies and playing in the NCAA, the trio would love to continue their hockey journeys together for Team Canada one day.

“It’s always a dream for everyone,” underlines Clarke.

Another dream is to become pro hockey players themselves in the new league set to be launched in January 2024 via the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association.

“Playing in the PWHPA would be awesome,” Clarke adds. “It’s always an option on the table for us in the future.”

There are a pile more high school grads from local Ontario Women’s Hockey League U22 AA Elite clubs headed on to play U Sports or NCAA hockey next season, including:

Ashley Allard, Nepean Wildcats, University of Connecticut
Naomi Baechler, Nepean Wildcats, Yale University
Leigh Burkitt, Ottawa Sens, Ontario Tech University
Ella Chambers, East Ottawa Stars, St. Thomas University
Alisha Donovan, Ottawa Sens, Mount Allison University
Taylor Eastwood, Ottawa 67’s, Queen’s University
Kennedy Emerson, Nepean Wildcats, St. Lawrence University
Victoria FitzGibbon, East Ottawa Stars, Saint Michael’s College
Sydnee Francis, Nepean Wildcats, SUNY Plattsburgh
Taylor Garcia, Ottawa Sens, McGill University
Emmanuelle Gendron, Ottawa 67’s, Holy Cross University
Keara Merriman, Ottawa 67’s, University of Ottawa
Payton Miller, Ottawa Sens, Carleton University
Avery Norman, Nepean Wildcats, Mercyhurst University
Ani Robinson, Ottawa Sens, Concordia University
Katelyn Scott, Ottawa Sens, University of New Brunswick
Georgia Steenbakkers, Ottawa Sens, St. Mary’s University

Read More in our 2023 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at: OttawaSportsPages.ca/Ottawa-High-School-Best-2023

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