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Gees prepare for comeback year

Photo: Marta Kierkus

The Gee-Gees women’s hockey team played at the University of Windsor in a preseason tournament against some stiff competition, hoping to set the tone for the season.

The team defeated the Manitoba Bisons in their first exhibition game on Sept. 18 by a score of 4-2.  The Gees prevailed in their matchup against the Bisons in a preseason game last year, so the win doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.

However, this year the Bisons welcomed 27-year-old forward Venla Hovi as an international recruit from Tampere, Finland. A two-time Olympian, Hovi has played for the Finnish National team since 2007. She competed in the Winter Olympics in 2010 and 2014, winning bronze in Vancouver.

Despite their A-list recruit, the Bisons struggled to tackle the momentum the Gee-Gees had built up during training camp.

“We had a great training camp,” said Yanick Evola, head coach of the Gee-Gees. “Our veteran players have shown the way during the first two weeks.”

Despite their success in facing Manitoba’s star-studded roster, the Gees couldn’t come through for a win against Windsor or Western. Nevertheless, a valiant effort against the national champion Mustangs caught the attention of Evola.

“It was a really good weekend overall and a great way to prepare. We lost 4-3 to Western and we had lots of chances, it could have gone both ways.”

The team is currently looking to improve upon  last season’s disappointing 8-12 record. They finished next-to-last in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) conference, just one place above the Carleton Ravens. The RSEQ is one of the most competitive conferences in Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS), boasting first and second nationally ranked McGill Martlets and Montreal Carabins.

The key this year for the Gee-Gees team is to improve their goal scoring as well as number of shots-per-game. Their schedule won’t get easier with regular matchups against the Martlets and Carabins, but that just means they need to prepare themselves as best as they can before the real action starts.

Exhibition games give a  preview of the team’s roster, and help the coach evaluate their players without pylons and skating drills in the equation. Training camp is one thing, but real-game situations give the players a chance to think on the fly and react to plays as they happen, something that isn’t easily simulated during practice time. 

Luckily the team has three more exhibition game opportunities at home, returning to the Minto Sports Complex on Sept. 26 and 27 to take on the Ryerson Rams and the York Lions. Following that, they will face the Queen’s Gaels on Oct. 3.

“We really like the team we have, but we know we will have to compete hard every day in order to have success in our really strong conference,’’ said Evola. “The girls are showing lots of good things so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing them develop and grow as a team.”

Modifications to the team’s roster are to be expected after their final exhibition games.

So far, according to Evola “the recruits have fulfilled the expectations” ahead of the team’s season, and home opener against rival Carleton Ravens on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.