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Louie Villanueva

Dinos women’s hockey team headed by elite coaching staff

By David Song, October 27 2016 —

For the Dinos women’s hockey team, practice is serious business.

At times, it can look fun. There’s lots of stick tapping, fist bumping and good-natured jostling when a goaltender lets a puck in. But don’t be fooled — the players are focused on mastering their skills by running a variety of exercises from puck drills in front of the net to five-on-five defensive zone play.

Head coach Danielle Goyette keeps a close eye on her team, stopping the action periodically to stress areas of improvement. No detail is insignificant. Not a single slip-up gets past her eagle eye.

The Dinos began the season hot, rattling off three wins and a tie followed by a hard-fought overtime loss. Since then, they’ve endured a three-game losing streak and now hold a season record of 4–4–1.

Last year, the Dinos finished just under .500 with a 15–16–4 record and were eliminated from the Canada West playoffs by the University of Regina Cougars in two games. They return this year with a vengeance. Despite facing early hardship, the team is hungry for success in the playoffs.

“Last year we struggled in the first part of the season, but in the second half we turned it around. If I look at this season, the learning curve is way faster now,” Goyette said. “The players are more aware of what’s going on. I feel like everything we throw at them they’re learning faster.”

It’s a new-look lineup for the Dinos. The team features nine first-year players and three transfers from other schools. They are also dealing with the departure of former captain Iya Gavrilova — a leader in the locker room and one of the team’s offensive stars. While many see this as a rebuilding season, the presence of new blood is no reason to underestimate the newest edition of the Dinos.

“This year, we’ve had a lot of high-quality players come into the program,” said fifth-year defenceman and newly minted captain Megan Grenon. “I can see that they’ve adjusted to the speed of the game and are really prepared, so I’m confident that it’s going to be a good team. We’re all gelling well, so I think it’ll be a really good season.”

One of the newcomers is first-year blueliner Kira Makuk, who played for the Calgary Jr. A Titans in her minor career.

“I think our girls are very physical and aggressive in games,” Makuk said. “We do a good job staying with teams, even though the outcomes of the games haven’t shown that so far. We have a lot of potential in our physicality and we work really well as a team together.”

Another first-year standout is forward Audrey Buston, who — like Makuk — is a tall, strong athlete with a booming shot. The Calgary Fire alumna netted two goals in a double-overtime win over Mount Royal University on Oct. 20.

“With my physical size, I think that I can be strong in the corners and be a gritty player,” Buston said. “But I’d [also] love to be a playmaker and hopefully get some goals this year.”

Goyette is dedicated to developing raw talent — in practice, she frequently pauses drills at five or 10 second intervals to show her squad what needs improvement.

“Because we have so many new players, we have to make sure that we’re on the same page — and it starts with communication,” she said. “We can’t have somebody just do what they want to do and everybody else adjust to them. That’s why I stop the drills so much. When [players] understand the process, it’s going to be easier for everybody.”

Goyette is certainly not alone in mentoring the young team. One of her assistant coaches is Tim Bothwell, a veteran of the National Hockey League and former assistant coach to  the Canadian Olympic team.

“Tim has been coaching for 27 years. He coached me on the national team at the World Championships and the Olympics,” Goyette said. “He brings a lot of experience, and he’s not afraid to challenge me as a coach. One of Tim’s strengths is video. He loves to watch video [of previous games], and we see the game pretty much the same. That’s how he helps me to get things done.”

Looking ahead, one of the biggest games on the Dinos’ schedule is the Crowchild Classic on Feb. 2. Last year, over 10,000 fans packed the Scotiabank Saddledome to witness the U of C face MRU. A similar turnout should be expected this time around.

The Dinos relish the heated cross-town rivalry, and look forward to playing on such a large stage.

“The Crowchild Classic is a huge event for us,” Grenon said. “It’s really a great opportunity to have a bigger crowd because we’re not usually getting that out. It’s an awesome game — it’s always a good rivalry. The intensity in the games is kicked up another notch and everyone wants to get the win, so we’re really looking forward to it.”

First-year Audrey Buston is looking forward to experiencing that energy on the ice.

“You hear about the Crowchild Classic from years past,” Buston said. “I actually was fortunate enough to go to the Saddledome game last year, so that was really exciting to witness. Being a part of that as a player is going to be pretty surreal.”

The Dinos have a long road ahead of them before the Crowchild Classic, including a stretch of seven consecutive away games from Oct. 29 to Nov. 26. While they have shown both talent and resilience, the key to success will be their ability to remain consistent. In particular, the Dinos need to improve their performance against other teams in the Canada West — they currently have one win, four losses and one overtime loss in conference play.

Makuk is optimistic about the Dinos’ chances this year.

“I think we can be a very successful team. The playoffs definitely would be a run for us. We’re building a legacy and I think that’s something to look forward to,” she said.

Her coach matches that optimism, showing that this positive attitude trickles from the coaching staff down through the ranks.

“When you play in Canada West, everybody is ready to play everybody,” Goyette said. “The best part about being in the West is that anybody can win any night. That’s the fun part. Sometimes, pressure makes you work harder, and hopefully it’s going to motivate these players to keep bringing our program higher and higher.”

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