By David Song, November 21 2019—
In 2018–2019, the Dinos women’s hockey team experienced an abysmal season, with an overall record of 5–26–3. Back-to-back wins against the archrival Mount Royal Cougar Cougars in January were a lone bright spot in a season that saw the team drop 20 games to conference opponents. The road was especially tough on the Dinos, who were only able to win a single away game over the course of the year.
Fast forward to the present, and the ship has been righted. The Dinos’ record sits at 10–6–0, including four wins away from home ice. They are currently riding a four-game win streak following a sweep of the Cougars last weekend and another sweep of the University of Alberta Pandas at the beginning of November. This recent success has propelled the Dinos into second place in the conference, a mere two points behind the Canada West-leading University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Fourth-year forward Sara Craven was candid about the team’s improvement between seasons. “We got really sick of losing, so I think that was the main driving factor. We’ve made little adjustments, we’ve changed our forecheck, we’re way more aggressive now and my line’s been finding a lot of success. If you’re scoring goals, it’s pretty hard to lose.”
An overhauled offence has paid dividends for the resurgent Dinos, who lost 13 games by a single goal last year. This year, they are scoring at over a goal-per-game pace and the top line of Craven, Delaney Frey and Elizabeth Lang has emerged as a key unit. Lang, a sophomore forward, leads the team in scoring with eight points, while the fourth-year Craven is close behind with six points. The Dinos have depth as well — Frey has notched four points of her own, and six other players have at least three points each.
“Our lines have started to build more chemistry,” noted fifth-year captain Paige Michalenko, who has scored four points from her defence position so far. “Being able to get that first goal in the game really lets us start to roll. When some girls step up, it allows everyone to depend on each other.”
Last week’s home-and-away series with MRU showcased the Dinos’ capabilities on both sides of the ice. Michalenko opened the scoring at home on Thursday night, sneaking in from the point to wrist one past Kaitlyn Ross in the first period. Holly Reuther responded to an Anna Purschke goal in the second period with a high-glove snipe of her own, and Frey capped a 2–on–1 rush in the third with a beautiful backhand deke to seal a 3–1 victory at Father David Bauer Arena.
The following Friday, on Cougar ice, it was defence and goaltending that won the day. Michalenko again opened the scoring, but she and the Dinos blueliners had to withstand a heavy forecheck throughout the game. Despite outshooting Calgary 28–15, the Cougars were unable to solve Kelsey Roberts, who posted her second shutout of the year to lead the Dinos to a 1–0 win. Roberts, who owns a sparkling 1.37 GAA and .947 save percentage, has been just as integral to Calgary’s success as the revamped offensive system.
“At the end of the day, we have Kelsey back there as our brick wall,” Craven spoke of the fourth-year netminder. “This is a goaltender’s league through and through, and because Kelsey can stand on her head night in, night out for us, that’s huge.”
In spite of the Dinos’ vastly improved record, there is still room to get better. Head coach Danielle Goyette identified her team’s occasional tendency to relax during a game, rather than matching their opponents’ competition level on a consistent basis. She had some honest words about the Dinos’ performance in the MRU series.
“We can’t complain when we win a game, but I think we have to learn to play sixty minutes. [Right now], we go up and down, we have some loss of energy at some point in the game. [The players] are working hard, but now they have to have the confidence to do the right thing at the right time,” Goyette says.
The Dinos will finish 2019 with consecutive two-game sets against the Lethbridge Pronghorns and Regina Cougars before opening the new year against the Thunderbirds. Finding a greater level of consistency will be vital as Calgary aims to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, back when Russian national team standout Iya Gavrilova was on the roster. Goyette believes that her players have put in the work and expects more positive results to come.
“A lot of players told me, ‘You know what, we’re too tired to lose,” she said. “We [as coaches] change the system, we change the forecheck, but the players can make the biggest difference and they proved it by training harder this summer. And with that confidence, now we can push them to be better. Even if we win games, they know that we can play better.”