Powerhouse Martlets prevail once again

by Tracey Lindeman

It was never going to be easy. When the members of the McGill Martlets hockey team took to the ice last month for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship game, they knew they would have to move mountains to defeat their archrivals, the Montréal Carabins. The last time the two teams had met, after all, the Carabins handed the Martlets a stinging defeat to win the Quebec title. Also, the Carabins were the defending Canadian champs.

Thirty-seven seconds into a nail-biting second overtime period, McGill’s Brittney Fouracres scored the winning goal on a powerplay, earning the team its fourth Canadian championship in the past seven years. Gabrielle Davidson scored twice for the Martlets and was named the tournament MVP after notching six goals and nine points in three games.

“It was definitely exciting,” says Martlets team captain Darragh Hamilton, BA’13. “I think it was the ninth time that we had met that team this year.”

Alternate captain Katia Clément-Heydra offers a decidedly matter-of-fact explanation for why the Martlets prevailed.

“We kept doing what we had to. We stuck to the plan.”

That plan is fairly straightforward, says Clément-Heydra. Skate hard, pressure opposing goalies with pucks on the net, keep perfecting zone entries. It’s all about being “structured” players.

Longtime Martlets head coach Peter Smith, BEd’79, MA’86, says his players demonstrated a lot of maturity in their approach in the CIS championship game, even when they were down 3-1.

“There was never any panic. They retained their composure,” he says. And in the end, it was one of the most memorable games of Smith’s coaching career.

“I feel pretty darned good about it,” he says. “It was very satisfying. It was a good year.”

The hard-fought double-overtime win was apt for a season marked by some slumps and bumps in the road.

“This year was kind of a Cinderella story. We came from behind and won it all,” Clément-Heydra says.

Martlets magic was widespread this winter. Three veterans of the McGill hockey program – goalie Charline Labonté, BEd’12, rearguard Catherine Ward, BCom’09, and forward Mélodie Daoust – were members of the Canadian Olympic hockey team that won a gold medal in Sochi. Another Martlets alumna, Montreal Stars forward Ann-Sophie Bettez, BCom’11, GradCertPRMgmt’12, was named the most valuable player in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League this season.

Bettez marvels at the accomplishments of her old team. "[The Martlets] program has grown so much in the last 10 years," she says. "Looking back, McGill was not [always] the powerhouse that they became."

“The reason we have success is the quality of people we have involved in the program,” Smith says. “I think that excellence attracts excellence, both academically and athletically.” Very close attention is paid, Smith says, to everything from the recruitment process, to player and skills development, to ensuring that team members are also performing well academically.

For their part, the players direct credit to the coaching staff. “Our coaching staff is so incredible. They invest so much time,” Clément-Heydra says.

The coaches expect that same level of commitment from their players. During the season, Hamilton, Clément-Heydra and their teammates practiced every Tuesday through Friday in the evenings, playing just as hard in drills and in practice games as they would against opponents.

“You have to be very good at time management, especially because we’re all full-time students,” says Hamilton.

Smith concurs. “I don’t think people realize the demands on these young women.”

One measure of the loyalty that Martlets players feel toward the team is the fact that many are reluctant to say goodbye once they’ve completed their first degrees. Hamilton extended her stay with the team by doing a one-year graduate certificate program in leadership after completing her undergraduate degree in mathematics. Similarly, Clément-Heydra plans to do a one-year program after she graduates this spring with her degree in industrial relations. Both women wanted to keep playing with the Martlets as long as possible.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing hockey,” says Clément-Heydra, who was named McGill's female athlete of the year after scoring 40 points in 20 regular season games. “I love it too much.”