Juggernaut Concordia women's hockey team looking to end magical season on top

The Stingers are headed to the national final after an undefeated regular season and a third straight provincial crown.

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The Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team plays in a frigid arena where, on most nights, only a few hundred spectators try to remain comfortable on wooden seats while watching what could arguably be called the greatest show on ice in the city.

“Are we the best team in Montreal? That’s a good question,” winger and assistant captain Rosalie Bégin-Cyr said this week, following a 90-minute early-morning practice at Ed Meagher arena. “Yes, I think this year we have a really good team. We have four great lines, our defence is pretty great and our goalies are pretty good. Yes, I think we have a pretty good team in Montreal.”

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Pretty good?

The Stingers last weekend were crowned RSEQ champions for a third consecutive season and are preparing for their third straight trip to the U Sports nationals, March 14-17 at the University of Saskatchewan. Concordia won the title in 2022, but lost in overtime of the final last year, 4-3, to the Mount Royal Cougars at CEPSUM on the Université de Montréal grounds.

“Losing last year has motivated us even more,” said captain Emmy Fecteau, in her final collegiate season. “We’re ready. We want to win this year. We don’t want the same result as last year. We’re going to show everyone who Concordia is. These will be the most important games of the year. I just want to really enjoy every moment I have left with Concordia and have fun.”

The Concordia Stingers women's hockey team is seen practising at Ed Meagher Arena this week.
The Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team is seen practising at Ed Meagher Arena this week. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

The Stingers obliterated their provincial rivals in league play this season, going undefeated in 25 games, becoming the first university women’s team since McGill (20-0) in 2012-13 to accomplish the feat. Concordia is one of only five teams since 2009-10 to record a perfect regular-season record, and only one of three to win 25 contests.

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The Stingers scored a league-leading 107 goals, while allowing only 29, finishing 18 points ahead of Bishop’s. Goaltender Arianne Leblanc had a conference-leading 11 victories along with four shutouts. Five players were named all-stars, while head coach Julie Chu garnered coach-of-the year honours.

Chu, the former U.S. Olympian who’s married to Caroline Ouellette, Concordia’s associate head coach and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, approached the season one game at a time, never focusing on the Stingers’ record as the victories piled up. While the Stingers went undefeated, they weren’t perfect, according to Chu.

“I was surprised by how many times people used the word perfect,” said Chu, 41, a native of Fairfield, Conn. “We didn’t lose a game, but there’s nothing perfect about us. Nothing perfect about the way we practise at times or our games. And we’re not supposed to be. You don’t have to be perfect to be a really great player for us. We want to set a bar of excellence, but if we start to think about perfect, that means we can’t make a mistake. We actually fail every single game. We got really good at resetting from those little failures and not letting them become bigger ones.”

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And the Stingers weren’t perfect in the regional playoffs, rebounding from a 2-1 road loss to the University of Ottawa in the best-of-three semifinals to win the decisive game 13-0. Concordia also lost the first game of the final 3-2 at home to the Carabins, before winning the next two, 4-1 and 10-4, respectively.

“It’s good to lose games, sometimes,” Bégin-Cyr said. “We didn’t experience it during the season. Experiencing it during the playoffs, I think, was the best thing that could happen to us. We came back stronger from the losses.”

Chu, who took over from Les Lawton on an interim basis in 2015 before assuming the role full-time one season later, said this year’s team is one of her deepest, with players on multiple lines who have an offensive touch. The defence had some inexperience, but improved as the season progressed. Chu said the players are committed to a 200-foot game; the scorers not reluctant to backcheck, block shots and kill penalties.

Chu graduated with a psychology degree from Harvard University and, while she doesn’t practise, she puts her degree to good use with her approach to the game and dealing with players. Chu stresses a team-first culture along with the importance of every player having a role, whether they play regularly or sporadically. She knows the life lessons instilled in players now will be used in years to come.

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“Although maybe we didn’t have adversity or failure with a loss during the regular season, we still had it in different ways and had to work through adversity,” she explained. “We can call ourselves resilient because we found different ways to manage the pressures, the ups and downs and challenges of a normal season.

“Our job isn’t just winning. If we only won, our players didn’t develop and left the program not as confident, without as great a voice, I wouldn’t be proud of that.”

A team, of course, only is as good as its final game. The 2007 New England Patriots went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Would anything short of a national title tarnish the Stingers’ undefeated season?

“I don’t think so,” Fecteau said. “It’s an amazing thing that doesn’t happen every day. We’re proud of ourselves. We’re going to be more proud if we win, but we’re first in the province. That’s kind of good.”

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