McGill women's hockey team go for 100th consecutive win in Quebec conference
MONTREAL - As the years went by and the wins kept coming, eventually the McGill Martlets women's hockey team reached the brink of a remarkable record: 100 consecutive victories in Quebec conference play.
The No. 1 ranked Martlets can get to 100 on Friday night with a victory over the University of Montreal Carabins, a fat round number to underline their status as one of Canada's powerhouse teams.
''I'm not much of a streak guy and we never talk about it,'' coach Peter Smith said this week. ''I appreciate the attention the girls get.
''If it takes winning 100 games to get attention then that's a good thing. But if we win our 100th, we'll be looking to play well in our 101st. We play hard and want to do well every game.''
The McGill team that was a doormat a decade ago has become one of the top women's teams in Canadian Inter-university Sport, regularly battling Alberta and Laurier for national supremacy. In their own conference, they have won every game since a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Gee Gees on Feb. 7, 2007.
They are 18-0 against conference opponents this season with two games left in the regular season and 6-0 against top teams from the rest of Canada. Their overall record of 26-5-2 includes games against NCAA opponents and a boys midget team.
The Martlets won national championships in 2008 and 2009, but lost in the final to Alberta last year when their starting goaltender Charline Labonte took a year off to help Canada win women's hockey gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Smith was also with the Olympic squad as an assistant to head coach Melody Davidson, with his top assistant Amey Doyle taking over.
''Our focus is to get back on top because the team lost last year and that was a tough one,'' said Labonte, who set a CIS women's record this season with her 37th career shutout. ''The way to do that is to work hard on the all the details and don't skip a step.
''We have young kids that need to learn what it takes to win a championship, so that's what we've been building on, not thinking about 99 games in a row or the records or anything like that.''
A key to McGill's success has been recruiting, which should be tougher than average at a university with high academic standards, but has not stopped the influx of top players from across the country to a university with 134 years of hockey history.
The Martlets have 10 players from Quebec, but also eight from Ontario, two from Calgary and one, goaltender Taylor Salisbury, from Surrey, B.C., and another, defenceman Michelle Daigneault, from Hay River, N.W.T.
Melodie Daoust, a member of the national development team from Valleyfield, Que., has signed a letter of intent to play for McGill next season.
Labonte said it is the university as much as the hockey team that attracts players.
''If you're a smart kid and you want to come to McGill and you're a good hockey player, it's a good mix,'' she said. ''For me it was school first, but with the success the team's had the last few years, the hockey's really attractive too.
''Everyone knows that in women's hockey, you're not going to make a living off it. You need something to back you up. You can go to 10 Olympics, but you're not going to make millions. So for a girl like (Daoust), she's a good player, she wants to play in the Olympics and she wants to have a career after. Like all of us, I think that's what attracted her.''
She gives some of the credit to the star who preceded her in the McGill net, national team veteran Kim St.Pierre.
''I remember her being here when the team wasn't as successful as now and she got 50 or 60 shots a game,'' said Labonte. ''She was the key player for the team and as years went by, players were attracted.
''You want to play with her. She's the best. I think that's how it started.''
It doesn't hurt that in 2007 David and Sheryl Kerr, a former coach and player respectively with the women's team, made a $1 million donation that made Smith's job an endowed position and allowed him to be a full-time coach.
This year, Smith has had even more time for the Martlets because Hockey Canada named a new coaching staff led by Ryan Walter to lead the women's national team.
At the Olympics, Labonte and St-Pierre couldn't resist the urge to introduce themselves to the Canadian men's team coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, who played hockey for McGill in the 1980s. Other alumni are Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher and Los Angeles Kings assistant coach Jamie Kompon.
''It's nice to see someone who coaches in the NHL and know he's been through kind of the same things you have _ the same building, the same classes, the same teachers sometimes,'' added Labonte. ''It's nice to see there's hope for everyone else because they've been so successful.''
The McGill men's team have not done a lot in recent decades, but this season they are ranked second in the country and are stealing some thunder from the women's squad. They also got a $1 million endowment this year from former player Stephen T. Molson that allowed them to add a full-time assistant coach.