The opportunity to compete in the U Sports national women’s ice hockey championships represented a tremendous milestone for any competitor. To be the captain of the host team brings with it a remarkable prestige, one that is destined to stand as a hallmark for Jessica Wakefield of the Queen’s Golden Gaels.
Having just completed her fourth season in the hockey hotbed of Kingston, Ontario, Wakefield’s enthusiasm for the game has added to the sense of momentum for the program and the university. Throughout the regular season, Wakefield, an environmental science major raised in Lucan, Ontario, showed highly disciplined play with only four penalty minutes, while appearing in all 24 games, demonstrating a remarkable durability. Bringing a heightened sense of responsibility and tremendous work ethic and dedication, adding an esteemed level of status to her captaincy, as the Golden Gaels faced off against the nation’s finest,
“Being a leader on this team has been an incredible experience for the entire year, but leading into Nationals it took on a larger meaning for me as I wanted to do all that I could to not only ensure that I was bringing my absolute best, but that I was leading and inspiring this team to believe that we deserved to be in the tournament and that we could compete with the other teams.”
After a difficult 4-6 start, which included back-to-back losses at home on November 11-12, Wakefield refused to throw her arms into the air and conceded the season. Instead, she allowed herself to be an anchor for the team, a go-to player who helped symbolize the meaning of trust.
Such an approach translated into the beginning of an eight-game winning streak, helping to set an encouraging tone for the remainder of the season. An exceptional character, proving their worth as hosts for the Nationals was also displayed, winning six games by just a margin of one goal.
During such a victorious stretch, Wakefield assembled her own streak, registering at least one point in six straight matches, spanning from November 19 to January 27. Just as impressive was the fact that she did not serve one penalty minute in this stretch. Undoubtedly, her leadership was essential in helping to bring about a key turning point to the season.
Of note, Wakefield’s greatest performance in the six-game scoring streak involved a sparkling two-goal performance against the Laurentian Voyageurs. With the Golden Gaels facing a one-goal deficit in the third period, she would come through with her greatest performance of the season. Capitalizing on a penalty shot opportunity, forcing overtime, her brilliance was accentuated with the game-winning tally in the shootout. For her efforts, Wakefield was named the Gabriel Pizza Queen's University Athletes of the Week for the period ending January 29, 2017. It was the type of performance that proved to be Wakefield’s finest hour.
“In the weeks leading up to the tournament however, I found that the girls on this team already believed so much in their own abilities and the team's ability to play at such an elite level and this gave me a strong sense of pride in the girls and their constant display of our four team values (hustle, heart, unity and passion). It was so incredible to lead this team into Nationals and show them the undying support that I have from them and to feel the undying support that they have for me.
Our team really came together over those three games and during those fast paced shifts where we were leaving everything on the ice I was just happy to be playing alongside my family for moments that we will remember for the rest of our life.”
Although the OUA postseason did not bring with it a deep run, suffering a first round exit in a hard fought series with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, there was a display of tenacity and depth on all the scoring lines, a true team effort that helped to foster a positive culture built on respect and commitment. As Wakefield recounts, the team refused to be complacent, working tirelessly to earn their standing as one of the team’s gaining the privilege to compete at Nationals. A key motto would be utilized, emerging as a means of motivation while helping to establish a mood defined by sheer determination.
“Knowing that we were hosting Nationals was always a thought in the back of our minds, but it never affected our preparation and commitment to reaching our potential over the year. Our team motto for the year was "we'll take the stairs" and we lived by that in every practice, workout and game as we knew that we wanted to earn our way to Nationals.
Although we came up short in playoffs, losing a tough game three in double overtime to the Varsity Blues, our take the stairs attitude did not end - we had three weeks to prepare and we took everything we could out of those three weeks.
Outside of the actual hockey and physical preparation, all the behind the scenes work completed day in and day out by the Queen's Athletics staff is definitely something to be celebrated. All the promotional videos, interviews and pictures around campus kept the excitement levels high throughout the entire year and added that extra motivation to train hard and desire success for everyone that has put in the extra hours to get us where we are today.”
With Nationals serving as a proud touchstone in Golden Gaels athletics history, there was a remarkable amount of anticipation for Wakefield and her teammates. Attributed to the knowledge, spanning an entire year, that the Golden Gaels were the host team, the arrival of the event brought with it a combination of excitement and relief. With the build-up for over a season, there was definitely a sense of relief to finally play
“Stepping onto the ice for the first game is something I will always remember, after more than a year of waiting for this game to come and finally seeing all the hard work and preparation pay off it was important to take a step back and enjoy the moment and really take in all the excitement and passion and raw talent present on that rink.”
With the opening face-off, it was the culmination of a year of anticipation, preparation and motivation. In her capacity as team captain, Wakefield emerged proudly as one of the team’s faces, while propelling her into a role as an emissary for Queen’s Golden Gaels athletics, a hallowed touchstone in her career.
No stranger to big game situations, Wakefield boasts a PWHL championship, which she captured in 2012 as a member of the Bluewater Hawks. Also recognized with a 2013 SPECTRA Award, given to a London secondary athlete that exemplifies the values of Sportsmanship, Participation, Excellence, Character, Teamwork, Respect and Achievement, the Nationals was an opportunity for Wakefield to rise to the occasion, showcasing what makes her one of the best captains in the OUA conference.
Taking on the top-ranked University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds, it was a hotly contested match which enhanced what it meant to wear the Golden Gaels colors, representing an indomitable spirit and dogged resolve. Holding the number one seeded Thunderbirds to over 18 minutes of scoreless play to start the game, a second period goal by Kaylie Dennis would tie the game at 1-each. The score would remain tied until the 17:17 mark of the third period, when Nicole Saxvik scored the game-winning tally for UBC.
In spite of the loss, the Golden Gaels refused to give up, providing the hometown fans with a stirring performance victory as Stephanie Pascal would record 35 saves in a valiant effort. Proving that any team is capable of victory at Nationals, the Golden Gaels performance was one which nearly humbled the Thunderbirds, as the host team gained admiration from fans and players alike.
A pair of consolation games only extended the feeling of celebration, highlighted by a 2-0 shutout victory against the St. Francis Xavier X-Women, cultivating a sense of pride and friendship, values which are the foundation of the Golden Gaels, promising to be a touchstone for the team in future seasons. The experience at Nationals provided Wakefield with more than a series of unforgettable memories. Recounting how her teammates refused to give up against UBC, it stood out as her favorite moment, while providing her with an even stronger respect for her teammates and the Golden Gaels program,
“The National tournament was full of great memories and there are more than a few moments that stand out the most and still can bring on a few tears. My favourite one was at the end of the first game, UBC took the lead with less than three minutes left in the game and I when I looked at my teammates there was nothing but hunger in their eyes and I knew right then that these girls would do absolutely everything in their ability to get that goal back.
We battled harder than we ever have until that final buzzer. Even though it was not the moment we had all worked so hard for, it was still our moment and it will inspire us for all that we do in life.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Ian McAlpine, Queen’s Golden Gaels athletics