As the Guelph Gryphons have risen to the peak of prominence in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference, such a renaissance has resulted in the emergence of numerous players earning superstar status. Beginning in the aftermath of the 2015-16 season, when the privilege of the revered Brodrick Trophy was bestowed upon goaltending prodigy Valérie Lamenta, the accolades continue to accumulate for the Gryphons’ roster.
Among such a talented group of exceptional competitors includes blueliner Katherine Bailey. Donning the number 23, the presence of the Lucan, Ontario-raised competitor has resulted in becoming an anchor on the defensive unit, simultaneously emerging as one of the Gryphons’ key leaders.
Recording 14 points during the 2016-17 regular season, one of 10 Gryphons to reach double digits in points, the results were career highs in points, assists, which placed in the top 20 in the OUA. Among her statistics, the most unique may have been the fact that each of her four goals were scored on the power play, which ranks sixth in the OUA, respectively. Reaching the mark of 30 career points in the Gryphons colors, she will have another milestone to reach for heading into next season, as she is only two assists away from 25 in a career.
Appearing in 21 regular season games, Bailey showed highly disciplined play with only eight penalty minutes. Whenever Bailey logged at least one point, the Gryphons sported a nifty 10-1 regular season mark. Of note, the loss in question took place in the first game of the season, a visceral 3-2 loss to the Western Mustangs, a rematch of the 2016 McCaw Cup.
Between October 29 and November 5, Bailey assembled a four-game scoring streak, recording one point in each contest. Opening said streak with goals in road wins against Ryerson and Queen’s, Bailey would proceed with assists in home games against York and a rematch with Queen’s, as Guelph outscored their opponents by a cumulative score of 16-6.
A pair of multi-point performances took place against archrival Western on November 12, a 3-2 win, while a January 5 affair against Waterloo, signified the first game (and win) of 2017 for the Gryphons, prevailing in a 4-1 final. Recording a pair of assists in each game, Bailey would finish the month of January with a goal and three assists, while anticipating the opportunity to don the Maple Leaf as a member of Canada’s women’s hockey entry at the FISU Winter Universiade.
Contested in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Bailey was part of a delegation of 122 Canadian athletes. With the hockey roster serving as a collection of athletes throughout all four major ice hockey conference in U Sports play donning the iconic Canadian jersey, there was a significant Gryphons presence.
Sharing in the experience with several Gryphons teammates, including Lamenta and Kelly Gribbons (among a total of seven players from the OUA selected for the roster), it was testament to its impact as a university power. Simultaneously, the presence of such familiar faces for Bailey only enhanced the privilege of representing Canada in another international ice hockey event quickly gaining prominence.
Statistically, Bailey would record at least one point in the three round robin games. In a 14-0 whitewash of Great Britain, which saw Canada pepper the British crease with an astounding 77 shots, Bailey would score the opening goal of the game. A rout against Kazakhstan, which saw 72 shots on goal, resulted in another solid offensive performance by Bailey, joining fellow blueliners Katelyn Gosling, who served as team captain, plus Brianna Iazzolino, with three point efforts.
Contributing to a proud chapter in sporting Canadiana, as the national contingent experienced their fifth consecutive podium finish at the Winter Universiade, the opportunity to compete internationally in this event served as a treasured milestone for Bailey. Accentuated by the fact that it was Canada’s fifth consecutive appearance in the gold medal game, such a revered pinnacle brought with it a sense of achievement.
Facing off against Russia in the battle for gold, the second consecutive time, such an epic struggle added a new dimension to the fabled Canada vs. Russia hockey rivalry. Despite Canada emerging with the silver medal, the outcome itself was only part of the tale. The chance to compete among the world’s finest in such a prestigious event allowed Bailey the opportunity to appreciate the essence of sport. Growing as a leader, a teammate and a competitor, this represented the greater victory.
Obtaining the experience of playing alongside distinguished skaters from other conferences, calling them teammates for the first time, resulting in new friendships made and an opportunity to experience elite athletic competition on a global scale, it was the culmination of a dream come true, made real over time through sweat and sacrifice. Undoubtedly, the memories made shall last long after her skates are hung for the final time.
“Wearing the Canadian jersey is something that I have dreamed about for many years and to have that dream fulfilled cannot be explained with words. I was honoured to represent my country on an international stage and to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented women.
To compete with and against some of the best female hockey players in the world was a huge thrill and it was just one of those moments where I knew I had to live for every second and soak it all in.”
Upon her return to Canada, Bailey, along with Gribbons and Lamenta, resumed their stellar style of play, as the Gryphons won three of their last four regular season games, helping propel them to the regular season conference crown. During this stretch, Bailey would score a goal in a 7-2 win against the Windsor Lancers on February 18.
In six OUA postseason games, which saw the Gryphons vanquish the likes of Windsor, Waterloo and Nipissing, Bailey logged four points, highlighted by a pair of power play goals, which paced all competitors. Her postseason would start on a strong note, registering a multi-point performance in a first-round match against the Windsor Lancers on February 22. With a power play goal and an assist, Bailey emerged as a key factor as fellow All-Canadian Lamenta made 27 saves, as the Gryphons prevailed by a 3-0 tally.
The opening match of the second round would see Bailey record an assist in a 3-1 final against Waterloo, gaining the series lead. In spite of losing the second game to Waterloo, which saw Bailey score Guelph’s only goal of the game, the third and deciding game resulted in a convincing 4-1 victory, paving the way towards a return to the McCaw Cup.
With Queen’s automatically qualified for Nationals as the host team, the 2017 eidtion of the OUA playoffs brought with it much higher stakes, perhaps eclipsed only by the level of motivation among the Gryphons roster, including Bailey. Determined to prove that the 2016 conference crown was not a mirage, the program was eager to display their dominant talents, rising to the championship peak for the second straight year.
Hosting the Nipissing Lakers, who qualified for their first-ever McCaw Cup Final in program history, the Lakers jumped out to a 1-0 lead after one period of play. Regrouping afterwards, the Gryphons responded with six unanswered goals over the next two periods, as Lamenta remained brilliant between the pipes, garnering McCaw Cup Most Valuable Player honors.
Although Bailey went scoreless in the game, there was a very special consolation. Participating in the ceremonial faceoff, she was joined by former teammates Jessica Pinkerton and Leigh Shilton (captains of 2015-16). Their presence was enhanced by another distinguished group of competitors that constituted a significant chapter in Guelph hockey lore.
As the first OUA women’s ice hockey championship in Gryphons program history took place in 1966-67, the first of four straight, the 50th anniversary of this landmark title was celebrated in unique fashion. Five members of that their championship roster, Katherine La Hay, Mary McEwen, Kaye Hogg, Ingrid Laidlaw, Judy Nave, were also prevalent at centre ice.
Such a presence was significant in multiple ways. From the outset, the late Dr. Judy McCaw, whom the McCaw Cup is named in her honor, was also a member of that first Guelph championship team in 1966-67. It was serendipitous to see the Gryphons win the OUA title on home ice during the 50th anniversary celebration, bridging two generations
Considering that popular culture, including sports, are ephemeral, fading with time, the heroics of women’s ice hockey at the Canadian university level represents a giant hole in history. The opportunity for the members of the Gryphons championship roster of 1967 to be present was a unique homage,
“To win the McCaw Cup back to back was a surreal feeling and a huge feat in my mind. Looking at our team we had ten rookies, fourteen players who were second or third year, and one fourth year player. With how young we were, people assumed that we would be going through a rebuilding year and would struggle more because of our age. However, as a team we decided we wanted to rebuild to repeat, and we did just that.”
With the Gryphons competing at the 2017 Nationals in Napanee, Ontario, it was a coming-out party for Bailey, heralding her arrival to the most celebrated talent that the game has to offer. As opening night at Nationals brought with it the annual U SPORTS women’s ice hockey awards ceremony, it also saw the All-Canadian teams named.
Heading into Nationals, Bailey had already earned some significant recognition. Along with Lamenta, they were part of the First Team OUA All-Stars, while teammates Kaitlin Lowy and Kelly Gribbons gained Second Team All-Stars. Freshman forward Sydney Davidson garnered OUA All-Rookie honors while head coach Rachel Flanagan added to her growing legacy with recognition as the OUA Coach of the Year.
Such esteemed recognition continued for Bailey as it was announced at the awards ceremony that she would joinLamenta among the First-Team All-Canadians. For Bailey, this represented the first All-Canadian honor in her career, whose efforts were significant in establishing the Gryphons as the top defensive unit in the conference. Considering that Bailey and Lamenta were the only OUA players to achieve this prestige, it only added to the impact of such a proud milestone.
“When they announced my name during the banquet my initial reaction was of complete shock and surprise! To be recognized as one of the top defenseman in the country was such an honour and it made me realize how far I had come as a player. However, I would not be where I am today without my teammates so to share that honour with one of my fellow Gryphons was amazing and it is definitely a reflection of how strong we are as a whole.”
Bailey worked tirelessly to live up to her All-Canadian status in the opening round at Nationals. With the Gryphons facing a 3-1 deficit against the Concordia Stingers after two periods of play, Bailey would score on Katherine Purchase at the 9:15 mark of the third, helping turn the tide in their favor. Exactly four minutes later, Stephanie Gava would tie the game, eventually forcing overtime. Despite a visceral 4-3 shootout loss, the character shown by Bailey exemplified how the Gryphons employed a never-say-die attitude, refusing to give up.
In spite of a podium finish eluding the ambitious Gryphons at the 2017 edition of the Nationals, there were many positives that promise for better days. With a team that was considering in rebuilding mode, the contributions of players like Bailey helped to contribute towards a positive team culture, allowing an opportunity to excel. Finishing atop the conference standings by seasons’ end, such excellence continued into the postseason. Defeating an ambitious Nipissing Lakers squad in the conference finals, the milestone of a second consecutive McCaw Cup served as a beacon, solidifying the program’s status as one of the nation’s finest.
Nationals is always an exciting time and the competition is amazing, but it was tough to lose in two shootouts. Next year, we are returning a lot of players, so hopefully we can build off of our previous year and have a better end result. I could not have been more proud of the team. Regardless of our outcomes this past year, I could not be more proud of my teammates and what we accomplished.”
The tremendous maturity and sincere appreciation of her teammates embodies the qualities that make Bailey an All-Canadian off the ice. Among the star players in an assembly of such talent brought with it the unique feat of both a regular season and postseason conference title, Bailey approaches the season to come with tremendous optimism, confident in her beliefs that such a standard of excellence can be maintained.
In a season that has seen a remarkable number of milestones, elevating Bailey into superstar status, recognized as a nationally prominent competitor, such an epic journey brought with it a seemingly endless list of treasured outcomes. While such reflections allows for an opportunity to relive the glories of 2016-17, it is the McCaw Cup win that may have embodied what the season meant to Bailey, one where friends and family intersected in a unique event, emphasizing why the game is one that means so much to her,
“There have been a lot of favourite moments this year, but the one that stands out would have to be winning the McCaw Cup at home, surrounded by my family and friends. The feeling of winning such an important game and then sharing that with my family is something that I will never be able to describe.
Hockey has been a huge part of my life and my family embraced my passion for hockey and has been the best support system I could have ever asked for. Having an amazing family like them and then an amazing team created a really awesome atmosphere, and I will never forget that.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Twitter