Truly the feel good story of the 2015-16 Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey season, Valerie Lamenta ascended to superstar status while helping the Guelph Gryphons reach unprecedented heights. In her first season as a starting goaltender, her efforts have translated into being recognized as the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Player of the Year, while her rise to prominence was enhanced by the honor of the Brodrick Trophy bestowed upon her.
Becoming only the third goaltender to capture the prestigious Trophy, following in the proud heritage of McGill’s Kim St. Pierre and Laurier’s Liz Knox, who would both go on to play for the Canadian national team and compete in the Clarkson Cup finals, Lamenta’s efforts between the pipes was a significant contributing factor in transforming Guelph into more than just an OUA power. Subsequently, Lamenta helped the program become part of the conversation regarding the CIS national championship picture
“I was definitely stunned and surprised, and a little flustered. After I had gotten over my initial astonishment, I was very happy and honored to receive the award. I realized I had had a good year, but I had had a good year within a great season for my team. Everyone was playing some great hockey. I was happy that all my teammates were there, not only to share the moment but to share the trophy with me.”
Also named a CIS First-Team All-Star, Lamenta was joined by a pair of Guelph players in the postseason recognition. Named to the Second-Team All-Stars were fifth-year blueliner Leigh Shilton and Averi Nooren, who recently completed her fourth season with the program.
Specializing in Mechanical engineering studies, Lamenta led all goaltenders in the nation with an astonishing 0.99 goals against average. In addition, her superlative .957 save percentage and a .889 winning percentage, based on a sparkling 16-2 won-loss mark, were the class of both the conference and the nation.
Along with the solid goaltending of Stephanie Nehring, the Gryphons finished the regular season first overall in OUA competition with a 21-2-1 mark. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that this goaltending tandem helped the program reach the top of the CIS national rankings for the first-time ever.
Although the 2015-16 season marked her first as the starter for Lamenta, she had actually joined the program in the autumn of 2014. In her first season, she would show the flashes of brilliance. Her first career CIS win involved a 2-0 blanking of the Laurentian Voyageurs on November 30, 2014. Despite starting her Gryphons career with a 1-3-0 mark, she would her freshman season with three straight wins, highlighted by a 7-0 road shutout against Waterloo. Having logged a 1.26 goals against average, the potential for superstardom was evident.
During the regular season, Lamenta ranked in the top 10 in nine OUA goaltending categories. She would open her season with a 4-0 blanking of Ryerson, the first of six shutouts for the season. Among her strong goaltending performances, one of the finest may have included back-to-back shutouts on the road, starting on January 30 at Queen’s, followed by a February 6 blanking at York.
The only losses of her breakthrough season occurred on October 17 in a 2-0 loss to Laurier, followed by a visceral 3-2 overtime defeat on November 28 against the defending national champion Western Mustangs on the road. Following the Western loss, Lamenta would reel off seven straight wins. Of note, the Mustangs would factor again later in Lamenta’s season as the two were destined for a playoff date.
During the OUA playoffs, Lamenta would post a league best .833 win percentage, going 5-1. She would show her greatness during a pair of overtime wins, including a February 24 road win at Laurentian, and a heroic March 4 victory that saw the Gryphons eliminate Laurier in a contest that lasted 71:54.
After sweeping Laurier, the Gryphons would defeat Western in the OUA finals by a convincing 5-1 score. Sporting a goals against average of 1.44, Lamenta was stellar during such an exceptional playoff run as the Gryphons captured their first postseason title since 1998.
While both the Gryphons and Western qualified for the CIS Nationals, there was an emotional passing of the torch as two elite goaltenders were representing the OUA at the highest level of play in Canadian university hockey. Kelly Campbell, who established herself as the greatest goaltender in Western history was not only the winning goaltender for Canada in the gold medal final at the 2013 Winter Universiade, she would log consecutive shutouts to win the Golden Path Trophy at the 2015 CIS Nationals.
In her fifth and final season for Western, Campbell gained an opportunity to compete on the national stage for one final time, while the presence of Lamenta signified the future. Although neither team would claim the national title, both goaltenders captured the imaginations of fans in OUA play, home to the finest goaltending in CIS play. While Lamenta and her teammates suffered a heartbreaking loss to the St. Mary’s Huskies in the bronze medal game, it was a positive learning experience that shall serve as motivation,
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. There was this energy and this sense of family within the team and it only grew stronger when we went to Calgary. I would not have wanted any other team by my side. We had an unbelievable coaching and support staff with us who made it easy to focus on playing our best hockey of the year. However what stood out the most to me was how proud I was to wear that jersey and show the whole country what it truly meant to be a Gryphon.”
Although Lamenta’s dream season may have been unforeseen, the bigger surprise involved her road to CIS hockey. Raised in the hockey hotbed of Montreal, it was surprising that she did not gain a roster spot with any of the three Montreal universities, each having won at least one national title in their respective histories.
Lamenta first gained notice at the 2013 Esso Cup, where she was the starting goaltender for LHFDQ Nord (Team Quebec). Opposing fellow goaltender Sabrina Picard of the North Bay Ice Boltz, she registered 24 saves in a gold-medal effort, the first Esso Cup gold for a team from Quebec.
Standing between the pipes for CEGEP Edouard-Montpetit, Lamenta continued to establish herself as a rising star. Named to the CEGEP First Team All-Stars, she was in the same class as star players such as Jessica Cormier, Catherine Daoust and Alexandra Labelle. Despite her accomplishments, Lamenta would have appeared to be a can’t miss prospect for the RSEQ Conference of CIS play.
Instead, she would land at Guelph, which would prove to be the shrewdest act of recruiting in this decade. Playing for head coach Rachel Flanagan, whose background includes serving as one of Canada’s coaches at the Winter Universiade, and a playing stint with the Great Britain national women’s team, Lamenta would reward her loyalty, while providing Southwestern Ontario with some of the finest goaltending in OUA history,
“I will be eternally grateful towards Rachel and the whole Gryphon family for even giving me the light of day. I know they took a chance on me and I will make it my everyday objective to prove to them that they made the right decision. The moment I came for my visit I knew I was entering something much bigger than just myself. I was becoming a member of the community that surrounds Guelph and every single Gryphon athlete (junior, current and alumni).”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Action shot by David Moll, Portrait by Tasha Falconer