Among a growing number of alumnae from the Canadian International Hockey Academy graduating to higher ranks of play, Celine Tessier is looking to make her mark with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks. The native of Chapleau, Ontario, home to some of the largest wildlife preserves in the world, experienced a fascinating comeback this season, reviving her competitive nature and restoring her keen instincts.
Having originally committed to competing at the NCAA level with the Union Dutchwomen, Tessier sat third on the program’s goaltending depth chart. As the roster also consisted of goaltenders Kate Spooner and Amelia Murray, Tessier did not see any action during the 2016-17 campaign. Continuing the emerging trend of many Canadian-born players crossing the border back home to continue their competitive endeavors, Tessier made the decision to return to her home province, emerging as a welcome presence for the Ridgebacks.
After a season of inactivity, the chance to guard the Ridgebacks crease represented a tremendous opportunity for Tessier, reviving her competitive drive while resulting in ample supply of motivation. During the preseason, Tessier gained the start in a unique contest on September 30 against the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder. As a side note, the Ridgebacks’ preseason also involved a tilt with the Toronto Furies, another of the CWHL’s storied clubs.
While she juggled with mixed feelings, including the all-too obligatory (yet understandably) sense of nervousness, such sentiments were indicative of her excitement and keenness to return to competitive play,
“Prior to playing my first game with the Ridgebacks I was feeling very overwhelmed, nervous, yet excited. I could hardly sleep the night before, as I had so many different things on my mind. I had a full day of classes ahead of me and my debut wearing the white and blue later that day. All I could think about was the game.
Once at the rink, I taped my stick and did all my other pre-game rituals in order to get prepared for the game. When the puck finally dropped, there was a sense of relief. I was ready to go out and play and leave the nerves behind.”
With the Thunder featuring a handful of U Sports alums on their roster, several would find their names on the scoresheet, including Devon Skeats, formerly of the Laurier Golden Hawks, along with Melissa Wronzberg, a graduate of the Ryerson Rams. Although the Thunder prevailed in a 6-1 whitewash, Tessier maintained her composure throughout the contest, facing over 50 shots, surviving her baptism of fire.
Tessier’s opening game of the 2017-18 season would fare with a much better result. Hosting the Guelph Gryphons five days prior to Halloween, a program that appeared in the last two U Sports National Championship tournaments, Tessier rose to the occasion for the Ridgebacks, excelling in a situation that could have intimidated a less confident goalie. With a strong display of durability and reliability, Tessier proved essential in a hard-earned, but thrilling 1-0 blanking against one of the most recent dominant teams in the Ontario University Athletics conference.
With a first and third period that consisted of no scoring by either team, Jamie Bulleid’s goal against Okanagan Hockey Academy grad Aurore Beaulieu, at the 4:36 mark of the second, assisted by Nicole Zabel, stood as the game-winner. Recording 22 saves, while nullifying four power plays, Tessier exemplified confidence, indicating to her Ridgebacks teammates that she could be counted upon to give them a constant chance to win.
“Recording a shutout against conference powerhouse Guelph as my first regular season game with the Ridgebacks felt great. All throughout the game, we played well together and the end result was a shutout.”
For the week ending October 29, Tessier was rewarded for her efforts as she was named UOIT’s Female Student Athlete of the Week. Of note, the shutout against Guelph only accounted for part of a rather intriguing narrative. Following it up with a 2-1 overtime win against GTA rival York University, she recorded a cumulative total of 48 saves for the weekend, posting a solid .980 save percentage. Undoubtedly, the victory versus Guelph served as a springboard of confidence, one that resulted in beginning her inaugural campaign in Ridgebacks colors with a 3-0-0 mark.
Starting November on a strong note, Tessier’s poise was crucial, as she logged 31 saves in a tight 3-2 home win on November 4 against the highly competitive Nipissing Lakers. As a side note, the Lakers would hold a sense of coincidence to the early juncture of Tessier’s run with the Ridgebacks. Having competed against Guelph in the 2017 edition of the McCaw Cup Finals, the chance to defeat the Lakers was one that provided the Ridgebacks with an injection of confidence, believing that they could compete with the conference’s elites.
Bookending November with a 5-4 defeat of the Ryerson Rams, highlighted by a season high 39 saves, the match may have served as a glimpse into the future of elite goaltending in the OUA. With Rachel Seeley winning the starting job for the Rams, her role as a starter somewhat mirrored Tessier in the fact that Seeley only appeared in four games during the 2016-17 season.
Their combined efforts this season, one that saw the Rams qualify for the postseason, was one that truly reflected a feel-good story in the conference. Certainly, Tessier’s assiduous efforts have established herself as the backbone of the Ridgeback’s goaltending structure for seasons to come.
In spite of the fact that Tessier was plagued by a winless January, including three visceral losses by a one-goal margin, including a 3-2 loss on the road versus the Nipissing Lakers, the theme of coincidence rose to the surface once again. With Tessier’s hockey roots dating back to her childhood in Northern Ontario, there were very strong emotions in the chance to return there and compete at an elite university level.
Taking into account that the Lakers are based in North Bay, Tessier was surrounded by a jubilant group of friends and family in attendance, who made the six-hour trek from Chapleau (located 190 kilometers northeast of Sault Ste. Marie) to watch their local hero in action. Mirroring the scenario against the Rams, the Lakers featured their own first-year backstop between the pipes, as Danika Ranger, a former member of Canada’s U18 national team, gained the start.
Certainly, Tessier showed strong mettle in the contest, an admirable and valiant display of character that was a key contributor in a reversal of fortune that saw the Ridgebacks overcome a 2-0 deficit. Goals from Meghan Johnston and Alex Frigon tied the score at 2-apiece.
With a shootout required to determine the winner, Chelsea Ball was the only successful shooter for the Ridgebacks. Jade Gauthier and Maria Dominico, the eventual winner of the U Sports Rookie of the Year Award, buried the biscuit in the basket in a pulse-pounding victory that could have certainly ended in the Ridgebacks’ favor. Returning to a heroes’ welcome, Tessier definitely captured the hearts and minds of the fans in attendance, a moment that defined her season, spurring her to continue and fulfill her potential,
“My favourite moment this season would have to be our home game against Nipissing. Coming from Northern Ontario, getting the start meant a lot to me.
After the first period, we were down 2-0. During the first intermission, the team came together and we went back out there and gave it our all.
We caught up in the third and came out on top in overtime. I was so proud of my teammates for not giving up when we were down, and it paid off!”
Statistically, Tessier would amass a very respectable season. With 12 games started, which ranked 12th in the conference, she posted a solid 2.19 Goals Against Average and a decent .928 save percentage.
Worth noting, the theme of coincidence would certainly prove to be impactful in the final weekend of season. Tessier’s last game on home ice held many similarities to her first game on home ice, recording a shutout in both.
Blanking Laurier in a brilliant 4-0 performance, the highlight of the game for Tessier involved frustrating the Golden Hawks on their four power play opportunities. Freshman Marissa Murphy, a product of the Kingston Jr. Ice Wolves, scored the eventual game-winner in the first. Afterwards, an explosive second period accentuated the sense of momentum developing on home ice. Program stalwart Kassidy Nabouris scored twice, and Ball, recipient of the University’s James-Baun Cup for Commitment and Dedication, potted the game’s final goal.
Said goal held strong connotations as it was one where the Ridgebacks’ leaders, Nabouris and fifth-year team captain, Mikaeli Cavell, who would graduate with 60 career points, earned the assists. Fittingly, the collaborative efforts among this terrific triumvirate, signifying the final goal scored at home with Tessier between the pipes during 2017-18, holds the potential to represent a passing of the torch, demonstrating what Tessier can aspire to, holding the promise of becoming a luminary in Ridgebacks athletics lore.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from twitter: https://twitter.com/tessiernatalie