As the Boston Blades opened the 2015-16 season in defense of their second Clarkson Cup title, the roster saw several new faces. Among the Canadian-born players that are part of this year’s squad, proudly donning the squad’s black and gold colors, Olivia Keefe, one of the league’s youngest players, brings resolve, a willingness to learn and a desire to help her team win.
Having recently played for Carleton University’s Ravens varsity team, Keefe continues the growing legacy of players born and/or raised in Ottawa making their mark in the CWHL. Among them are the likes of Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray, currently competing with the Brampton Thunder, and Chelsey Saunders, a reliable member of Les Canadiennes blueline.
In addition, Keefe adds to another significant hockey legacy with ties to Ottawa. As the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees are both universities in Canada’s capital region which compete in the RSEQ Conference, part of Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey, the conference has seen its share of players extend their careers on CWHL ice.
During any given year, it is not uncommon that players from RSEQ programs such as McGill, Les Carabins de Montreal and Concordia suit up for Les Canadiennes. Last season, Fannie Desforges, a former captain with the Ottawa Gee-Gees was part of the Montreal roster, which was its final season under the moniker Stars. Prior to Keefe, the only other Ravens player to be recently linked to a CWHL club was Veronique Ouimet, gaining an invitation to the Stars training camp in 2012.
With Keefe qualifying for a spot on the Blades’ roster, the Ravens can now boast of an alumnus competing in one of the world’s finest women’s hockey leagues. This season, she is joined by two other Ravens playing in pro hockey. Goaltenders Eri Kiribuchi and Tamber Tisdale are both competing in Europe, with clubs based in Finland and Switzerland.
Considering that Keefe’s time with the Ravens consisted of mounting losses and struggles to qualify for a postseason berth, despite the proud presence of friendship and sportsmanship, she is hoping to leave behind the turbulent waters of losing and sail towards winning days ahead,
“Unfortunately, after playing two seasons for the Ravens, my time in the CIS came to an unexpected end. I was not ready for my hockey career to be over and that is when I decided to look elsewhere.
When the opportunity with the Blades presented itself, I could not help but to think that everything happens for a reason. Playing for the Blades has given me a fresh start and I am extremely grateful for that.
As a young girl I had aspired to play in the CWHL and it is crazy to think that I am now living my childhood dream.”
The chance to realize her childhood dreams brought with it the prospectchance to play alongside a pair of highly accomplished world-class players that also call the Blades home. Among them are fellow Canadians, Clarkson Cup champs and Winter Games gold medalists, Tara Watchorn and Genevieve Lacassse.
As a side note, Keefe also played with Hedda Gjerde, a member of Norway’s national women’s team, during her time with the Ravens. The chance for Keefe to be surrounded by Watchorn and Lacasse has represented an early highlight in her inaugural season with the Blades, as both have proven to be a positive influence,
“Yes, absolutely. As one of the younger players in the league, playing with some of the biggest names in women’s hockey can be a little overwhelming at times but Tara and Gen are always there to give me direction and feedback.
They have shown great leadership on and off the ice. It is an incredible experience getting to play alongside players I respect so much.”
Considering that Wathcorn and Lacasse enjoyed a day with the Clarkson Cup, Keefe was among a group of first-year Blades who bonded with them for a day that was more than just memorable. Joining them at Boston’s iconic Fenway Park, Keefe enjoyed the chance to sit in the Fenway dugout, absorbing a priceless view. To be around the hallowed Cup that day allowed Keefe a chance to appreciate the ultimate prize in CWHL hockey, gaining an understanding of the hard work and sacrifice needed to attain such a pinnacle.
It was the type of appreciation that served as a motivational factor for Keefe, who showed tremendous poise in her CWHL debut. Competing on the road in an October 17 match against the Toronto Furies, Keefe performed valiantly. She would continue her strong play in a road series against a very strong Calgary Inferno squad, even taking faceoffs against hockey legend, and Order of Canada recipient, Hayley Wickenheiser, while displaying the toughness needed to thrive in CWHL play.
Having competed in all of the Blades’ contests during their opening month of the season, Keefe is proving to be a durable and reliable player. Although she is still looking for her first point in CWHL play, the fact that she has bounced back from an abrupt end to her CIS career and proudly proclaim that she is among the remarkable women donning the Blades’ black and gold jersey is a significant milestone in itself.
“Heading into my first CWHL game, I was nervous but also very excited to play in front of such a big crowd. After the first few shifts, I definitely needed to adjust to the speed of the game. It is a lot faster than what I am used to.
The biggest difference I have noticed is that the players are a lot smarter with the puck and move it quicker. Every game is a learning experience and playing at this level is only going to make me a better hockey player.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Joseph Leung Photography