Long revered as one of the premier programs for ice hockey in U Sports play, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues remained among the nation’s finest in 2021-22. With a number one ranking in the polls, a key factor in such a successful season involved the sterling play of blueliner Gabrielle De Serres.
Enjoying an undefeated mark of 10-0-0 when she logged at least one point during 21-22, the season culminated with a significant haul of hockey hardware. Enjoying multiple OUA honors, De Serres also made an impression nationally. A finalist for the Brodrick Trophy, in recognition of the Most Outstanding Player in U Sports women’s ice hockey, De Serres and teammate, goaltender Erica Fryer, landed a place on the All-Canadian team.
Among the accolades and achievements, perhaps the proudest facet of De Serres dazzling career in the Varsity Blues colours involved calling her sister Mathilde a teammate from 2017-20. Having also played together with the RSEQ’s Dawson Blues, Mathilde, a Mechanical Engineering major, enjoyed over 75 appearances with the program.
Having appeared in the 2019 McCaw Cup Finals, the milestone of appearing at the U Sports Nationals, opposing teams such as Alberta, St. Thomas and Manitoba, served as prologue for another cherished achievement. As the 2019-20 campaign marked their last as teammates, Gabrielle earning Second Team OUA All-Star honors, the opportunity to win the McCaw Cup together holds great prominence in their careers.
Defeating their cross-town rivals, the York Lions, in a 3-1 final, the magical postseason also saw Mathilde log at least one point in every semifinal match versus another Toronto-based rival, the Ryerson Rams. Qualifying for Nationals once again, a March 12, 2020 affair versus Mount Royal University Cougars signified their final game as teammates.
Scoreless through the first two periods of play, there was an element of serendipity in the fact that both sisters were involved in the Varsity Blues first goal of the game. Capitalizing on a power play opportunity, Mathilde found the back of the net at 10:25, scoring on Kaitlyn Ross, as Gabrielle and Christine Chao logged the assists.
Despite the Cougars emerging triumphant in overtime, the opportunity to have one more game together took on a more profound meaning as the remainder of Nationals underwent cancellation over pandemic concerns. Undoubtedly, the majesty of the McCaw Cup remains more than a seminal moment, but a source of residual warmth,
“Winning the McCaw Cup was already a surreal moment. Having the opportunity to do it with my sister, with my parents in the crowd, made it unforgettable. It was the best day of my career at UofT and I get to share that memory with her forever. Also, it closed the chapter of us playing together on the highest note possible as it would probably be the last season we got to play on the same team.”
As the 2021-22 season signified a return to the rink throughout all four conferences of U Sports women’s ice hockey, the sense of anticipation took on luster with the prospect of the upcoming Winter Universiade. Scheduled for December 2021 in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Canadian women’s ice hockey team has enjoyed a podium finish in every tournament the sport was contested.
Gaining the call to play for Canada certainly signifies a major milestone for any player. Named to the Canadian contingent scheduled to compete in Lucerne, the honour solidified De Serres’ standing among the elites of U Sports play. Excited at the prospect of fulfilling a long-time dream, the sadness of the event’s cancellation could not dampen the sense of achievement, validating an exceptional run of brilliance in Varsity Blues colours.
“It was a personal goal of mine to make the team as a way to achieve my childhood dream of playing on Team Canada and wearing the jersey. Unfortunately, it did not occur. Yet, making the team at least offered some contentment, as I had been striving towards it for a couple of years.”
One consolation during December occurred for the talented De Serres. Of note, a key match versus a cross-town rival provided the setting for her favorite moment. Closing the first half of said season, a December 3, 2021 home tilt versus the Ryerson (recently rebranded Toronto Metropolitan) Rams provided a combination of character, intensity and dramatics. Not only did it speak to the quality of hockey on display, it added another layer to one of the finest rivalries in recent OUA competition.
Supplying De Serres with her favorite moment of 2021-22, she emerged as one of the heroines for a jubilant Varsity Blues squad. Capitalizing on a power play opportunity in the first period, De Serres and Katy McKenna logged the assists on a goal by former Cambridge Rivulettes star Taylor Trussler, providing the Varsity Blues with a 1-0 advantage.
Entering the third period with a two-goal lead, as Celine Frappier recorded the only goal of the second, the tide turned in the Rams favour. Star forward Brooklyn Gemmill contributed with a pair of points, forcing an overtime frame.
Refusing to let the Rams complete the comeback with a win, the playmaking skills of De Serres proved to be crucial. Along with fourth year forward Louie Bieman, both credited with the assists on the game winning goal. Coincidenally, Trussler found the back of the net versus Rams goalie Rachel Seeley. Scoring the first and final goals of the game, her efforts were the bookend in a highly emotional 3-2 win. Worth noting, De Serres finished the first half of the season with a four-game scoring streak, all wins for the Varsity Blues.
“My favorite moment would have to be the overtime goal Taylor scored in overtime against Ryerson in December of 2021. We had battled it out with Ryerson all game and got an opportunity to create an attack when Louie got the puck up ice. We were all drained but still managed to pull off a nice passing play so that Taylor could basically carry the team to victory. Overtime goals are just more exciting because of all the tension that builds up, knowing its do or die.”
By season’s end, De Serres confirmation as a superstar was complete. Resulting in revered recognition, celebrated standing as an OUA First Team All-Star, joined by fellow Varsity Blues Trussler and goaltender Erica Fryer, added lustre to a first place finish. Winning both, the OUA Most Valuable Player and East Division Defender of the Year Award, this prestigious double also comprised part of the acclaim.
Accentuated by national recognition, including the vaunted prestige of All-Canadian honors, De Serres assembled a dream season. Reflecting on the unprecedented success, a highlycommendable humility rises to the surface. Acknowledging the collaborative effort involved in a first place finish, she finds equal parts, motivation and admiration, in her teammates, another shining demonstration of strong leadership,
“Receiving that level of recognition during my final season was very exciting as everyone strives to be the best they can and seeing your hard work pay off is always an amazing feeling. As all awards go, they would not have been possible without the amount of hard work and dedication that my teammates put into this season.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”