Having assembled the greatest individual performance in the nascent history of Nipissing Lakers women’s ice hockey, Jackie Rochefort has etched her name in program lore. The fourth year goaltender experienced a landmark season that contributed towards the Lakers’ reach their promise as one of the finest teams in the OUA conference.
With a dream season that culminated with the chance to play for the McCaw Cup, Rochefort’s numbers paint a compelling picture, revealing an amazing all-around display of goaltending brilliance. Finishing the regular season with a sparkling 13-2-2 record, she logged a miniscule 1.33 goals against average, complemented by a solid .946 save percentage plus six sterling shutouts.
For her efforts, she gained her place among the elites in the conference, rewarded as an OUA Second Team All-Star. Quite possibly the hardest working goaltender in the OUA, Rochefort amassed 1,064 minutes, while allowing a minuscule total of just 25 goals, key factors towards the greatest season ever for the program, placing second overall in the conference.
Allowing more than two goals just thrice, perhaps an even more impressive number was the fact that Rochefort had three shutouts in her final four starts. Back-to-back shutouts on February 3 and 4 against visiting teams Laurier and Waterloo allowed her to be recognized as the Investors Group OUA Female Athlete of the Week, awarded on February 6.
A significant aspect towards such recognition was attributed to the amazing poise that Rochefort displayed between the pipes. The victory against Waterloo was a scoreless tie after three periods of play. With the game-winning goal scored less than 90 seconds into overtime, as Kaley Tienhaara provided the scoring heroics with her fifth goal in five games, it was the kind of win that embodied what makes Lakers hockey so meaningful for Rochefort, one where everyone works tirelessly to contribute first towards team success. Despite such tireless efforts, leading towards great individual success, Rochefort is quick to acknowledge that any success is attributed to the team effort in front of her, testament to her respect for her teammates.
“To be honest, to finish the season with OUA all-star honors was not in my mind throughout the season, I was mainly focused on my team and finishing as high as we could in the standings and to win a championship.
That being said, to be recognized by the OUA is one of the biggest personal achievements I have received. To put it into perspective, looking at all the teams in the OUA and all the great goalies we have in the league, to be named as one of the top goalies is really special considering this award could have easily went to anyone of those great goalies.
I owe and give most of the credit to my teammates as well, without them I would not be the player I am, especially this year they made my job a lot easier! I also believe this is great recognition for not just myself but for my teammates, coaching staff and the program here at Nipissing because after all I would not be here or the player I am without them. We have only ever had OUA rookie honors and I believe this year going forward we will see a lot more OUA all-stars at Nipissing for years to come.”
Although such accolade was satisfying, there was another honor that added luster, enhancing Rochefort’s status as a highly accomplished student-athlete. Recognized by Nipissing University with the Lakers’ Jack and Mary Ann Jones Female Athlete of the Year Award, it adds more hardware to an expanding trophy case, which also includes recognition as the 2013 PWHL Goaltender of the Year, when she starred for the Durham West Junior Lightning.
As a side note, Lakers volleyball player Steve Wood was recognized as the Lakers’ Male Athlete of the Year.
Among the qualities that gained Rochefort this remarkable honor was her standing as an accomplished goaltender at the conference level. Of note, she ranked first overall in both goals against average and save percentage.
Placing second in the OUA in wins, complemented by finishing third in win percentage and sixth in saves and second in wins. Attributed to Rochefort’s efforts, the Lakers boasted one of the best defensive units, ranking second overall among all conference teams in goals against, allowing just 37 goals in 24 games.
Reaching the 35-win plateau this season, Rochefort stands proudly as the all-time wins leader in Lakers history. Having also earned seven playoff wins, another program record, she continues to cement her status as one of the university’s greatest student-athletes of the decade.
“To be recognized as Nipissing University’s female athlete of the year is a tremendous honour and one of the most special and honorable personal achievements I have ever received. To be honest, to even be mentioned in the same category as the top athletes of the university is truly amazing because we have some spectacular student athletes at Nipissing.
I am also very grateful to be the recipient of this award because it represents an amazing university that means a lot to me and a place I take great pride in, which makes it even more special.”
Beginning 2016-17 with a solid four-game win streak, highlighted by a 2-0 shutout on October 22 against the Western Mustangs, said streak only scratched the surface of the heroics which would define a memorable season. Following a road loss to the Brock Badgers, Rochefort would reel off five straight wins, including a shutout of the defending conference champion Guelph Gryphons, emerging victorious in nine of her first 10 starts.
The five straight wins further solidified Rochefort’s status as an elite backstop, especially given the fact that four of those wins took place on the road. With the Lakers and nearby Laurentian Voyageurs logging more miles than any other program in the conference, the ability to succeed on the road is essential for program success.
Such success was evident in January, as the Lakers traveled to the furthest outposts in the conference, competing in London, Ontario against Western, and Windsor, opposing the Lancers. With Rochefort obtaining the wins in both games, highlighted by 53 total saves, it set the tone for an exciting February to follow. As mentioned previous, February saw her win three of her last four starts, highlighted by three sensational shutouts.
Of all the wins attained in 2017, there was one that not only made program history; it stood out as the most memorable moment of Rochefort’s season. Taking on the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, a stirring third and deciding game on home ice at Memorial Gardens was required to determine which team would take on the Guelph Gryphons in the McCaw Cup final.
With high stakes in a winner take all contest, Toronto grabbed a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission. Jade Gauthier, who scored the Lakers first period goal, would gain her second point of the game, with an assist on a goal scored by Bronwyn Bolduc in the second stanza.
As the third period was not able to break the 2-all deadlock, overtime only added to the sense of drama as neither team wanted to emerge on the losing side of such a hard fought series. After ten minutes of overtime, a gripping extra period reached its summit. With Kaley Tienhaara navigating the puck towards the front of the net, the struggle for the loose puck was won by the Lakers as Brooklyn Irwin assertively put the biscuit in the basket, providing the program with its biggest win, while simultaneously extending the season into the McCaw Cup.
“This year was a very memorable year, so to pick one favorite moment would be difficult but I would have to say winning in overtime against U of T in game 2 in the second round to advance to our programs first ever McCaw cup final.
The emotion and pure happiness shared with this specific group of girls is a moment I will never forget especially on home ice in front of the biggest crowd we have had in our programs existence; to say the least it was very special.”
Although the final outcome of the McCaw Cup was not one that was favored, there was a greater victory in the fact that this playoff run proved what this amazing team is capable of. In another postseason year, the loss would not have been so visceral, because the Lakers would have still qualified for the U SPORTS national championship tournament.
As the Queen’s Golden Gaels from Kingston, an OUA team, was hosting the tournament this season (this takes place in rotation with the other three conferences on a quadrennial basis), they gained automatic entry into the tournament. Therefore, the McCaw Cup finalist was not eligible for qualification.
In spite of this setback, it only provides more motivation for the Lakers, which will make such an achievement so much more special when it does take place. For now, the chance to have competed on the OUA’s biggest stage for the first time ever is something that Rochefort is proud to have fulfilled.
Observing with an admirable maturity what this team has accomplished in such a short time span, it speaks volumes about the potential for a truly prosperous future. Undoubtedly, Rochefort’s contributions were essential for a program that has truly grown by a quantum leap in four fantastic seasons. Considering that the Lakers managed to recruit goaltender Danika Ranger, who competed for Canada’s national team at the 2017 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, it provides the program with a promising backstop that will follow in Rochefort’s legacy, while looking to build on the historic rise to prominence that has taken place.
“I think I can speak for all the teams in the OUA when I say our goal is to make it to the McCaw cup and win every year, so to be able to make the playoffs the past three years and make it to the McCaw final this year is incredible beyond words.
For a program that has only be around for four years to make it to an OUA final is remarkable, I’m not sure anyone else can say they have done that and that credit and recognition is due to our amazing coaching staff lead by Darren Turcotte, our school and most importantly the players on this team.
We may have fell short in the championship game, which was heartbreaking beyond words but we are not going to let that define us and the incredible year we had, I know as a captain and leader of this team I am very proud of every single girl and the effort and endless hours they have put into this program, which makes for an exciting future.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Nipissing Lakers Athletics, North Bay Nugget (JORDAN ERCIT/The Nugget/QMI Agency)