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Jessica Hartwick the Heartbeat of Rising Ryerson Rams Hockey

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In any sport, the arrival of a new team, one starting from the ground up, brings with a degree of eccentricity. Although the incipient team is expected to lose in abundance, there is a likeability that accompanies them, perhaps complemented by the luster of its newness.  That was among the aspects that defined Jessica Hartwick’s foray into hockey at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level.

A charter member of the Ryerson Rams women’s ice hockey program, Hartwick would prove to be the anchor of the defensive unit. Taking into account that Ryerson is based in Toronto, the legacy of the University of Toronto Lady Blues program loomed large, while the rising York Lions only added to the high level of competition. Hartwick’s maturity and solid leadership ensured that the inclusion of Ryerson to a trinity of CIS women’s hockey in Toronto was one of great competition and sportsmanship.

Having played for head coaches Lisa Haley (2011-13, 2014-16) and Pierre Alain (2013-14), Hartwick would actually register her first career point in Ryerson’s first-ever game, October 7, 2011 game against York Lions. With an athletic background that also includes soccer and softball, she has blossomed into a leader with a genuine sincerity for the team and the game.

For the first four seasons of Hartwick’s Ryerson career, she would log nine points in each season, displaying an element of consistency. As a side note, when she logged at least one point in the 2014-15 season, Ryerson sported an undefeated mark of 6-0. Said season would prove to be the most memorable in her career. Not only did she reach the career mark of 100 career games, the seasons’ aftermath resulted in garnering Team MVP honors. In addition, she was the recipient of the university’s G.L. Dobson Award (recognizing contributions to Sport, Campus and Community Life).

Although the fifth and final season saw Hartwick cope with injury, resulting in the first season that saw her play less than 24 games in a season, she displayed a stoic dedication. Hartwick’s toughness and character shone through, having the honor of captaincy bestowed upon her, representing an exceptional point of pride.

“In my second and third seasons as a Ram I was named the assistant captain. In my fourth and fifth seasons I was named the team captain. It has truly been an honour to be a captain and a leader of my team. I was very young when I was first made assistant captain, but so was our team. It was only our second season ever having a team.

To be able to continue being a captain into my final year shows me on a personal level how much I have accomplished. I have always cared about hockey and cared about doing things for my teammates, but I had never considered myself a role model until I came to Ryerson.

Something about this place has brought out some of my best qualities. Not only have I had the opportunity to gain an education academically but I have also challenged myself in life skills like time management, leadership, communication and problem solving.”

Seeing action in 16 games during the 2015-16 campaign, one of the highlights of Hartwick’s season took place on home ice on October 29, 2015. Hosting the Brock Badgers, she combined with fellow fifth-year player Melissa Wronzberg on Emma Rutherford’s first goal of the game. Rutherford would go on to score the game-winning tally in the third for a 3-2 victory.

Hartwick’s final goal in CIS play would take place one season earlier on February 7, 2015 in a 5-1 road win at Sudbury-based Laurentian University. Not only would Hartwick log a power play tally, she would score twice, also signifying the final multi-point game in her Ryerson career. She would score her goals against Emily Toffoli and Laura Deller.

Among the moments in Hartwick’s seasons of donning the Ryerson jersey, there is one that is definitely the most cherished. Having been with the program since day one, a key milestone for Hartwick and the program was to qualify for postseason play in the OUA conference.

After three frustrating seasons with eight cumulative wins, the elusive playoff berth became reality, providing the program with a seminal moment. Adding to such jubilation was the fact that the program enjoyed its first winning season, compiling an impressive 13 wins, compared to just 10 losses and one tie. The program also allowed a record-low 53 goals against.  During said season, Ryerson also prevailed in a 3-1 win against the national team from China, that saw Hartwick compete in the pregame festivities.

A valiant performance against the Guelph Gryphons was most admirable, pushing the team to overtime in the first game, and double overtime in the second, as both games were determined by a hard-fought 2-1 tally. Such a solid effort was the first real indication that the program was on the rise.

“One of my favorite moments at Ryerson would be making playoffs in our fourth year. This seems like a very simple thing to most people, but to us it was our biggest accomplishment. It is so hard to start a team from scratch and there is a lot of adversity that you have to go through.

In our first season we only won 1 game, second season was 2 and the third season was 5. In our fourth season we posted a winning record and we made it to the first round of playoffs. We lost both games in OT to Guelph. They ended up going to nationals that year and finishing in third place.”

Hosting the Waterloo Warriors on senior night, it signified one more opportunity to celebrate the careers of Hartwick, Wronzberg and Paulena Jakarsezian (who was out with an injury), all members of the Ryerson program since its inaugural season. Despite a 2-1 loss, Wronzberg, who graduates as the program’s all-time leading scorer, would score on fifth year goaltender Rebecca Bouwhuis in the second period. 

Hartwick leaves behind an admirable legacy as she ranks first overall in scoring by defenders in the program’s history, along with the all-time lead in power play goals. Having laced up her skates for 118 career games, a key lesson involved the maturity and character needed to deal with losing. Despite the fact that losing can result in one’s confidence being inverted, an interminable blend of despair and tension, Hartwick always remained motivated, setting a positive example for others on the roster.

“One of the biggest lessons that I have learned here at Ryerson is what it takes to lose. This may seem odd, but coming from a pretty successful minor league hockey career I never truly understood what it meant to lose and not just to lose one game, but every game. When you lose one game it is easy to point out that we had a weak powerplay or we gave up a soft goal, etc.

Yet, when you lose every single game it takes a strong player and a strong team to look in the mirror and wonder why. I learned that a lot of the time losing happens off the ice. If you or your teammates do not put in a 110% effort in order to win and to be winners then the games are already lost.

So for me, in my fourth year when we made playoffs, not matter what the outcome was I was so happy that we had finally won something. It became not about just winning the games but it became about transferring everything we had done off the ice and bringing into the games.”

The next stage in Hartwick’s career is the goal of extending her career at the CWHL level. Having played at the PWHL level for the Brampton Jr. Thunder, Brampton’s entry in the CWHL would definitely bring her career full circle. Worth nothing is the fact that fellow Ryerson senior Wronzberg also called Hartwick a teammate with the Jr. Thunder. Having also declared for the 2016 CWHL draft, the two could become teammates for the third time or become newly minted rivals after five seasons with Ryerson.

Taking into account that Ryerson’s home games took place at the Mattamy Arena, located inside Maple Leaf Gardens, long-time home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, continuing her career with the Furies would be unique. Not only are the Furies the sister team of the Maple Leafs, but Kori Cheverie is one of the team’s charter members. Hartwick has worked with Cheverie at Ryerson’s skate training program, which aims to develop skating techniques for people of all skill levels.

Undoubtedly, Ryerson shall always hold a special place in Hartwick’s heart. In discussing what she will miss most about Ryerson, it is the second family that exists within the players and coaches. From the road trips, to the balance between academics and athletics, and the collective sense of achievement that comes with emerging victorious after the final buzzer, the teammates at the CIS level prove to be the closest in one’s career,

“One of the biggest things I will miss about Ryerson is just the team atmosphere. In my five years here I have made so many connections and friendships. I always had 25 other girls who understood what was going on, who were all tired Monday after a weekend road trip, who were all stressing about essays and exams.

I was always on the same page as everyone else and we held each other together through hard times. It’s truly like having a home away from home and a second family. Those friendships will never be lost but I will definitely miss the times that we could all be on the same page and completely understand what each other was going through.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

Photo credit: Alex D’Addese /Ryerson Rams Athletics

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