As the McGill Martlets look to avenge their loss in the 2015 CIS National Championship Game, its freshman class is eagerly dedicated to contributing to such a mission. Among them is Olivia Atkinson, a forward from Oakville, Ontario who brings her own championship experience, having captured the 2015 OWHA Provincial title as a member of her hometown Hornets.
Atkinson is one of nine players raised in the Greater Toronto Area that shall compete with the Martlets in 2015-16. Among them are third-year player Jordan MacDonnell, senior Kelsie Moffatt, fellow freshmen Cora Constantinoe, Emilia Cotter and Shana Walker, along with all three Martlet goaltenders Taylor Hough, Kayla Loberg and Brittany Smrke. As a side note, Smrke also attended the same high school as Atkinson, Oakville’s Abbey Park High.
Considering that McGill is one of Canada’s finest universities for academics, it proved to be a significant factor in Atkinson’s decision to commit to the program. Like so many other young women that continue their athletic endeavors at the post-secondary level, there is a serious commitment to the role of being a student-athlete.
“The biggest thing was academics, something that the university is highly ranked for. They had the program that I wanted to pursue. Secondly, the hockey was important. This program has been very successful in the past. When I first met the girls and saw the team atmosphere, it seemed like a really good fit.”
While Atkinson has a great mentor in Martlets head coach Peter Smith (who is assisted by former Clarkson Cup champion Alyssa Cecere), with over 400 coaching to his credit, her path towards the program involved the chance to play for another remarkable coach. Having served as the head coach for Team Ontario at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, along with a gold medal from the Canadian U18 nationals, Bradi Cochrane is one of the rising stars in Canada’s coaching ranks.
Having competed for Cochrane on the PWHL’s Oakville Hornets over the course of two seasons, it was a great opportunity for Atkinson to grow as a player and as a leader. “Bradi is a great coach. She knows so much about hockey. I learned a lot from her and she was a huge factor.”
Prior to joining the Hornets in 2013, Atkinson spent one season with Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres, logging 16 points in her PWHL rookie season. During the 2014-15 season, Atkinson ranked seventh on the team in scoring with 26 points (her second straight 20-point season with the Hornets), while her 18 assists ranked fourth. In addition, she was one of only four players on the Hornets roster to appear in all 38 games, displaying durability.
Among Atkinson’s highlights in her final campaign the Hornets was the fact that the club finished with the PWHL’s best regular season record, amassing 31 wins compared to only three losses and four ties. In addition, the Hornets advanced to their first-ever PWHL Final 4 and Atkinson made a key contribution in a quarterfinal series against Durham. Despite jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, a fifth and deciding game was necessary. Atkinson would log the game-winning goal in a 4-2 final.
Although rival Stoney Creek emerged with the PWHL Final 4 championship, Atkinson and her teammates showed great character, redeeming themselves at the OWHA Provincials. She was part of a proud Oakville Hornets squad that obtained gold at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association championships. With Atkinson scoring one of the goals against the Whitby Wolves in the semi-finals, there was a feeling of redemption as the Hornets scored a 3-2 win against Stoney Creek for their first-ever intermediate AA provincial title.
“At the PWHL’s final four, I feel that we could have gone further than what we accomplished. It was great to see us go to the provincials and win it all there.”
Making her debut for the Martlets on the 11th of September, a home game against the Guelph Gryphons of the Ontario University Athletics conference, it was a proud moment for Atkinson, as it signaled the next step in her hockey career.
“It was a really big honor to put on the jersey and be among the caliber of players. There were a lot of girls that I looked up to so it was a great honor to step up and be on the ice.”
Of note, she would score her first goal as a member of the Martlets in a September 26 exhibition tilt against the 2014 Frozen Four champion Clarkson Golden Knights at Cheel Arena in Potsdam, New York. Earning the assist was Martlets captain Melodie Daoust, a member of Canada’s gold medal winning roster at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Scoring the milestone goal on Clarkson goaltender Shea Tiley, it would prove to be the Martlets only goal of the game. Despite the final score being 4-1 in favor of the Golden Knights, it marked the beginning of a three-game scoring streak for Atkinson, only adding to her confidence.
“It felt great to be able to contribute in that way. There is still a lot of stuff that I need to work on but it just felt great.”
Following it up the day after with a solid two-point performance against the Vermont Catamounts at Gutterson Fieldhouse, the highlight for Atkinson was scoring the game-winning goal with just 22 seconds remaining in the second period. Said goal was also scored on the power play, representing another milestone.
The game represented one of three preseason games for the Martlets against NCAA programs, which also included a match with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints. Having participated against the NCAA prior to the start of the regular season for over a decade, it has become a tradition in Martlet history, one that Atkinson sees as a positive as she prepares to continue her fundamentally sound game at the CIS level.
“Honestly, it helps the team a lot. Playing against teams that are very strong, it brings our competitive level very high.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Marc St. Pierre