Considering that the 2015-16 season represented a significant breakthrough for the nascent Nipissing Lakers women’s ice hockey program, the emergence of freshman blueliner Stacey Henshaw only enhanced the feelings of achievement. One game away from a spot in the OUA Finals, the third-year program benefited from Henshaw’s presence, whose freshman campaign culminated with the OUA All-Rookie Team Honors.
Raised in Dorchester, ON, where Henshaw also excelled as a sprinter in the 100 and 200-meter dash, she also enjoyed an exceptional junior hockey highlight. As a member of Team Ontario Blue in 2013-14, she captured a silver medal at the U18 nationals that season. Of note, she logged an assist in a 3-1 win against BC. Among her teammates were Shea Tiley, Josianne Pozzebon and Kennedy Marchment.
Henshaw’s arrival in North Bay contributed to one of the program’s earliest legacies, which has seen several elite Lakers recruits emerge from southwestern Ontario, including Molly Sipprell and Stacie Vink. Adding to the impact of the Lakers growing legacy is the fact that all played at the PWHL level with the London Devilettes, the same team that produced the likes of Hockey Canada alums including Katelyn (Goose) Gosling, Amanda Mazzotta and Caroylne Prevost. As a side note, Henshaw spent a pair of seasons with Bluewater before making the leap to the London Devilettes
Having made her Lakers debut on October 3, 2015 against archrival Laurentian, Henshaw was part of a freshman class that included blueliner Taylor McManus and forwards Kait McManus, Natalie Graham and Ava Keis.
In her freshman season, she would compile seven points, highlighted by her first goal, and first multi-point game in a 3-0 blanking of Toronto’s York University on October 16. Overall, the Lakers were 5-1-0 when Henshaw logged at least one point during her freshman campaign. Culminating with a nod to the OUA All-Rookie Team, it was both a proud career milestone and a proud program milestone, as Henshaw followed in the likes of Molly Sipprell (2014) and Zosia Davis (2015) as recognized Lakers,
“It meant a lot when I was told to be prepared to walk up on stage at our year end athletic banquet to receive the OUA All-Rookie team award. The OUA had announced it earlier in the month, so it was great. I didn’t think that I would have received anything from the OUA because I was injured and battling back from two illnesses from early on in the season and I missed a handful of games. It gave me that confidence boost for my future it showed that I have resilience.”
A significant aspect to Henshaw’s success also involved the fact that her head coach with the Lakers is former NHL All-Star Darren Turcotte, whose professional career involved stops with the New York Rangers and Hartford Whalers, among others. Having also served as a coach at the Hockey Canada level, (along with the Abitibi Eskimos and North Bay Skyhawks), Turcotte’s acumen for the game is shaping the Lakers into a national championship competitor.
Joined by American-born AJ Shiverdecker, who played at Westfield State, Henshaw and her Lakers teammates can also find a sisterly influence in Blair Kitlar. Well-travelled in her hockey career, playing at the university level with St. Mary’s Huskies (where she earned AUS All-Rookie Honors in 2006-07), Ottawa Gee-Gees and York Lions. As a side note, she also played at the CWHL level with the now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators.
With a Lakers team that has enjoyed a superlative 9-2-0 start to this season, including a victory against Laurentian in the “705 series”, Henshaw has logged points in four games this season, highlighted by the Lakers winning all four games. Henshaw’s first goal of the season represented another milestone as she logged the first game-winning tally in her Lakers career. Taking place on October 30 against the York Lions, the assist on her milestone goal were earned by Zosia Davis and Samantha Strassburger as Henshaw scored on Lauren Dubie at the 3:08 mark of the third period.
Among the early season highlights included redemption with a 2-0 shutout win against the Western Mustangs on home ice on October 22, avenging an overtime playoff loss from the 2016 OUA semifinals. Taylor Murphy logged the game winner while Rochefort made 27 saves first shutout.
Taking into account that the Mustangs are from London, emotions ran high for Henshaw. Of note, the 2016 second round playoff series was a key moment in Lakers history as the Mustangs were also the defending national champions. With several familiar former Devilettes teammates donning Mustangs purple and silver, the Lakers assembled an admirable postseason performance, pushing the Mustangs to a third and deciding game, which involved a dramatic triple overtime game.
Goaltender Jackie Rochefort would supply a valiant performance as she made 39 saves in what proved to be the longest game in Lakers history. The fact that the Lakers captured the first game of the series with a 4-2 win also represented a key turning point. Despite the fact that the final score resulted in the Mustangs favor, there was a much bigger sense of victory among the Lakers, knowing that their solid performance proved that the program could compete with the elites, which is poised to translate into increased confidence.
“Going into the first playoff series, the butterflies were there every step of the way till the last game vs. Western in that third overtime when I watched that final goal go in. It was a very exciting highlight in my career especially being in my rookie year. It sets the bar high and helps not only with the girls now, but helps with the recruitment for years to come.”
In addition to the playoff run, another milestone took place for the Lakers. Occurring in the first half of the season, the program’s players gained the opportunity to be featured on Rogers Hometown Hockey, hosted by the iconic Ron MacLean. A breakthrough that certainly helped to place the program on the map, raising awareness of its proficient potential,
As a side note, Henshaw can actually boast of meeting MacLean twice. In recounting the Lakers experience, Henshaw reflects on her first meeting with MacLean, also related to the Hometown Hockey phenomenon,
To be featured on Rogers Hometown Hockey was a great thing for the team. It helped as well to advertise who the young team is by putting us on tv to show people who we are, especially as last year, we were only the third year at Nipissing in the program. Meeting Ron Maclean was exciting as it brought back some memories to when my last year of junior with the London Devilettes, I got to meet him as well when they came to London, Ontario.
This season, another key highlight for Henshaw and her lakers teammates included a 1-0 shutout triumph against top-ranked Guelph, which could serve as a possible preview of the 2017 McCaw Cup. Henshaw and Jetta Derenoski would gain the assists on Jade Gauthier’s third period winner. For Henshaw, the progress of the Lakers runs parallel to her own success, as she approaches her second season with an increased confidence, poised to pay positive dividends for a program ready to take that next big step towards championship glory,
“In my rookie season, I had a lot of nerves. Going from playing junior to something that much faster which is U Sports hockey. As my sophomore year has begun and is underway, I feel like my awareness is higher and I know where players are or should be.
A tape to tape pass is there or off the boards into the open space for the forwards to skate into the puck. I feel way more confident in my play and my gap control is getting better and knowing my speed, I can get back if I get burned.
Trusting your defense partner is also a huge part and now playing with Zosia for my second year, I have the trust and confidence in her. I feel that I have also increased my leadership now that I am not a rookie and not new to the team I feel more confident to voice my opinion on what I feel is should be stated.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Brian Doherty