As the city of Ottawa continues to grow into one of Canada’s great women’s hockey hotbeds, one of its most exciting aspects is the number of heroes emerging in the middle of such an energizing time. Among one of those heroes with the rapidly improving University of Ottawa Gee-Gees program is goaltender Stephanie Mercier.
Hailing from Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario, she has donated her time towards helping the female grow in her hometown, while also helping to promote health and physical activity, which included a free yoga program. In addition, she spent her offseason organizing many activities at her local hospital, including meals and bingo sessions. Spearheading an initiative for elderly care patients with the implementation of an Aquafit program, she also worked on numerous projects with the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In addition to being honored as the recipient of the 2015 RSEQ Leadership Award, the conference’s version of the Marion Hilliard Award (while teammate Carol-Ann Upshall was named to the Second Team All-Stars), Mercier earned the University of Ottawa’s President’s Award in 2014. While such honors represents the pinnacle of her Gee-Gees career, her humble demeanor and recognition of the efforts of other varsity athletes is testament to her strong leadership.
“It is a great honor to be recognized and it is a good motivator to keep being active on and off the ice. However, a lot of varsity athletes do it all and help as much in the community as they can and so many of them should be honored and recognized. I believe giving your best on and off the ice is a responsibility. The sport gave us so much and I think it is our job to also give back.”
Despite such a busy schedule, Mercier admirably found the extra time to work with other student-athletes from the Gee-Gees on establishing a counsel. Such an outstanding initiative brings the benefit of gathering student-athletes from numerous sports together in a social setting, helping to make new friends and share stories.
Among Mercier’s remarkable efforts towards enriching the campus culture for student-athletes, she also showed very strong commitment within the team. Of note, she assisted with the squad’s training program, while also helping prepare team snacks with the consultation of a nutritionist. Setting a positive example for teammates, especially those who are younger, has been a hallmark of her years with the program,
“My first year on the team, I remembered looking up to veterans who you could tell, had it all figured out. They quickly became role models for me and other first year players. Without always noticing, we were taking qualities from them and applying them to ourselves.
I was constantly observing and I was learning from those players, whether it was how they reacted to defeats, how they studied for exams, or how they prepared for a game, and most importantly, how they could manage a busy varsity athletic schedule and have success.
By learning from these leadership examples you grow as a person. Before you realize, the years progress fast and roles change. The rookie you once were is replaced by new ones and you realize that for the new girls on the team, you are that veteran you once looked up to.”
Mercier’s positive attitude has certainly paid positive dividends for the program. In addition to her off-ice efforts, she has also contributed to some on-ice glories. Of note, she was between the pipes for the first game of the 2012 conference playoffs, when the Gee-Gees snapped their 36-game losing streak against the McGill Martlets. Turning away 37 Martlets shots in the 1-0 shutout win, it also snapped their 21-game playoff winning streak.
Heading into the 2014-15 season, Mercier provided a solid performance against the Brock Badgers in the preseason Laura Secord Cup. Competing against the host Brock University Badgers in the Cup final, Mercier stifled all three Badgers shooters in the shootout as Asha Kauffeldt logged the Cup-winning goal.
"You have the chance to guide someone in a positive way and your actions can have a direct impact on the way your teammates will see or face different situations. You have responsibilities you once did not have. Girls will look up to you and learn from you just like you did, so it is important to set a strong figure for them.
Attitudes are contagious and your actions will influence others positively or negatively. No one has more heart for a team than players who have battled for it for years. If you can perform on the ice, in the classroom, and in your social life with passion and dedication, chances are that passion will spread and your team will be stronger as a whole.”
Of note, Mercier does not have to look too far for inspiration. Former Gee-Gees captain Danika Smith was the recipient of the 2009 CIS Marion Hilliard Award. Currently employed with the university, she is always visible at team games, proud to be part of the Gee-Gees family.
Volunteering in the community brings with it many satisfying elements for Mercier and her Gee-Gees teammates. One aspect that has emerged as a true labor of love for Mercier is the chance to donate her time towards teaching younger children to skate and improve their hockey skills.
This season alone, Mercier was involved with four different youth hockey initiatives. From the Learn to Skate Program to attending a series of weekly practices for community youth at an outdoor rink, Mercier was also part of a girls hockey festival in Ottawa while making her presence felt at the Ottawa Ice midget hockey program. Not only are her efforts an honorable gesture in the fact that it allow others to enjoy the game, but it helps instill positive values such as self-esteem and friendship. Resulting in a win-win situation,
“Seeing kids smile after a game when you sign their shirts and ask them their positions on the ice; watching girls you have coached at events, camps, or practices learning and using tricks you have thought them; watching your teammates take initiative and trying to help as much as they can; working together for the simple goal of helping others out.
Throughout the year, I have had the privilege to work with the learn to skate program, which is a group of volunteers in the community who have started coached sessions on an outdoor rink to girls who, without the goodwill of the program, would otherwise not have the opportunity to play the sport so many of us got to love.
Taking time to do simple things that you enjoy doing and sharing that with other people might mean a lot more to them than you think. Hockey is not just about competition, medals and titles; it starts with a team, and it is all about what you accomplish when you work together.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Richard A. Whittaker