With Kingston’s Queen’s University serving as the host school for the 2017 U Sports national women’s ice hockey championships; it was an opportunity for goaltender Stephanie Pascal to shine. Having spent her second season with the Queen’s Golden Gaels as their number one goaltender, she has risen to the occasion multiple times, constantly providing her team with the chance to win.
Raised in Sudbury, Ontario, the Chemical Engineering Major earned the spot as the starting goaltender for the Golden Gaels at Nationals. Representing a proud milestone for Pascal, it was one that she approached with high energy and motivation.
After being sidelined for the entire 2015-16 season with a concussion suffered during a preseason game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Pascal’s presence at Nationals was definitely the feel-good story of the event. A hard-fought and courageous road to redemption, Pascal’s appreciation for the game has been enhanced, grateful at the opportunity to return between the pipes.
Allowing her the privileged opportunity to compete on the game’s biggest stage in Canadian university hockey, there was also special feeling of home ice advantage. Considering that Nationals was contested down the road from Kingston at Napanee’s Strathcona Paper Centre, it allowed many Golden Gaels competitors the treasured opportunity to be surrounded by friends and family in attendance, enriching an exceptional career milestone.
“Being the starting goaltender at Nationals was incredible. It was amazing being able to play in front of such big crowds filled with family and friends. It was so much fun being on the ice and sharing in every moment with my teammates.”
Among her goaltending peers in the OUA conference, Pascal was certainly in elite status. In nine major statistical categories, she ranked among the top 10. From the outset, she ranked first overall in the conference, and second among all U Sports goaltenders, in games played with 22, while placing second among conference backstops in starts with 19.
Amassing 13 wins in the regular season, placing third in the conference and eighth in the nation, compared to just eight losses, Pascal’s 1265:51 minutes played ranked second overall, testament to her tireless efforts. For a team that lost three veteran blueliners in the aftermath of last season, Pascal has emerged as a highly valued cornerstone.
Pascal’s regular season highlight was undoubtedly a six game win-streak from January 6 to 27, which included 171 saves, and a key road win against the Nipissing Lakers. Worth noting was the fact that her first three regular season wins were all shutouts. Starting with a 3-0 shutout of the York Lions on October 16, she would blank Laurier on the road five days later.
Coincidentally, Pascal recorded 31 saves in each game. The final shutout win would take place on home ice, as the Toronto Varsity Blues peppered Pascal with 27 shots in a 3-0 final.
Accumulating 538 saves and a .924 save percentage, placing third and ninth in the conference, other exemplar numbers included a respectable 2.09 goals against average along with a solid .619 win percentage. As a side note, her 538 saves placed her seventh in the nation, only adding luster to her inspiring comeback.
No stranger to big game situations, Pascal’s hockey resume also includes competition at the 2014 Esso Cup, the biggest prize in Canadian midget girl’s hockey. Donning the colors of the Sudbury Lady Wolves, under the leadership of head coach Tim Armstrong, the team played more than 80 games in 2013-14.
Such a well-traveled team was headlined by the likes of Pascal, whose 24 save in the Esso Cup bronze medal game helped to defeat the host team Stoney Creek Sabres by a 3-2 tally. As a side note, former Lady Wolves teammate Corie Jacobson captured the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four with the Clarkson Golden Knights, with Northern Ontario pride prevalent in university championship tournaments on both sides of the border.
Playing in conditions filled with high pressure, defined by win or go home, Pascal approached each game with enthusiasm, eager to compete among the nation’s finest. Having also competed in the OUA playoffs against the Toronto Varsity Blues, there was an additional feeling of continuity. With such experience, it provided Pascal with an increased element of confidence heading into Nationals,
“Playing at the Esso Cup in 2014 definitely allowed me to feel more confident going into Nationals. This was a completely different level of hockey, but it helped to have experience of playing under pressure on a national stage. The atmosphere is very different at National championships, so having that experience allowed me to feel more comfortable during the games.”
The Golden Gaels first game at the Nationals consisted of competition against the top-seeded University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, based out of the Canada West conference. While taking on the team ranked number one in the national polls could have been considered a baptism of fire, there was no shortage of heart and character on the part of Pascal and her teammates.
Of note, the top-ranked Thunderbirds emerged with a win by the narrowest margin, prevailing by a 2-1 tally, in which Nicole Saxvik’s game-winning goal was only scored with less than three minutes remaining. Pascal would record 35 saves while nullifying four Thunderbirds power play opportunities.
Although a podium finish evaded the valiant Golden Gaels, there were a lot of positives to build on. Competing in a pair of games, first with the aforementioned the Thunderbirds, followed by consolation games against the two representative teams from Atlantic University Sports; St. Francis Xavier X-Women (a 2-0 win with goals by Addi Halladay and Nadia Larocca) and the Saint Mary’s Huskies (a 4-1 loss), skating against teams from different conferences allowed the Golden Gaels to come into contact with different styles.
Statistically, Pascal assembled a series of solid performances, highlighted by recognition as the Player of the Game for the Golden Gaels following the hard fought loss against the Thunderbirds. The X-Women game, which saw Pascal record 29 saves, also featured an opportunity for bragging rights. Considering that the X-Women featured the Brodrick Trophy winner and U Sports scoring champion Mandy Bujold, keeping such an amazing competitor off the score sheet definitely stands as one of Pascal’s career highlights.
Embodying the values of hard work and determination, Pascal ranked first among all tournament goaltenders in games played (3), games started (3) and saves (83). Complemented by a 1.68 GAA, a .943 save percentage and 179 minutes played, Pascal played valiantly throughout Nationals, with home ice pride evident throughout all three games.
Certainly, the opportunity to host Nationals allowed Pascal and her teammates an unforgettable opportunity to serve as ambassadors for Golden Gaels athletics. During the week-long event, which included an opening night dinner where Winter Games gold medalists Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara spoke, it was a chance for team building, as friendships strengthened, while providing memories that shall last long beyond the final face-off.
Having now gained the experience of competing in Nationals, guarding the crease against some of the nation’s top forwards, Pascal has grown. With an assured certainty that that the quality of her game has elevated, she is poised to emerge as an eventual OUA All-Star, while keeping the program in the conversation as a conference power.
Prepared to contribute to greater success in the future for a Golden Gaels looking to build on one of the hallmarks of program history, the acquisition of an even stronger skill set of leadership and confidence may stand as Pascal’s legacy from Nationals.
“My game has definitely improved from playing at Nationals. Being able to play against the best in the country and prove that we could compete gave my teammates and I a lot of confidence for next year. Having that experience and knowing how much fun it was will make us work even harder to earn our way to Nationals next year.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: U Sports, Queen’s Golden Gaels athletics, Ian McAlpine