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U SPORTS: Valérie Lamenta | Guelph Gryphons, 2019 National Champions

Having amassed a series of sensational seasons, stockpiling highlights with tremendous consistency, while establishing herself as one of U SPORTS’ finest goaltenders of the decade, Valérie Lamenta has left a lasting legacy that has propelled her into the pantheon of Guelph Gryphons athletic lore. An essential figure in maintaining the Gryphons’ status as a constant presence in the national championship conversation, Lamenta, a two-time All-Canadian (2016, 2017), was certainly among the program’s key cornerstones.

With a hockey resume featuring the prestigious Brodrick Trophy, awarded to the Most Outstanding Player in U SPORTS hockey, complemented by multiple OUA All-Star selections, Lamenta, who majored in Mechanical Engineering, also enjoyed the prestigious opportunity to don Canada’s colors at the Winter Universiade. Calling fellow Gryphons Katherine Bailey and Kelly Gribbons teammates on Canada’s entry, testament to Lamenta’s status as a world-class goaltender, her impressive body of work in Gryphons red also included multiple McCaw Cup championships.

Lamenta in Canada’s jersey for the 2017 Winter Universiade (Image obtained from The Katherine Bailey Collection)

Considering that the last several seasons represented some of the greatest periods in Gryphons hockey history, the integral component towards athletic immortality necessitated a national championship. In the latter half of the decade, the Gryphons appeared at the U SPORTS Nationals from 2015-17, reaching the medal round just once, resulting in a frustrating loss to the UBC Thunderbirds in the 2016 bronze medal game.

Compounding their woes was the suffering a loss to the Western Mustangs in the 2018 OUA semifinals. Yet, such a setback also served as ample motivation to reach the elusive summit of the Golden Path Trophy. Undoubtedly, a statement was made in November 2018, when Lamenta blanked the Mustangs in a 2-0 shutout win, making 32 saves versus their arch-rivals.

Brodrick Trophy collage obtained from: https://twitter.com/guelph_gryphons/status/710285989177126912

Including the regular season and postseason, Lamenta recorded an astounding 10 shutouts, while her win-loss mark was a sparkling 18-6-0. Capturing the 2018-19 OUA Goaltender of the Year Award, she was among the top goaltenders in the conference and the statistical numbers speak for themselves.

Ranking first overall in terms of goals against average (1.24) and save percentage (.952), Lamenta’s win percentage (.667) ranked second, while she was third in wins (10) and goals against (20). Enhancing such strong numbers was the fact that Lamenta placed sixth in saves (399), while finishing seventh in games started (16) and minutes (964:56), respectively.

Reflecting on the season, and the glories to unfold, emphasizing the theme of mutual trust that defined the Gryphons’ culture, Lamenta’s abilities between the pipes were essential towards fostering such confidence. Observing how the team grew closer, and subsequently, stronger, following the Holiday Break, it augmented the belief in Lamenta’s championship ambitions,

“I have been very fortunate during my time at Guelph to have participated in the National tournament four out of my five years. Every year the journey to get to the tournament was very different.

However, I believe that this background of accumulated knowledge made our group this year that much more prepared to face anything that was to be thrown at us. We had quite the veteran team and most of us knew that this would be our last shot at winning a National Championship.

I definitely noticed a shift in mindset with our whole team after the Christmas break. Everyone was aware that playoffs were fast approaching and we were ready to compete! I would say we were building confidence and trust all season long.

From the start of playoffs until the very last buzzer during the National Championship final, every single player on our team was so committed, relentless and passionate. We all wanted to win for each other and that is exactly what we did!”

Lamenta hoisting the McCaw Cup (Image obtained from: https://usports.ca/en/sports/hockey/f/news/2017/10/2043882667/getting-to-know-valerie-lamenta)

Qualifying for the national championships once again in 2019, bringing closure to a highly productive and successful era, Lamenta approached the biggest stage in Canadian university hockey on a mission. Part of a fantastic field of competitors, including fellow OUA program University of Toronto, host school, the Prince Edward Island Panthers, plus the St. Thomas Tommies, both from the AUS conference, four more schools competed for bragging rights. Said schools included long-time RSEQ powerhouses McGill and Les Carabins de Montreal, along with representatives from Canada West including the dynastic Alberta Pandas, and the defending national champion Manitoba Bisons.

Undeniably, the medal round involved an element of poetic justice. Raised in Montreal, where she starred for the CEGEP College Édouard Montpetit, recognized for her proficiency in the classroom with a pair of Student-Athlete of the Year Awards (2011, 2014), along with a spot on the 2013-14 CEGEP All-Star Team. Such a superlative team included future university stars Jessica Cormier, Catherine Daoust, Alexandra Labelle, Laurie Mercier and Alexandra Paradis.

Certainly, Lamenta should have been the heiress to the goaltending legacies crafted at both McGill and Les Carabins. Instead, the overlooked Lamenta went westward to the neighboring province of Ontario. Swerving as the understudy to Stephanie Naehring at Guelph, she displayed her proficiency as a freshman, recording a solid 1.21 goals against average.

Lamenta front and centre for the Gryphons team photo following their magical season (Photo credit: Laurel Jarvis)

Following it up by ranking first in the nation in Goals against Average (0.99), save percentage (.957) and winning percentage (.889), Lamenta’s 2015-16 season was one of the greatest in U SPORTS goaltending history. With 16 wins, compared to merely two losses, Lamenta was crucial in leading the Gryphons to their first McCaw Cup championship since 1998.

Rewarded for her efforts with the Brodrick Trophy, Lamenta’s progression with the Gryphons truly saw her emerge as one of the greatest recruiting steals in the history of U SPORTS women’s ice hockey. Reminiscent of how Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was a sixth round pick in the NFL Draft, Russian hockey great Pavel Datsyuk a sixth round pick in the NHL Draft, while Albert Pujols, a member of Major League Baseball’s 600 home run club was only taken in the 13th round of the draft. Undoubtedly, the Gryphons unearthed their own gem in Lamenta, and her greatest achievement would take place at the 2019 Nationals in Charlottetown.

Starting with a brilliant 21-save performance versus the defending national champion University of Manitoba Bisons, her finest hour would provide redemption to those who doubted her abilities coming out of CEGEP. Facing off against Les Carabins in the semi-finals, who boast two national titles in the decade, Lamenta nullified their potent offense.

Compiling 31 saves as a fusillade of five first period goals by Molly Crossman, Ashlee Lawrence, Madison Melo, Claire Merrick and Mallory Young stunned their opponents. With Lamenta recording 10 saves each in the second and third periods, she was instrumental in the Gryphons prevailing in a convincing 5-0 triumph.

The following day, Lamenta showed the poise of a champion. In a contest versus the dynastic McGill Martlets, a defensive stalemate saw neither team capitalize on power play opportunities. With team captain Kaitlin Lowy scoring on Martlets goaltender Tricia Deguire during the second period, while Lamenta made a remarkable shoulder save on a shot by Christiana Colizza, there was a feeling of destiny that the pair of fifth-year stars were bringing a strong sense of realization to the championship dream.

During the third period, Lamenta’s performance affirmed her Gryphons legend. Stopping 10 Martlets shots, showing resolve by refusing to be intimidated by the extra Martlets attacker in the game’s dying minutes, Lamenta preserved the 1-0 lead, allowing the Gryphons its first-ever national championship.

“I did not let myself get too caught up in the fact that we were playing two Montreal teams in our final games. I acknowledged and respected the skill of my opponents, seeing as I had grown up playing against (and with) many of them. However the mindset of our team was that we would stay true to our strengths and that we would enjoy every second of the hockey that we were playing.

One of the most amazing things that happened in this tournament, in my opinion, for the Guelph Gryphons Women’s Hockey team is that we did not let history frighten us. We did not let ourselves be intimidated by the level of success that our opponents had achieved in the past. Instead, we united behind the fact that we were about to make history for our program!”

Recognized as the OUA Athlete of the Week following her superb performances at the National Championships (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/gryphons.guelph/photos/a.136573598322/10156505969343323/?type=3&theater)

Named to the Tournament All-Star Team, which included Claire Merrick and Mallory Young, such a tribute fitting Lamenta’s peerless performance, it marked the first of many hallowed honors that commemorated the championship glory. Bestowed the honor of the OUA Athlete of the Week following the triumph of winning the Golden Path Trophy, she would become the seventh Gryphons student-athlete to gain such recognition during the season.

“Being able to say that my teammates and I are National Champions is my proudest accomplishment in sport. I think it is extremely special to work towards such a specific goal, for so long, with an incredible group of 24 girls, all of our coaches and our support staff.

I could not be more proud of where the Guelph Gryphons Women’s Hockey program is standing right now. We are very aware of the amazing trailblazing women that have contributed to building it into a championship program. We are thankful that we were able to honour their hard work and dedication.

I am very grateful for the individual accolades that I have received over my career at Guelph. However, I can safely say that winning a National Championship tops any one of them!”

Lamenta (far right) during the Gryphons championship parade (Image obtained from: ttps://www.guelphmercury.com/community-story/9231046-golden-guelph-gryphons-get-the-royal-treatment-after-reaching-top-of-the-mountain/)

Fittingly, the final shower of accolades took place at the Guelph Athletic Banquet. Surrounded by a euphoric circle of friendship and admiration, which included the Gryphons women’s hockey program enjoying their first-ever recognition as the Co-OUA Team of the Year, there was definitely the feeling of a storybook finish as the Golden Path Trophy cemented Lamenta’s standing as one of the greatest goaltenders of U SPORTS ice hockey in the decade.

With team captain Lowy granted the “Gryphie”, recognizing the Moment of the Year in Gryphons athletics, Lamenta added to the program’s hallowed haul of hockey hardware with the W.F. Mitchell Sportswoman of the Year. Presented to a graduating athlete that combines athletics, academics and community work, such an honor most worthy of a player as Lamenta, one who overcame the odds and defined a generation.

“(I will miss) the people. I have been so fortunate to meet some of the most amazing individuals in Guelph! The feeling of community was something that resonated with me as soon as I came for my first visit to Guelph back in January 2014.

That feeling has only developed further and further over the years. I have grown so much as a person since arriving in Guelph and that is all due to the people around me. I have been able to learn from the best teammates, coaches, fellow Gryphons, community leaders, etc. Even though my playing days as a Gryphon may have come to an end, I know that I will forever be a Gryphon.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”


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