Ice Cats ready to claw tougher competition

By Laura Thompson

The Ottawa Ice Cats are on the prowl again after finishing with the silver medal at last year’s provincial A championships.

The senior A women’s hockey club, which calls the Carleton University Ice House home, is moving up into the open competitive division of the Ottawa District Women’s Hockey Association. Now in their third season, they are hoping to find more competitive play against the tougher AA squads.

Last year, the Ice Cats dominated the A division and won their regular season, but were promoted to the AA division for the league playoffs but were knocked out. However, they still competed at the Provincial A Championships, finishing second. The team is still undecided as to where they will compete in this year’s provincials, but aim to take gold regardless.

“I think we’re fitting in really well. We’re just getting used to longer ice times and officiating changes,” says veteran player Aubrie McGibbon on playing in the new division. There have been some rule changes that have trickled down from the NHL this year, leading to stricter penalty calls and 90-minute games, compared to last year’s 50 minutes.

Of the six teams in eastern Ontario playing in the Open division, head coach Len Sheedy sees the AA Ottawa Roadrunners and the AA Ottawa Kars Aces as their biggest competition.

“It depends with any of us [teams] on who’s there on any given night,” he says. “If their best players are there and our best players are there, it’s going to be one heck of a game.”

The women on the Ice Cats are of all ages. They have jobs and families, so there are nights when they simply cannot make it. But in general, the team turnout for a game is high.

“Having the proper number of players and who are committed to coming to all the games is important,” says Clement Asbreuk, the father of player, Andrea Asbreuk. “It’s very hard to run a team without good player support. These guys have it.”

Another challenge is funding, especially with the new longer games that leave the team trying to cover the cost of the extra ice time. Sheedy says a season costs between $12,000 and $15,000. While all players pay a base fee, the team also held garage sales, chocolate drives and even have an online hockey pool. But the most significant contributions come from their sponsors, Smilespa and Taste of Japan restaurants and Giant Tiger.

The team has some turnover with women moving away or starting families. There are eight new women playing this year who come from a variety of hockey backgrounds, which Sheedy says, provides depth to the team.

“Experience is definitely one of our strengths,” says captain Alison Stewart, who played for Cornell University. “We have a lot of players who have graduated from Division I in the States and some schools in Canada. So, we’ve got a lot of veteran players.”

Experience is important, says McGibbon but determination is the key to the team’s success.

“The team’s absolute strength is its heart and its desire to be a team first and then subsequently a winner,” she says.

The women come together to play hockey and stay with the team because they love it, says Stewart. “It’s hard to find a team as cohesive as this one. Everyone gets along. Everyone has the same goals. Everyone wants to compete and have fun at the same time, so it’s the perfect balance between competition and fun. That’s the winning formula for us.”