Yukon’s female hockey team hadn’t skated for nearly a week before its first game on Monday morning against Nunavut. It took the team members most of the first period to find their legs.
“I was a little nervous; the first couple shifts were kind of off-beat,” said captain Chantal Rivest, after the game.
“It took us a while to get our legs under us, and to get organized on the bench — it’s the first time we’ve all played together,” said Yukon coach Cheryl Rivest. “So they have to get the communication down.”
The diminutive Nunavut squad held its own against Yukon in the first period, and neither side found the net.
“Everyone was a bit more calm by the second period,” said veteran forward Angela Burke, who scored twice for Yukon.
Nunavut didn’t have the offensive clout to finish most of their drives to the net, but they made Yukon work hard in their own end. It wasn’t a cakewalk for the Yukoners.
“They sure had a lot smaller players, but they were quite rough, actually; I’m not going to lie,” said Burke with a laugh. “It was a good game, we had lots of fun.”
“Once we settled down and actually knew what we were doing, we got familiar with Nunavut’s playing style,” said Chantal, who also scored two goals in Yukon’s victory.
Goalie Alex Whitelaw had a shutout going until the last minute of the game — when a Nunavut player scored. Whitelaw took the MVP award for her efforts, holding Nunavut to just one goal.
Beating Nunavut was a primary goal for Yukon, and coach Rivest said it was a good chance for the green players on the team to get some ice time.
“We wanted to get the younger girls playing; we don’t want them to come all this way and not be able to play because the game’s too rough or too fast,” said the coach.
“I’m thinking we might come up against that with Alberta. It might be a very short bench against the tougher teams.”
Arctic women’s hockey has an age cap of 21. Yukon’s oldest player is 17. And five players are peewee or bantam age (10-14).
It’s a mixed squad, experience-wise, because of Yukon’s limited pool of female players.
“We’ve got girls that have played on the Canada Games team; we’ve got girls that are just starting out — one girl just started skating again at Christmas time, she hadn’t played in two years,” said coach Cheryl.
“We’re really looking to the veterans of the Canada Games to lead us, Chantal Rivest, Angela Burke, Selena Kaytor, Emilie Nugent, Alex Bouchard and Teneesha Merkel.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of new girls, they’re younger and inexperienced, but they’ve learned so much so far. I’m so proud of them,” said Angela Burke.
Chantal is playing in her third Arctic Games, and she recalls making her debut for the team as an 11-year-old, playing against women 10 years her senior: “It was so scary, but it was fun,” she said.
“I think the one thing I had over the others was that I was the underdog, and I had to prove that I could play there. So that gave me an extra edge in my motivation.”
With one win in their back pocket, things are looking good for the Yukon women. But they know the rest of the tournament will be a greater challenge.
“We’ve been through tough times,” said Burke. “At the Canada Games we got pretty much blown out — think about the score being 0-21.”
Burke said the older players will help the younger ones to shrug off the bad games and keep playing.
“We’ve been there before and we know how to deal with it, we’ll just try to get these girls ready, and in the same mindset to prepare for that.”
Yukon’s second game, against NWT, was a 7-1 loss, with Chantal scoring the lone Yukon goal.