Preparations are underway for the Nipissing Lakers women’s hockey team in their quest to return to the U Sports National Championship for a third straight year.
Over the last two seasons, the Lakers have been to the McCaw Cup finals, losing the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship game in 2022 on home ice to the Brock Badgers and then on the road against the Toronto Varsity Blues last season. Facing off against the best competition in the country, the Lakers were silver medallists in 2022 and finished their year in the consolation semi-finals on the national stage in 2023.
This year, the Lakers will be without a noticeable name, Maria Dominico, who graduates after 101 games played in her OUA career and finishes as the Lakers most decorated player with 44 career goals, 46 career assists and 90 career points – all of which are program records.
And while Lakers Head Coach Darren Turcotte admits Dominico was a big part of the team's offense year in and year out, he expects his squad to be able to find ways to replace her production thanks to the depth the team has built.
“We had a lot of that last year too and we’re pretty excited about the players that are returning. Maria garnered a lot of attention from the opposition last year, but we had other players that stepped up and produced for us offensively.”
That includes younger sister Malory Dominico, who tied Maria’s school record for goals in a single season, notching 15 last season in 26 games played. Malory has scored 33 total goals across her 64 games played which is the second-best mark in the school's history and her 26 points last year in 26 games ties the record her sister set in her Freshman year in 2017-18.
Aside from the Dominico sisters, Turcotte has a strong class of forwards returning that have had good success on the offensive side of the puck.
“Katie Chomiak and Maggie McKee and Madison Laberge and a lot of other players really stepped up last year and they are going into this year with more knowledge of the entire league and all that extra experience, and we definitely have the offense to be able to get the job done,” says Turcotte.
On the back end, the Lakers will be without Chloe Marshall who has graduated as well. Marshall was one of the big keys to the team's success as she and Chantal Sandquist formed one of the best goaltending tandems in the league over the last two years.
“Marshall was great for us for those two seasons,” says Turcotte. “With Sandquist coming back for the next couple of years, we feel we’re in a good spot. She got some meaningful playoff experience last year, and we’ve got two younger goalies coming in and right now we feel like both could step in whenever we need it. But Sandquist’s got the ball and we’re excited to see what she can do with it coming into the season as the number one goalie.”
Sandquist got into 15 games this past season, posting a 1.77 Goals Against Average and .925 save percentage, finishing with a 10-3-0 record.
Rachel Lee from Victoria, British Columbia and Jordan Sladics from Strathroy, Ont., are the two newcomers who will back up Sandquist between the pipes.
“Lee had a good season last year and she may be a little bit smaller but she is a dynamic goalie. Sladics is a bigger goalie and we’ve been happy with the work she has put in so far.”
But they aren’t the only fresh faces looking to make an impact with the team this year.
“This entire group has been committed for over a year now,” says Turcotte. “We know what we have coming in and we’ve got some great players. Abby Lunney was part of Canada’s Under-18 national team and a Team Ontario player, and she has looked good on the ice with us so far through training and practices and she’s going to be a big part of our team this year.”
Turcotte has also done a tremendous job over the years of bringing in players from the western provinces and that’s something that continues to this season.
“We’ve got three players from out West. Tahlia Fisher and Rachel Lee are both from Victoria, BC and Melissa Svienson is from Saanichton, BC and all three of them come from a good program. Fisher and Svienson bring some size up front, and they’ve got some speed. They put up pretty good numbers last year and while we expect there to be some growing pains, we feel they can step in and contribute.”
And there continues to be a great relationship between the Lakers and the local grassroots girl's hockey program, the Ice Boltz which has had several players graduate from that system and become Lakers themselves. The bond is so tight, that the program has been changed from Ice Boltz to Junior Lakers and Ella Ouellete is a North Bay-born defenceman who will continue that lineage this season.
“She’s another talented local player that we are bringing into our program,” says Turcotte. “Defence might be a bit tougher of a role to step into, but she has great work ethic and we’re excited to see where that goes.”
The season gets started for the Lakers on Friday, October 13, when they visit the Toronto Varsity Blues at 7 p.m. The Lakers home opener will be the next evening when they host Toronto Metropolitan Bold at Memorial Gardens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 14.