Lady Red Hawks score community’s support
|By Matthew Desrosiers - Editor | March 20, 2015|
The bus ride home from Kenora wasn’t a happy one, but the mood didn’t reflect the team’s effort at the OFSAA tournament that week.
“Once you’re out, there’s emotion,” said HHSS Red Hawks girls hockey coach Dan Marsden. “It’s never great to lose, but if you can lose with grace and dignity, and learn from it, sometimes those are good building blocks to go forward from.”
Marsden’s team qualified for the provincial tournament by finishing second in their COSSA championships. The Red Hawks defeated Prince Edward Collegiate Institute (PECI) to earn their spot, but lost to St. Mary’s in the COSSA finals.
From March 9-12, the Red Hawks competed against Ontario’s best teams, and while they never won a game, they managed to score in each of their outings.
“I was totally impressed with the level of play the girls showed,” said Marsden. “Everybody increased their level of play.”
The physicality of the other teams was something the Red Hawks had to adjust to, but Marsden said they stepped up and competed hard.
“We scored every game, never got shut out. A few bounces here and there could have been the difference.”
But before the girls ever got on the bus for OFSAA, there was a major victory back at home.
“I would say [OFSAA] was amazing even before it ever happened,” said Marsden. “There was just outstanding support from the community, donating money to help make this possibility become a reality.”
During COSSA, after the girls won their game against PECI, Marsden told them in the dressing room that the cost to travel to Kenora for the provincial tournament could be prohibitive. In fact, St. Mary’s, the COSSA champions, decided not to make the trip and backed out of their spot.
“I said ‘Yes, we’ve qualified, but we still have to look at the big picture,’” he said.
The cost of transporting the team to OFSAA was nearly $12,000, before food and accommodations. But the community came to the table and supported the time financially so they could make the trip.
“It was overwhelming,” said Marsden. “It was an opportunity for these girls to experience. They will take away the support of our community and the experience they had there in working and playing as a team.”
Red Hawk Erin Little said competing at OFSAA was a lot of fun.
“It was a really good experience, really neat,” she said. “We kept having to remind ourselves we’d made it there.”
“It was unforgettable.”
Little said she and her teammates were in shock for the first while after qualifying, but they weren’t sure they’d be able to make the trip.
“Then we heard the community was supporting us, and we got the money. It was like, ‘wow.’”
Many of the girls on the team have been playing together for a long time, both on the Red Hawks and the Highland Storm team. But Little said the team played their best at OFSAA.
“We did really well,” she said. “We played the best hockey we’ve played all season. We were more competitive.”
Little said the girls all stepped up their game.
“A lot of it had to do with the passion we had to play, and we wanted to do well so we gave it our all and did our best.”
Teammate Connor Marsden echoed Little’s sentiments.
“We played our hearts out,” she said. “Everyone gave it their best, even if we didn’t have the lead.”
She said the OFSAA experience reinforced how great her teammates are.
“From this tournament I took away how truly grateful I am to have such incredible teammates. They are more than that, they are family and I wouldn’t have wanted to go on this journey with any other girls.”
Both Connor Marsden and Little are graduating this year. They, along with four other teammates, will not be returning to the Red Hawks. The team’s last game at OFSAA may have been the last for girls Red Hawks hockey, simply due to a lack of players.
“A lot of us were upset [after the game], mostly because that would be our final year of ever playing high school hockey, and because there probably won’t be a team again next year,” said Little. “We’ve been together so long, there were a lot of tears. A lot of people were upset, but we were proud of ourselves, too.”
A week after the tournament, Little said the emotions are still there.
“It’s still bittersweet,” she said. “But a lot of people here are really proud of us. It’s easier to handle knowing no one is disappointed and we gave it our best. Getting [to OFSAA] was an accomplishment on its own.”
Coach Marsden, who is also the school’s principal, was instrumental in creating a competitive girls hockey program at HHSS. However, with half the team graduating this year, including the goalie, he said it’s unlikely there will be girls’ hockey next year.
“The last four years, we tried to build a program primarily on the Storm team that was the nucleus of this club,” he said. “To go back and rebuild … I would just like to see it continue at a competitive level and I don’t know if that could happen.”
Haliburton County is a ‘B’ level centre, but the team competes against schools with more depth. He said there are some county league players coming into the high school, but the skill gap between county and high school hockey is just too big.
“I’m not saying girls’ hockey can’t happen, but it’s one of those, you have to look at if a team does happen, you’re given this hand of cards where you’re going to be struggling. It’s sometimes not fun and can almost be a negative.”
Marsden said there are other extra curriculars offered at the school, and the community supports those as well.
“There’s a wealth of opportunity for extra curriculars, whether it’s sports or the arts,” he said. “There’ a lot that our kids are part of. We have a great staff trying to support the interests of all students in the extra curriculars.”
Little said she’s happy to have had the opportunity to play hockey as a Red Hawk.
“The biggest impact it’s had is the friendships I’ve made with the girls on the team,” she said. “They’re a lot like sisters to me because it was the same girls every year. We know what each other are going to do on the ice, and we are best friends.”
“It’ll be really hard to leave them. I’m personally really proud of my team, and I know we did well and we should be proud of it what we did.”
Connor Marsden said she’s thankful for the time she’s had with her team.
“No matter what happens, I know there’s an incredible group of girls that will always have my back,” she said. “No matter how much us girls got made fun of by the boys because ‘girls hockey is a joke,’ we all still stuck together and accomplished huge things.”
“For that, I am truly proud and grateful.”
MATTHEW DESROSIERS is the editor of The Highlander.