The Mount Royal Cougars women's hockey team, featuring three Cochrane athletes, have earned a trip to both the Canada West Finals against the University of Alberta starting on Feb. 28 and the 2020 USports Women's Hockey Championships that will take place March 12 to 15 at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
The Cougars achieved this feat by defeating the University of Calgary Dinos, by winning two games in the best-of-three Canada West semi-final series. After losing Game 1 by a 3-2 score, putting the Cougars on the brink of elimination, the team scored a 3-2 win in Game 2 by netting the game-winning goal with 32 seconds remaining before winning the third and deciding game 1-0 in double overtime.
The Cougars feature three Cochranites on the roster including team captain Daria O'Neill and assistant captains Kate Hufnagel and Nicolette Seper. O'Neill and Hufnagel are in their fifth and final year of eligibility while Seper is in her fourth year.
They will go up against the University of Alberta Pandas, who also earned a berth into the national championship tournament, with Cochranite goaltender Kirsten Chamberlin who has posted sparkling numbers this season. She is 11-3 in 14 games played with a 0.79 goals-against-average, a .955 save percentage and six shutouts. Alberta defeated UBC in their semi-final matchup, sweeping the Thunderbirds two games to none.
"It's always really exciting to see new teams have the opportunity to move on in playoffs and nationals. Especially for a team like Mount Royal who is relatively new to Canwest, it's awesome to see their program and women's hockey in general grow," Chamberlin said of the upcoming games against Mount Royal.
"This year was definitely a testament to how competitive Canwest has become, really any game could go either way. Having ties to Mount Royal and the Calgary area definitely adds a bit of friendly competition to the mix."
O'Neill said it's an amazing feeling to be moving on, but said it feels just a tad better knowing they beat the University of Calgary to do so.
"It's a pretty incredible feeling, and it really hasn't fully sunk in yet that we're going to both the Can(ada) West Finals as well as nationals," she said.
"Our program has made huge strides each season coming closer and closer to the championship so it feels pretty surreal to be part of the team that has finally made the jump."
With Game 3 of the semi-final series going to double overtime, O'Neill said the Cougars did a good job of keeping calm and having fun, which eventually led to the series-clinching goal.
"I think every game we played this season helped prepare us for that moment in double overtime. We even went into overtime with Calgary three weeks prior and won that game too. So the feeling on the bench and in between periods was actually quite exciting, yet calm. We knew what we had to do," she said.
"We're definitely a team that plays our best when we're having fun and keeping it light so I think we all did a good job of creating that kind of energy throughout the game. I believe in my teammates so much I made sure they knew that, especially going into overtime."
With the Cougars win, it means both O'Neill's and Hufnagel's time in a Mount Royal uniform will be extended for another few weeks. O'Neill said it's awesome to be able to share it with two other girls from her hometown.
"It's definitely something special to be accomplishing things we've never done before, especially with it being my last year. We still have so much left to give and I'm not ready to hang up the skates just yet," she said.
"It definitely makes it even more special having the Cochrane gang on the team. I only moved to Cochrane when I was 14 so I never played minor hockey with either of them, but I did play all of my high school careers with Kate at Edge so being able to finish our careers playing together is pretty special."
"The next few weeks are going to a ton of fun. I can't wait to leave it all out there and just soak it all in with my teammates."