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Gaels seeded third at CIS women’s hockey tournament

March 6, 2013
Marlee Fisher

Marlee Fisher

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

You’d think that winning an Ontario championship would afford a team enough respect that they wouldn’t have to get up for a 7 a.m. practice.

“Yeah,” Marlee Fisher said with a grin. “I don’t think I signed up for this.

“Seven a.m. is a little early.”

Yet there was Fisher early Tuesday morning, among the Queen’s Golden Gaels drilling and scrimmaging at the Memorial Centre for the last time before departing for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey championship tournament in Toronto.

Hardship though it may have been, indignity though it may have been, the Gaels didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, in the spirit of collectively enduring adversity, nary a discouraging word was spoken.

“I’ve never practised at 7 in the morning, not since I was really little,” Fisher said, “but I think we were a little bit excited to have to get up and go through that together, as a team.

“No one really wants to wake up that early but as soon as we get on the ice we’re here to do a job and we do that without complaining. We have fun. It’s always fun.”

For Fisher, the Frontenac Secondary School grad who is the local connection to the women’s varsity team, the final practice before departing for Toronto was another opportunity to savour a championship, the first, she said, of her hockey-playing career.

“It’s exciting,” she said, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Fisher began her intercollegiate career five years ago, when she received a scholarship to play and study at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she played for three years but lost two others to a back injury.

“I was hit into boards and I just didn’t let it heal,” Fisher said. “It kept spiralling downward from there. I would get OK and I would go out and practise and it would flare up again. I was off playing hockey for two full seasons.”

Fisher said she was never discouraged to the point where the game started to lose its appeal. “I love the game,” she said. “I want to play. I want to play as long as I can.”

Right before her final year the women’s hockey program at Wayne State fell victim to a budget cut. “I finished out my degreee,” Fisher said, “but I decided I wasn’t done playing hockey.”

That’s when Fisher landed back in Kingston, pursuing a Master’s in global development at Queen’s.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “My teammates are really supportive, everyone’s really fun, we have a cohesive group. Our coach, Matt (Holmberg), is always positive, always constructive in what he’s saying. He really believes in us, which helps boost our confidence on the ice.”

Canadian and American university programs, Fisher said, “are more similar than people make them out to be.”

“At Wayne State there was a large focus on hockey — you’re here for hockey, it’s your job, and school is an equal part of that. In Canada, you’re a student-athlete, school comes first, then you play your sport … but at the same time, there’s an air of when we’re at practice, or off-ice or at a game, this is what we’re here to do, and we do it.”

The Gaels go into the six-team national championship tournament knowing very little about their opponents. They were 1-2 against the host Toronto Blues and did not play any of the other four teams there. In non-conference play this year, Queen’s was 3-0 against Canada West opponents and 2-2 against Quebec schools.

In preliminary play in Toronto, the Gaels are in a pool with No. 2-ranked St. Francis Xavier and No. 5-ranked Calgary.

“Against U of T we struggled a bit but know we can beat them,” Fisher said. “We don’t know much about Calgary except Hailey Wickenheiser is on the team. She’s someone to watch for on the ice. I don’t think we should be scared of that, but as a defenceman, you’ve got to be aware of her.”

Queen’s, the tournament’s third-seeded team, did not play anyone in the Atlantic conference this year but Windsor, a team the Gaels eliminated in the first round of conference playoffs, played two games against St. Francis Xavier at Christmastime and won them both.

“It doesn’t really mean anything (except) we shouldn’t be scared of them, either,” Fisher. “We respect our opponents but we go out there to win. We’re not afraid to lose.”

Just the facts

What: Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey championship tournament.

Logistics: Begins Thursday at Varsity Arena, Toronto.

Format: Six teams will play a round-robin within one of two three-team pools Thursday through Saturday; teams will qualify to play Sunday for either the championship, bronze medal or fifth place.

Who: Quebec champion Montreal, the No. 1 seed, is in a pool with No. 4 British Columbia (Canada West champion) and No. 6 Toronto (host); No. 3 Queen’s (Ontario champion) is in a pool with No. 2 St. Francis Xavier (Atlantic champion) and No. 5 Calgary (Canada West finalist and defending champion).

Queen’s: 32-6-3 overall (20-4-2 in the regular year, 6-1 in the playoffs, 6-1-1 in non-conference play) opens Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock vs. the loser of Thursday’s pool opener between Calgary and St. F.X.

History: This is Queen’s second OUA championship in three years, and the Gaels’ first appearance at the national tournament since 2011, when they won the bronze medal; Queen’s has never won a national championship.

Local flavour: Frontenac Secondary School grad Marlee Fisher plays defence for Queen’s; Kingston native Leila Chan Currie is a forward with U of T.

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