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Sault College women's hockey team rebuilds to earn national championship berth

The team opens the five-day event on Tuesday evening
2022-03-14 Sault College Women's Hockey Supplied BD
Sault College's women's hockey team opens the ACHA Division II National Championship on Tuesday.

The Sault College women’s hockey team hit the road Sunday for the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Championship.

Entering the five-day event on the heels of posting a 10-5-1 record playing in the Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association.

The only losses suffered by the team this season were to Lake Superior State University and Assiniboine University, who both enter the event as the top seeds in their respective divisions.

While the season has been an adjustment with turnover on the roster and adjusting to ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, the season has been a successful one nonetheless.

Sault College coach Brianne Veale called advancing to the tournament “huge for our program.”

“When I came on, it was a full rebuilding year and we knew that,” Veale said. “We had two players returning from the previous team.”

Veale added that the turnover saw the team add players that came in with “a very competitive mindset.”

“I don’t think that any coach will tell you that this year was easy when it comes to COVID,” Veale added. “Typically, you have your complications when it comes to injuries and this just added a whole new level of (complications) like who will be able to play, crossing the border, getting our testing done and everything like that.”

“Being able to do all of that in an American league as a Canadian team and to come out second in our division is remarkable,” Veale added.

Veale added that going through a season with COVID restrictions wasn’t easy.

“I have to give credit to the College for figuring out the safest way for us to travel and to continue our season with the financial barriers that were imposed with the additional testing and the additional nights (on the road),” Veale said. “Also, the players are already used to missing a Friday class and now they have to miss a Monday class because of testing, or our schedule changes the week before because another team has to cancel their games because of COVID.”

The team has been strong on special teams this season, which included not giving up a goal on the penalty kill at regionals.

Veale also said the team has a solid group on defence which has allowed the club to transition well to the offensive side of the game.

Veale said the season was a major learning curve for players as well.

Practicing primarily at the Rankin Arena locally, Veale said a majority of the Sault College games were played on NHL- and Olympic-size rink surfaces, which are larger than many of the ice surfaces locally.

Veal said it meant adjustments as the regular season got underway, “whether it was how aggressive we were, or the type of power play we were using.”

Veale said the success this season has meant increased interest in players potentially wanting to join the program.

“The program needed this success to show that we are a top-calibre team in the ACHA Division II,” Veale said. “We’re only going to continue getting stronger.”

A first-year coach with the team, Veale called it “a pretty great, but also pretty stressful year.”

“I’ve realized just how connected I am to the girls, both as a former player and as their head coach,” Veale added. “I have good understanding of what they’re going through, whether it’s something with school or outside of school in their personal lives or on the ice. We’ve been able to really connect and make sure that everyone is able to succeed both on and off the ice.”

Sault College opens the National Championship on Tuesday night against New Hampshire before facing Vermont on Wednesday and Assiniboine on Thursday.

The tournament semifinal games are set for Friday with the championship game scheduled for Saturday.

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Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at FoxSports.com in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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