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For many hockey teams, last year would have constituted a dream season. A Quebec championship. A second place finish at the nationals. A small smattering of losses against a hugely impressive collection of wins.
Not enough, though, for the McGill Martlets.
The Martlets left no room for doubt this season about which university women's hockey team is the best in the country. After going undefeated through both the regular season (18-0) and playoffs (7-0), the Martlets clinched the national title on March 10 in Ottawa, with a 2-0 victory over Wilfrid Laurier.
"It was a huge win for our program," says McGill head coach Peter Smith, BEd'79, MA'86. "We have been knocking at the door for a number of years and it's really nice to finally reach the top." Not only is this the Martlets' first national title, it's the first time a McGill women's team in any sport has captured a Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) championship.
The Martlets, who lost last year's hockey final to the University of Alberta Pandas, were taking part in their eighth CIS championship tourney in nine years, having previously earned two silvers and four bronze medals.
Martlets netminder Charline Labonté stopped all 55 shots she faced during the tournament, earning shutouts in all three games the team played. After coming within one win of a national title last year, Labonté says the Martlets were determined to play their best at the CIS finals this time.
"There was a lot of pressure on us," says Labonté. "We have felt that pressure but were also up for the challenge."
Rookie rearguard Cathy Chartrand scored the winning goal in the final match and was named MVP of the tournament. "We did it as a family," says Chartrand. "We had one goal, and we followed it step by step." Chartrand was also named to the all-tournament team, along with defence partner Catherine Ward and McGill forward Vanessa Davidson.
The rooting section for the Martlets during the gold medal game included a few surprising faces. Several players from the University of Alberta, McGill's archrivals, donned Martlet jerseys and cheered McGill on. Martlets captain Shauna Denis, BCom'07, encountered some of the Alberta players after the game and was told they wanted McGill to win because the Martlets demonstrated skill and class throughout the tournament.
Several Martlets received special honours for their contributions to their team's dream season. Davidson earned the Gladys Bean trophy as McGill's female athlete of the year, while three others took top CIS prizes. Smith was named coach of the year, Denis won the Marion Hillard Award as the top student-athlete and forward Ann-Sophie Bettez was named rookie of the year.
Smith and Labonté travelled to China shortly after their CIS triumph, where they earned silver medals as members of Team Canada at the women's world hockey championships. Smith coaches the national team and Labonté is one of its netminders.