No one can accuse the Memorial Sea-Hawks women's hockey team of being unprepared for its upcoming pair of exhibition games with the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Panthers in St. John's.
MUN has been practicing every chance it gets since ice went down on the Avalon Peninsula, even travelling as far as the Southern Shore Arena in Mobile for Saturday evening skates. If nothing else, the Sea-Hawks are at least ready physically for the encounter with UPEI Friday and Saturday, the first women's interuniversity hockey games - exhibition or otherwise - ever played in this province.
"They're doing off-ice training, too. They're taking it really seriously," said MUN head coach Chris Whelan. "They've given up their Saturday nights to practice at the Southern Shore Arena ... to do all this, it shows a real level of commitment and excitement."
Although most hockey observers might not be aware of it, the MUN women's hockey team has been up and running for a few years now.
The Sea-Hawks are not a sanctioned AUS team and in the past received no funding from Memorial University, making the club one of the best kept sports secrets on campus.
All the money necessary to run the team has traditionally come from fundraising and out of the pockets of players and coaches, including the trip the Sea-Hawks made to P.E.I. two years ago to play the Panthers in a pair of exhibition games.
Despite the obstacles that come with operating at the club level, the Sea-Hawks' players have never let these struggles discourage them from playing for their school. The sacrifices have made all the gains that much sweeter, particularly this weekend's games with UPEI.
"To know that's around the corner ... (the players are) really looking forward to it," said Hazen Scarth, coordinator and former head coach of the MUN women's team.
UPEI comes to St. John's for games at O'Hehir Arena in St. John's. Friday's game goes 8:30 p.m. and the rematch Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Panthers are a full-fledged AUS team, but currently sit near the bottom of the eight-team Atlantic conference with two wins and six losses.
However, despite UPEI's sub-.500 record, it will be the toughest competition MUN has faced in the past two years, during which time the Sea-Hawks mostly saw action against minor hockey teams and local senior women's clubs.
"But that's the whole purpose, to expose our players to the highest level we can give them," said Whelan.
Most of the MUN players are natives of this province and come from a high school hockey background. Some players, such as Tara Snow, Ashley Dunphy, Nancy Wadden, Maria Cuomo and Margot Doucet, have suited up for provincial teams in the past.
"We're pretty pleased with the talent," said Scarth.
In addition to the girls from Newfoundland and Labrador, the Sea-Hawks' roster also includes players from the mainland. Robin Williams is from Toronto, Nadine Wagner hails from Summerside, P.E.I., Haley Rose calls Kingston, Ont. home, Christy Persick is from Saskatchewan and Kalee Grant grew up in Antigonish, N.S. Combined with the local talent, these players help give MUN a roster good enough to play in the AUS, according to Whelan, a scout for the Dalhousie Tigers women's hockey team and bench boss of the 2006 Canada Winter Games girls' team.
"We've got a high calibre of players at all positions," Whelan said. "Mallory (Jagoe) is a good goalie ... she could play in the AUS without question. Nancy (Wadden) up front, she played for Dalhousie and played very well for them. Margot (Doucet) is a skilled forward, she's very good with the puck. Tara (Snow) was recruited to play for Dal but felt it was worth her while to stay here."
Whelan said he has a good scouting report on the Panthers and from what he's learned, the Sea-Hawks have a shot at earning at least one win during the two-game set.
"Do I think we can beat them? Yes I do," Whelan said.
"But I think we can still have a successful weekend if we don't win either game ... This is a step in the right direction for our team and girls' hockey in the province."
Just what direction the MUN women's hockey team goes after this season is still unclear, according to Scarth. He admits he'd love to see the day when the team was a fully sanctioned and sponsored AUS program, but he's not sure that day will ever come. For now, he's pleased with the $1,000 grant Memorial has given the team to help cover this season's expenses, a gesture he hopes leads to similar funding in the future.
"One step at a time," Scarth said. "There's been talk of MUN developing a tier system for sports, where your funding is dictated by what tier your sport is in (Tier 1 would be fully sponsored, Tier 2 partially sponsored, etc.).
"We're excited to see what the tier system could mean for us ... But right now, we're quite happy with what we have."
One thing Scarth is certain of is that if MUN ever did decide to bring men's and women's hockey teams back into the fold, it wouldn't be a problem to recruit players.
He said the biggest drawing card would be the school's low tuition.
"MUN is such good value with its tuition rates. It would be a real advantage," said Scarth.
"You wouldn't have to offer scholarships because of the great value."
Tickets for the two games are available at the MUN student union office. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12.
The roster for the 2007-08 MUN women's hockey team:
Player Hometown Position
Maria Cuomo St. John's defence
Margot Doucet St. John's forward
Ashley Dunphy Holyrood defence
Megan Elliott Bonavista forward
Sarah Graham Burin forward
Kaylee Grant Antigonish, N.S. forward
Kelsey Hayley Bonavista defence
Mallory Jagoe Marystown goalie
Sarah Jensen Harbour Breton defence
Jessica Letto L'Anse au Clair forward
Christy Persick Saskatchewan forward
Melanie Power Bonavista forward
Hayley Rose Kingston, Ont. defence
Susan Scarth St. John's defence
Tara Snow Harbour Grace defence
Staci Stapleton Marystown forward
Katie Wadden St. John's forward
Nancy Wadden St. John's forward
Nadine Wagner Summerside, P.E.I. defence
Robin Williams Toronto, Ont. goalie
Eunece Woodfine Millertown forward
Allison Young Logy Bay goalie
Coaching staff: Chris Whelan, Paradise, head coach; Meghan Frizzel, Burnt Cove, assistant coach; Jennie Wadden, St. John's, assistant coach; Michelle Mullaley, Placentia, off-ice coordinator; Hazen Scarth, St. John's, team coordinator