Expectations high as Sault College women look for nationals repeat

From Soo Today

By Brad Coccimiglio


It’s not uncommon to hear an athlete or a coach talk about wanting to win the last game of the season.

For the Sault College women’s hockey team, it’s definitely been a while since the team has lost a game after going unbeaten last season en route to an American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship.

The national championship appearance was the second straight in the tournament for the team after advancing in their first season of ACHA play in 2021-22.

It’s not surprising that the expectations are high this season for the team. To live up to the high expectations isn’t going to be easy after winning 31 straight games from start to finish last season.

“It can be really difficult,” Sault College coach Brianne Shunock said of the expectations coming off an unbeaten season. “Especially when there’s so many games. Winning 31 games, winning the national championship, we already understand what it’s like to be the team that is known, the team that everyone wants to beat. The biggest thing that we are focusing on as a team this year is making sure that we are consistent and that the team that won last year, we need to remind ourselves that we do not have that same team this year.”

Shunock added that she believes this year’s team is “stronger than we were last year.”

The veteran coach added the focus will move from the idea of winning last year to how the team carved out its success.

Shunock said there has been some roster turnover from last season in addition to a small group of graduating players.

“As you change as a program and you get stronger, there are those changes that have to be made,” Shunock said.

“We’ve taken on nine first-year players this year,” Shunock added.

The newcomers round out the 20-player roster the team will take into the season.

“It makes a big difference,” Shunock said of the roster turnover, but added that the team got bigger with the new roster additions.

As for the new faces in the lineup, Shunock said she believes they will be able to push the returnees, which will be good for the program overall.

“These are all players that are very competitive,” Shunock said. “At certain times, they’re going to be pushing our veterans into uncomfortable situations and which is exactly what we want because these are our future leaders.”

Shunock also said that the intensity during the early stages of the team’s training camp “is stronger than it was last year, which has our staff really excited.”

“But that also means that our expectations have gown with this team,” she added.

With 11 returning players, Shunock said the additional focus for the veteran players will be helping the young players adapt to college hockey life.

“A lot of the time, we seem to forget that they have full courseloads and they’re competing (athletically) as well,” Shunock said. “It can be very overwhelming for a first-year student, especially the first two weeks of school and we have practices started and our off-ice training has started.”

Shunock said each of the returning players takes on a first-year player, typically in a similar program, and act as a big sister for the player during the season.

“It’s just so no one is getting overwhelmed by all of the different things that they need to do and the organization they have to do on their part,” Shunock said.

Shunock said the likes of ACHA second-leading scorer Marie-Pier Lecours and nationals MVP Emily Moore among a host of other returnees will play crucial roles as the program enters the new season.

“We know what they can do,” Shunock said of the returning group. We’re expecting them to take on those leadership roles.”

The two-year success of the program, which saw the team advance to the national championship in 2021-22 before winning last year’s DII national title, has gone a long way in cementing Sault College as a potential destination for players and potential non-conference opponents for other programs.

“When I took over as coach, I would tell any player that I was recruiting that I wanted to win a national championship within three years and it was almost like it was a pipe dream for me,” Shunock said.

Shunock added that “it just goes to show that everyone bought into the program that we wanted to create.”

“We started with a brand-new staff; we started with all but two brand new players,” Shunock said. “We have had players just completely buy into the program. As a female hockey player that grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, this is one of the best things that has happened for hockey in Sault Ste. Marie.”

“I say that because we have players from the Sault Female Hockey Association that are coming to our games,” Shunock also said. “They’re young players that understand that Sault College is a place they can strive to play at.”

(Originally published at https://www.sootoday.com/pursuit/expectations-high-as-sault-college-women-look-for-nationals-repeat-7543308)