From The Brandon Sun
By Thomas Friesen
A true team effort keeps the Assiniboine Community College Cougars on an impressive tear.
On the ice, it’s 15 skaters and two goaltenders led by coach Tony Bertone and his staff that have compiled a 10-1 record. Behind the scenes, athletics manager Larry Shannon works tirelessly to keep the bus rolling back and forth between Brandon and their American opponents.
“We have to give a big thanks to Larry,” said rookie defender Laci Gaffray. “He sets up all the PCR (tests) we need to get across (the border), which can be a hassle and you never know if you can even get one.”
The Cougars had to be road warriors after the American teams didn’t cross the border due to a variety of reasons including budgets, weather cancellations and the omicron variant of COVID-19.
They’ve made four trips to the United States now. As many travellers know, it’s not as simple as it once was to leave or return to Canada. The team takes rapid antigen tests before boarding their bus, then takes PCR tests before their first game but within 72 hours of their return trip.
It’s not always easy to find tests, and it only gets tougher when trying to make it affordable and find a location able to take on a busload of athletes and staff.
Shannon has made it work so far, and Bertone said the team has yet to deal with a positive test on a road trip. Gaffray said the players have been careful and kept small bubbles to ensure they could play after losing the 2020-21 season entirely. Now she’s a seasoned veteran in international travel during a pandemic and has advice for those leaving the country for the first time since the world shut down.
“Be very organized,” Gaffray said. “Have all your vaccination and identification ready to go whenever they ask at the border and do your research ahead of time of where PCRs are taking place.”
When the Cougars returned from a late-January trip, three players and three staff members were randomly selected for additional rapid tests, which they were to take while on a video call with a nurse the following morning. Purolator picked their tests up shortly afterward and they swiftly received their negative results.
While they’re testing negative, their game has certainly been positive.
ACC has played 11 games and hasn’t lost since a 2-1 defeat in the season opener at home against Dakota College at Bottineau. ACC replied with a 2-1 win, sparking a 10-game winning streak including 8-1 and 5-0 triumphs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Friday and Saturday.
Simone Turner-Cummer scored four times in the first game, with Remy Buchanan, Emmalie Thompson, Alisz Belanger and Gaffray adding singles. Turner-Cummer potted two more in the rematch while Aidan Roberts, Mackenzie Dixon and Alecia Simpson also sniped.
Bertone thinks back to the beginning of the season when he watched 16 rookies and the lone veteran Turner-Cummer take the ice for training camp. He was going to take it slow, ease them back into the game and be patient as they learned the team’s systems.
It didn’t take long.
“They’ve bought in, they work hard and I’m just ecstatic with what this group brings,” Bertone said. “Right out of the gate they were all good friends … they gelled and their work ethic is second to none. I’ve been short-staffed with nursing students that weren’t able to come with practicum. We had public safety, we have to work around their schedule so it’s been a juggling act for Larry and we’re on the 18th or 19th version for our schedule.
“It’s been a lot of work but the girls have bought in and they’re playing good hockey.”
The Cougars are in the No. 1 spot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association women’s Division 2 West Region, with a pair of big games ahead against No. 2-ranked Bottineau this weekend.
ACC wraps up the regular season on Feb. 26 and 27 at North Dakota State University, then hopefully heads to St. Louis for nationals on March 15-20. The Cougars claimed their first-ever national title in 2019, then enjoyed a perfect season before the 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID-19. They like their chances of making another run.
“Our biggest thing is just ‘play our game,’” Gaffray said. “All the girls put 100 per cent of their effort in, which shows on and off the ice.
“We’re very fast. We have a lot of speed on our team, all the girls play a big part, some are really good at scoring goals, some are very good (defensively, offensively), we all have our own game we play and it all gels together. But we are really fast, we can move the puck and make a lot of teams scramble, which is very fun to play and fun to be part of.”
(Originally published at https://www.brandonsun.com/sports/hockey/road-warrior-cougars-continue-winning-ways-576213832.html)