Nowhere in the world is ice hockey more beloved than in Canada.
For this reason, Canadian national teams have often dominated international competition, with both the men’s and women’s teams taking home the gold at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year. In fact, the women’s team has not finished lower than second place in any major international tournament since 1990, and spots on the roster are contested by some of the most promising figures in women’s ice hockey.
From Sept. 22-28, Hockey Canada hosted the National Women’s Team Fall Festival in Calgary to evaluate potential members of the 2014-2015 team. Among the 58 participants was Yale goaltender, Jaimie Leonoff ’15.
“It was really amazing … it’s a great experience to get play at the level, to be around those players who have made the top level of women’s hockey,” Leonoff said.
Leonoff, who is currently second on Yale’s single-season save list, was part of the festival comprised of rising stars in women’s ice hockey, including 10 players who were a part of the national team that went on to win a gold medal this year. Players present at the festival participated in a number of practices and scrimmages over the course of the week and received advice from the national team’s coaches.
“There’s all kinds of position-specific things that I learned, and the coaching staff over there — just like the amazing coaching staff we have here — are very good with working with you one-on-one and finding these things,” Leonoff said.
Leonoff noted that the purpose of the event this year was to evaluate for the upcoming World Championships and the Four Nations Cup, an annual tournament involving the four major powerhouses in women’s ice hockey — Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States. She also noted that Hockey Canada relies on the festival as a way to field players for the Meco Cup, a tournament composed of six nations and attended by the Canadian development team.
Now in her fourth year in goal for the Bulldogs, Leonoff has more than earned her spot among possible Team Canada members. As second on Yale’s career save percentage list and fifth on Yale’s career saves list, Leonoff has been a strong contributor to the team’s success in recent years.
“She’s been our starting goaltender the past two years, and she’s won team MVP the past two years … that certainly speaks volumes of the role she serves on our team,” head coach Joakim Flygh said.
Beyond just stopping the puck, Leonoff serves as a leader among her teammates.
“Her biggest role is just stepping up and leading when the rest of team isn’t having our best game,” captain Aurora Kennedy ’15 said. “It’s a lot different for a goalie because they are not as involved during periods, so between periods she just does a great job motivating us and helping us see things we need to do better for next periods.”
The Bulldogs look to build off of a seventh-place finish in the conference and a strong playoff run against Harvard last season.
Kennedy said the Bulldogs are contenders for the Ivy League title and that the program is built on a solid foundation.
“We have a lot of talent; we have a great coaching staff around us. We have a lot of people who really care about our program,” Leonoff said. “We’ll have a great year if everyone just does what they’re here to do.”
The women’s season begins on Oct. 12 with an exhibition at McGill University.