Champion Gryphons parade with their hardware

GUELPH – If members of the Guelph Gryphons varsity women’s hockey team had any doubt about the amount of support they had at the U Sports national tournament from both the University of Guelph community and Guelphites in general, those doubts should have been blown away Tuesday.

The Gryphs celebrated their national championship win with an on-campus parade down the roadway beside Reynolds Walk from their home Gryphon Centre arena to the University Centre. They were led by the campus police and assistant football coach Mike MacDonald in his Mountie uniform and trailed by the City of Guelph firefighters. Gryph was there, too. So were two championship banners and two championship trophies. And, just to make it a truly Canadian event, there was also a Zamboni.

“It was incredible,” said Gryphon captain Kaitlin Lowy. “It was a lot of fun and it shows such tremendous support for the people around us and that’s something that we knew we had all year, but to really see it come out from the department and from the fans and the friends, it was really, really tremendous.”

The parade might have only been about 350 metres, but the Gryphons enjoyed every metre of it.

“That was so cool,” said Valerie Lamenta who was the all-tournament goalie and was named OUA female athlete of the week earlier Tuesday. “Just walking out of the rink into literally a tunnel of football players with all the athletic staff. It was just amazing. Just realizing the support of everyone who was behind us and following was just amazing.”

Lowy didn’t walk the parade route, but was pushed down it by teammates as she was in a wheelchair after she fell and suffered an ankle injury after arriving back in Guelph.

“I slipped coming into my house yesterday,” she said. “There was a big ice patch. I was running. I was too excited. It was a celebration injury, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

While in Charlottetown the Gryphs got an inkling of the support they had back home and they also received plenty of support from the people of P.E.I., too, who cheered loudly for them throughout the championship match.

“Being over there, we kind of got stuck in our little bubble,” Lamenta said. “We were in P.E.I., but it was when we were getting all the messages from everyone. All the texts. Not even the final or the semifinal – the quarter-final. People were just so excited and it was amazing just to be able to represent such an amazing community.”

The Gryphs might have played their best hockey of the season in the three wins at the tournament. Coach Rachel Flanagan had said all season that it was a special group this season, but coaches say that almost every season. But this season with this team, it was true.

“They never ceased to amaze (assistant coach) Katie (Mora) and I,” Flanagan said. “Our leadership group, every time they left the office we were just blown away – sometimes by how incitefull they were and also sometimes by how much they challenged us. We had to really discuss and think about the stuff they were challenging us with. We had a really open-door policy with our game play and some of it was that, but most of it was just how to manage our group and our culture. They’re just incredible.”

And they were a team, something that stood out when the Gryphons were ignored when it came to being recipients of major awards or all-star selections at the tournament’s awards banquet on the eve of the competition.

“No all-stars. No major award winners,” Flanagan said. “That just goes to show the depth of our team and the national tournament certainly showed that we had scoring from all of our lines, people that stepped up in huge moments – people that were supposed to step up and people who just provided some heroic opportunity.”

“I’ve been saying this. Everyone was perfect and that’s how you’ve got to be to win the U Sports national championship,” Lowy said. “Everyone showed up and everyone was perfect. When we played Montreal in our semifinal, we had 13 different people with points on the board and that’s something that’s just been characteristic of our team all year.

“We had no major award winners. We had no all-Canadians. We had no coach of the year. At the U Sports awards, we weren’t well represented there, but we knew we were deep. We have 24 players who are really, really talented and we made each other better every day and that’s what we had going for us. There wasn’t a lot of star power, just a lot of team power.”

And they believed in each other, from the first line to the fourth line to the players in the stands.

“We have a group that didn’t play as often as others, but every single shift they got, they were impact in the tournament,” Flanagan said.

When the Gryphs won the McCaw Cup OUA championship game the weekend before the national tournament, their on-ice celebration was pretty subdued. The provincial title was nice and respected, but the job wasn’t done yet.

“That’s exactly what it was,” Lamenta said. “We wanted to win the McCaw Cup because we wanted to go into Nationals as winners, but the McCaw was not the final objective. The final objective was getting the national championship. As soon as we won the OUA final, we were happy and we celebrated, but then we were right back into focus for our quarter-final matchup against Manitoba.”

The Gryphs disposed of defending champion Manitoba Bisons and Quebec powerhouses Montreal Carabins and McGill Martlets to get their national title. During each intermission, Lowy would say a rhyme pertaining to that game.

“Before every period I give a little pump up and I usually have a rhyme for everyone each game,” she said. “It gets the girls going.”

She had one more at the celebration at Brass Taps following the parade.

“We kept our feet on the pedal, now we have a gold medal.”


  • Guelph Sports Journal