Last week was going to be the kickoff of a huge weekend for the University of Prince Edward Island women’s hockey team. Hosting the U Sports national championships, UPEI was at the rink last Thursday watching the first games of the tournament.
Then everything changed.
Hockey Canada released a statement that everything was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Panthers, who finished the season 20-8 and were nationally ranked, found out that night that their season was over.
“After the later game we went back and then we got a text from our captain about an hour later,” said defenseman Ally Clements, a PEI native who is in her third year on the team. “We found out that our coach was going to talk to us but that everything was canceled. We all knew something was going to happen because Coach was just off that day. Hockey Canada put out their press release and the NHL had announced that everything was on hold, so we had a feeling something would happen but it was still devastating.”
The Panthers hosted the tournament last year as well but this season there was a feeling that they had a chance to do damage. They were nationally ranked since November.
“We went into the tournament knowing we could compete,” Clements said. “We were prepared to play Alberta. A lot of work went into putting the tournament together and it was devastating not only to us, but all the volunteers involved. There were so many teams and all the family members who came in from all over Canada.”
UPEI’s story is similar to all the other stories around North America with a sudden end to the hockey season. But unlike some other teams, the Panthers had the chance to get back on the ice one more time, which was immeasurably important to the graduating players.
On Saturday, after all the events were canceled, the Panthers had the ice and were able to play an alumni game against former players who were in town for the tournament.
“We had a really nice dinner on Friday night with our team and all the parents,” Clements said. “We were all with each other and Coach gave a speech. We just hung out for a few hours. Then on Saturday when we had the game, it was a lot of fun. It was great for one last hurrah and I think it meant a lot to the players, but especially the ones who were in their fourth or fifth years. They were able to play in the rink one more time and wear the uniform.
“I’m lucky. I get another kick at the can because I’m only in my third year. My heart’s really heavy for my teammates who were in their fourth or fifth year and they’re graduating. I know it hit my D partner hard but I think they all appreciated the chance to be out there one more time.”