It was St. Clements versus Nepean in the gold-medal game of the provincial ringette championships. The two teams were locked in a 4-4 tie as the third period ended, and the St. Clements coaches got a feeling of déjà vu. The previous two years, they’d made it to the championship final, only to lose in overtime and come home with silver.
This time, the story had a different ending. St. Clements poured their three top scorers – Josie Scott, Sam Nosal and Robin Scott – onto the ice. A minute and a half into overtime, Josie flicked the ring into the back of Nepean’s net.
There was a second of stunned silence; Sam Nosal put her hands to her head and sank to her knees in disbelief. Then the team burst into the screams of joy only a group of ecstatic 15-year-old girls can make.
The St. Clements Rockets will be Team Ontario at the national junior AA championships in Charlottetown the second week of April. This is the first trip to the nationals for the small squad, coached by Scott and Terry Nosal.
Terry Nosal said there was less pressure going into the provincials this year, as St. Clements didn’t win any of their tournaments and were ranked fifth.
“We’re always gone as number-one, so we were the team everyone’s out to beat,” she said.
St. Clements is the smallest centre in junior AA ringette, but their opponents have learned that size doesn’t mean they can be taken lightly.
“When we first started playing and winning, people would come up to us and say ‘Where is St. Clements?’” Nosal said.
While opponents in cities like Ottawa, Mississauga and London will cut 60 or 70 players, St. Clements doesn’t have any extras to spare. There’s a core group from St. Clements and Wellesley, and the remainder are drawn from outside communities like Mitchell, Arthur, Guelph and Waterloo.
The Rockets only have two lines and playing 12 games during the week at nationals would stretch them too thin, so the team that arrives in Prince Edward Island will be bolstered by a few extra pairs of hands. For the nationals, they’re allowed to pick up extra players from anywhere in Ontario.
To decide who to take out of all the junior ringette players in Ontario, the coaching staff simply asked the girls who was toughest to face on the ice. That turned out to be a pair of defenders from Dorchester, Sydney Grainger and Kaylee Whitcroft; forwards Sarah Gross and Kali MacAdam from Ottawa, and goalie Alana Raymond of Ajax.
Physically, the Rockets are also considered small for their size, but the players make up for it with their speed; they’re a fast group in an already fast sport.
Hockey fans are often surprised by the pace of a ringette game. Not having to stickhandle the puck means a player can focus on her skating. The rules prohibit players from carrying the ring over the blue line, which forces more passing. The 30-second shot clock (like the one used in basketball) also contributes to an up-tempo game.
“It’s considered the fastest sport on ice,” Nosal said.
Nosal is a ringette player herself, and she and her husband have been coaching together for five years. They focus on teaching their players to think on the ice, rather than having set plays, which makes them tougher to defend against. In the same vein, they don’t have team captains, believing every player brings valuable skills to the ice.
St. Clements will need every ounce of talent it’s got as it comes up against nine other provincial champions, including favourite Alberta, but Nosal thinks her players have what it takes.
“It’s their heart, their dedication, the sacrifices they have made to play at this level.”