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Hockey X-Women ready for new season

Antigonish native Josie Chisholm is entering her sophomore season with the St. F.X. X-Women hockey team. Richard MacKenzie
Antigonish native Josie Chisholm is entering her sophomore season with the St. F.X. X-Women hockey team. Richard MacKenzie - Corey LeBlanc
ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

The St. F.X. X-Women are focused on taking that final step – last skate stride, if you will – and capture an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey championship.    

The Blue and White, after taking the opening game of the best-out-of-three conference title playoff series in 2018, dropped the final two match-ups and the series to the St. Thomas Tommies.    

“It left a bitter taste,” X-Women head coach Ben Berthiaume said.    

That feeling will serve as impetus for a perennial contender this season, which returns the bulk of its line-up and welcomes three freshmen.    

“If we are at the top of our game, we will be moving the puck quickly and using our speed to push the pace,” Berthiaume explained.    

He added forwards will be pressuring the opponent’s defense and fore-checking tenaciously.    

Berthiaume also expects his defense, more than in previous seasons, to be “up in the play.”    

“We think we will have a four-player rush a lot,” he said, noting his defenders’ ability to join the rush, but also get back to their zone.    

He added “you are also going to see some scoring punch,” if the X-Women are playing well.

‘Fairly quick’    

When it comes to the forward contingent, Berthiaume said the X-Women are going to be “fairly quick.”    

“We are certainly focused on using our speed to our advantage,” he added.    

Fifth-year senior Lydia Schurman will be one of the leaders up-front.    

“She was great last season and we expect her to have another strong  year,” Berthiaume said of the X-Women captain.    

He also expects dynamic sophomores Tyra Meropoulis and Lea MacLeod, now with one season “under their belt,” to expand on the contributions they made in their first seasons.    

“We expect them to provide a lot of scoring punch,” Berthiaume said.    

There is also the veteran trio of senior Kate Gotaas, along with juniors Kristen McKinley and Emerson Elliott, who will also help put the puck in the net.    

“We are going to rely on them greatly,” Berthiaume said. 

Strong on ‘D’    

The X-Women will return its entire defense corps from last season, including the fourth-year tandem of Santana Gravelle and Lindsey Donovan, who Berthiaume anticipates will “lead the way.”    

“We like where we are at [on defense],” he added.    

Between the pipes, Cassidy McEwen – after a breakout campaign last season – will be back for her junior year, while the X-Women have brought in Jamie Johnson, who led the London Devilettes to a championship last season in the Ontario-based PWHL.    

“She is going to be good,” Berthiaume said of the freshman puck stopper.    

He expects McEwen and Johnson to share the workload in the blue ice.

The newcomers    

Along with Johnson, the X-Women have brought in freshmen forwards Chloe Vukosa and Jayden Thompson.    

“It takes at least half a year,” Berthiaume said when it comes to first-year players making the adjustment to the speed and physicality of the AUS game.    

When it comes to Vukosa, he said they expect her “to produce, for sure,” on the offensive end.    

“Chloe is skilled; she can handle the puck and has a great shot,” Berthiaume added.    

He described Thompson as having a “gritty side,” which will be a key to helping the X-Women fore-check.    

“She won’t back down from anyone,” Berthiaume said, noting she also brings skill and scoring to the table. 

Local flavour    

Berthiaume envisions continued improvement from Antigonish native Patti-Anne Tracey, a junior forward.    

“She started to see the game very well, especially in the second half,” Berthiaume said of her improved play last season.    

He noted Tracey also provides great fore-checking ability, along with a hard shot.    

Defender Josie Chisholm is back for a second campaign with her hometown team.    

“She had a really good second half [in her freshman season] and has only gotten stronger,” he said, noting the “heavy, heavy” shot she brings from the blue line.    

Berthiaume added Chisholm also has “tremendous leadership qualities."    

The third returning player from northeastern Nova Scotia is junior forward Carly Burrows from neighbouring New Glasgow.    

“She continues to work on and improve her game,” Berthiaume said, noting the skill and scoring punch that Burrows’ possesses.    

“We expect her to be a contributor this season,” he added.

Ready to go

The X-Women will be on the road to drop the puck on the AUS regular season with match-ups versus the UPEI Panthers (Sept. 28) and Mount Allison Mounties (Oct. 4).    

The Blue and White will host their home opener Sunday, Oct. 6, when they welcome the Dalhousie Tigers.    

Puck drop is set for 2 p.m. at the Antigonish Arena.    

“I don’t think it is going to change,” Berthiaume said when asked what he expects, as far as parity in the conference, this season.    

“You can be beaten by anyone on any given night,” he added.

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