The St. F.X. X-Women skate into the Christmas break as the second-place team in Atlantic University Sport (AUS).
The Blue and White have a 10-3-3 regular season mark.
“Overall, it has been a good first half, but we have been up and down, at times,” X-Women head coach Ben Berthiaume said.
“We have had to work on our consistency – it has gotten better over the past couple weeks, which is big for us.”
He noted that improvement has focussed on a shift-by-shift mindset.
“The biggest thing for us – you are never going to get a full 60 minutes, no matter what level you are at – is, if you get close to that and compete, especially on the ‘D’ side of the puck, you will have success,” Berthiaume said.
“I think where we struggled, early on, we were more offensive-minded that we should have been, not worrying about the other side of the puck, but we are doing a better job now of worrying about the ‘D’ side of the game.”
If that approach continues, he added, “we are going to give ourselves a chance.”
“There are a lot of good teams in our league, so it going to be tough,” Berthiaume noted.
“If you look across the league, everyone is beating everyone, on any given night. There is no easy game – no matter who you play – whether it is someone at the bottom or the top of the standings.”
The Blue and White rattled off five consecutive victories, including three straight shutouts, after dropping their conference opener, in a shootout, to the Dalhousie Tigers.
Then, after losing four out of five games, including three by one-goal margins, the X-Women won four in row, outscoring their opponents 23-1.
St. F.X. wrapped up the first half with a 2-1 road loss, in a shootout, to the league-leading St. Thomas Tommies.
“There have been a lot of players stepping up, especially of late,” Berthiaume said of the X-Women’s balanced team effort.
Team captain Sarah Bujold, in her fifth season, is third in conference scoring with 19 points, including 11 goals, which places her in a three-way tie for the AUS lead.
“She has been very good,” Berthiaume said.
He added sophomore winger Emerson Elliott, also top-10 in league scoring (13 points), has “really stepped it up” in recent weeks.
“Emerson’s confidence is back and she is shooting the puck [more],” Berthiaume said, noting Elliott is “one of the hardest shooters on the team.”
Kristen McKinley, another second-year skater, is having a “really good year.”
“She is moving well, and working really hard for us,” Berthiaume said.
He also praised the contribution of fourth-year forward Lydia Schurman.
“She has been very good for us and she always plays hard,” he added.
Freshmen Tyra Meropoulis and Lea MacLeod, although they continue to make the adjustment to the varsity game, have been key contributors.
“Tyra has a lot of skill and she has been very good, while Lea is very skilled and coming along,” Berthiaume noted.
On the back end, junior Lindsey Donovan – a perennial all-star – leads a young and improving defense corps.
“You watch her and you know what she is capable of. She is always so important for us,” he said.
And, between the pipes, it has been a breakout season for goaltender Carley Molnar, who has posted a 1.30 goals-against-average and .941 save percentage.
“We are beginning to see the type of goalie that we know she can be,” Berthiaume said.
“She is playing with confidence and big in the net, which is a key for her. This is the best hockey that I have seen her play in her career here, which is a good sign for us.”
Making the adjustment
As Berthiaume touched on, one of the focuses in the first half of the campaign has been helping freshmen, such as the aforementioned Meropoulis and MacLeod, along with Antigonish native Josie Chisholm, make the transition to the rigours of AUS competition.
“We knew it was going to be a learning curve for a lot of our players, but I think they are now learning how to play the university game,” he said.
When asked about the challenges involved with making the jump to the varsity level, Berthiaume talked about the speed and size of the players, while noting that 17 and 18-year-olds are now up against opponents three and four years older.
“The biggest thing I see is – when you receive a puck or you have the puck on your stick, you have to have your head up; there is someone on you, usually, pretty quickly,” he said.
Berthiaume added the new X-Women have mentioned they didn’t realize “how physical and tough that it would be” in the conference.
“More and more, it is getting easier for them,” he noted.
Before returning to AUS action in 2019, the X-Women will wrap up 2018 with tournament games at Concordia University in Montreal.
Along with the host Stingers (Dec. 28), the Blue and White will face-off against Syracuse (Dec. 29) and Nipissing (Dec. 30).
“It is extremely important,” Berthiaume said, when asked about the benefits of getting some exhibition action in over the holidays.
He noted there is, essentially, one month off from conference play.
“You try to get on the ice, as much as you can, but – of course – the players are busy with exams and then they head home,” Berthiaume said.
He noted they will face “tough opponents.”
“It is an opportunity to get our wind back and the kinks out,” Berthiaume said.
He agreed it is a measuring stick.
“It is always good to play out-of-conference teams – to see where you stack up,” Berthiaume said.
“You want to start peaking as you head into the second part of the regular season and towards the playoffs.”