Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The obvious list of skills that hockey players train on a daily basis: skating, shooting and passing.
For MacEwan Griffins women's hockey captain Sydney Thomlison, there's another one worth honing that most wouldn't think about.
"Leadership is always something that's come naturally for me and what I've worked to develop," said the Griffins' captain for the past three seasons. "It may be looked at as something you either have or you don't, but I think it's as important a skill as your snapshot. You've got to work on it, you've got to practice it, you've got to develop it."
It's the single most defining characteristic of what Thomlison has brought to the Griffins throughout a five-year university career that will soon come to an end. When she leads her team onto the ice this Saturday, it will be her final home regular season contest as a Griffin.
Assistant captain Shanya Shwetz and defenceman Jessica Dyck will also be feted as part of the program's Senior Night celebration prior to their regular-season finale against the SAIT Trojans (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
The Griffins will play two road games prior to that – Thursday night in Olds (7 p.m., a makeup game for last week's postponed contest) and Friday night at SAIT in Calgary (7 p.m.).
Of course, the Griffins have qualified for the playoffs, so there will be future home games for the team's graduating seniors. But officially, Saturday is Senior Night, so it's a perfect time to reflect.
Leadership is the one word that comes to mind about both Thomlison and Shwetz.
"It's mind-blowing to have a conversation about them being in their fifth year," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "It feels like they just came in.
"I'd say arguably that duo is the best leadership group that we've had for MacEwan women's hockey and massive shoes to fill for some future leaders. I think they've just left a legacy for us in terms of Griffs Do Good Deeds – what they give back to the school and the community. I think both of them will be phenomenal coaches in the future."
Thomlison has been the Griffins' go-to player whenever a speech is required and just contributes so much to the team off the ice. She has emceed MacEwan's Athletics banquet, spoken during Bill Comrie scholarship events and given key motivational speeches in the room.
"I think it's definitely something's come to me naturally in my life," she said of leadership. "I've often taken on that role in different areas of my life.
"It's important to me and I think it gives me value," she added. "Never throughout my five years have I been one of the players who's been looked to to score an overtime goal or be the top powerplay player or one of those top skill players. But I think it allows me to bring value to the team and contribute. I think it's something I've worked hard to develop and I think it's something I'll take away from the program and apply in many aspects of my life moving forward."
McAlpine noticed those traits even in her rookie year (2013-14) and named her an alternate captain her second season before handing her the 'C' in 2015 – a title she's had ever since.
"Tommy's always been a team-first player," she said. "She's someone that's super easy to coach and buys in to everything we ask her to. I think she just passes that on to her teammates. I think she's also got a very charismatic personality that transfers through our room."
And as she's grown, the program has, too, culminating in the Griffins' first ACAC championship since 2008 last March.
"I think I've grown a ton as a player on the ice developmentally in terms of skills and also as a person," said Thomlison. "This program has definitely helped me become a more well-rounded person. But not only have I watched myself grow, it's been pretty cool to watch the program grow. The changes and strides we've made since my first year have been amazing and I'm pretty excited to watch the program continue to grow after I leave."
Shwetz has also had a key hand in that, both on and off the ice. Like Thomlison, she has spent all five seasons of her university career at MacEwan.
"Shanya is a very similar on-ice player to Tommy," said McAlpine. "It's the little things that she does – the hard work and the effort in practice and games. It's always consistent."
Dyck is completing her third season with the Griffins after spending two years at the University of Manitoba. McAlpine feels she's saving the best for last.
"She's a very steady defensive defencemen for us – arguable one of the best skaters in the league and definitely on our team," she said. "She has poise. In the second half (of this season), I've probably never seen Jess play better. I think she's peaking at the absolute right time for us."
That's huge for a Griffins team that will be after a title repeat when the playoffs begin next weekend. They'll either play Red Deer College, Olds College or SAIT in the first round depending on what happens around the league this weekend.
Win or lose, for the graduating seniors, they will have plenty of fond memories to look back on.
"Being here for five years, I've met a ton of good girls, but it's been an absolute honour to play with them, too, and to watch them grow as individuals and players as well," said Thomlison. "I know (Senior Night) is going to be a tough night for all of us. But those are definitely some of the relationships that I'll treasure forever. I think we have a special bond moving forward."