Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With 19 players who have been a part of both of their ACAC championships the past two seasons and six more who've been here for one, leadership is inherent throughout the roster of the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team.
So, needless to say, the coaching staff had a difficult decision to make in picking a new captain after previous leader Sydney Thomlison graduated from the program.
Head coach Lindsay McAlpine announced Thursday that fifth-year defenceman Nikki Reimer will wear the 'C' this season as the Griffins head into their home opener on Friday vs. SAIT (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
"I think one of the strengths of our team is we have a ton of players with great leadership qualities," said McAlpine, who is entering her ninth season at the helm of the Griffins. "I think that player has to work well with our staff, but also work well with the girls and have the room. So, I think Nikki Reimer will do an excellent job in that role.
"It's big shoes to fill with Syd Thomlison leaving. She wore a letter from her second year on, so it was four full seasons to get there."
Reimer, who was informed of the decision on Wednesday night, will be taking the responsibility seriously as she guides a Griffins team that boasts 25 returning players and is aiming to capture the first three-peat in program history.
"It's an honour to get that leadership role and to be seen as a leader by the coaches and the girls," said the senior Science major from Winnipeg. "It's something I don't take lightly and I'm very serious about it."
"We have so many leaders on our team," said Reimer. "Everybody has different roles, and everybody brings something different. The last two seasons it really, really worked for us with our back-to-back championships.
"We're just going to take each game one game at a time. We have a great group of girls. Everybody gets along really well. Everybody brings different things and respect each other. It just really works. We work really well together."
With so many returning veterans and only three rookies – Alexandra Thomson, Shyla Kirwer and Jayme Doyle – the Griffins have quickly resumed the high-level of play they had at the end of last season when they defeated the Red Deer College Queens 3-1 in the ACAC final.
They went 2-2 in four games against Canada West teams – beating Mount Royal and the University of Calgary, while staying right with the University of Alberta Pandas in a 3-1 loss.
"I think the preseason was ideal for us," said McAlpine, whose group posted a 4-2-1 preseason mark. "We always want to compete against Canada West. Our girls tend to play better against that better competition, which is an area we need to work on – that consistency.
"It was a good mental battle for them and kind of a confidence boost. I think they did really, really well. I would even argue that we skated with the U of A. They probably have a couple more natural goal scorers than we do, but in my nine years here the game was the most back and forth evenly-matched game (we've had against them)."
The challenge for the Griffins will be to bring that level of play against their ACAC opponents as the regular season kicks off. After Friday's home opener, they will visit SAIT on Saturday (7 p.m., Calgary).
"We had a good preseason, getting the opportunity to play a lot of U SPORTS teams. That really helped us and picked up our intensity," said Reimer. "It elevated us up to a new level. It's important for us to focus on that level we were playing at and bring it into the ACAC."
As the two-time defending champs, there's no doubt the Griffins will have a target on their backs every time out as they aim for the just the third three-peat in ACAC women's hockey history. They will unveil their newest ACAC banner from the 2017-18 season prior to Friday's puck drop and then head into a new season with great expectations.
"I'd say it's more pressure than trying to get the repeat," said McAlpine. "It feels like one of those things you don't want to talk about – like a goalie shutout. Again, that would be the goal of our group. I think that's pretty clear for all of them and our staff, as well, that our expectations need to come up a little bit higher.
"There are teams gunning for us, absolutely, and I think there's going to be some good challenges in our league this year."