Sydne Valiquette knows what the lows of losing feel like, which is what makes the highs of winning feel so special.
Valiquette, a Grade 12 student at River East Collegiate, was in net for the Kodiaks two years ago, when they didn’t win a single game. And she was in net for the Kodiaks on March 13, when they put the final touches on an undefeated season, winning the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s Division B championship with a two-game sweep of the St. Norbert Celtics.
"Going from Grade 10 not winning a game, and winning it all this year, I don’t think looking back anyone would ever have thought that could happen," said Valiquette, an East St. Paul resident who couldn’t even put into words what this year’s championship meant to her.
Coach Jerry Akerstream could still recall Valiquette facing as many as 70 shots in a game during that first year. But through the addition of players with AA experience, as well as some newcomers with ringette backgrounds, the Kodiaks quickly created a contending team.
River East lost to Collège Louis-Riel in last season’s final on a goal in the final eight seconds of the game, and used that heartbreaker as motivation coming into this season.
"I think it stayed with us all year," said Grade 12 defenceman Elise Edginton. "Most of the girls were back this year, and we were still upset about it and wanted to do better."
Even as the wins — many of them lopsided — started piling up this year, the team never took games for granted and never looked ahead to the ultimate result.
"I think there was a little bit of pressure (at the end) because we were undefeated," said Edginton, also an East St. Paul resident. "Especially for the Grade 12s, coming from last year’s tough loss it was really exciting to finish off the season and come out champs."
Akerstream was pleased with the way some of the team’s elite players helped out their less-experienced teammates during practices. The team had such solid leadership throughout the roster that the coaches decided there was no need to name captains.
"Even when we were winning all those games, we never said, ‘that’s 20 in a row,’" Akerstream said. "We focused on improving and incorporating our system. Once we got some success, the team really bought into it."
Not to be overlooked was the Kodiaks’ conditioning. The team had only 11 skaters on its roster, and often dressed only nine due to conflicts with other sports.
"It was quite difficult at times," Edginton said. "We only had two spares at times. We got a lot of ice time. But a lot of us also play hockey or ringette outside of school, so that helped with the conditioning."
Akerstream is hopeful that the bench won’t be as short next season, as more students decide to play for the Kodiaks after seeing the team’s success.