Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/11/2019 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ten months ago, Ste. Anne’s Raygan Kirk made a major statement at the world under-18 women’s hockey championship in Japan when she led Canada to a gold medal while earning tournament MVP honours.
Since then, the 18-year-old goaltender is showing no signs of slowing down.
Last Saturday, the Lorette Collegiate grad stopped 30 shots for the Robert Morris University Colonials in a 6-0 victory over Penn State. A day earlier, she made 21 saves in a 5-2 win over the Nittany Lions.
Kirk savoured her first college shutout, coming in only her fifth NCAA start.
"That was super exciting," Kirk said Thursday from St. Louis, where the Pittsburgh-based Colonials faced Lindenwood University in the first game of a two-game weekend series Friday night.
"As the minutes were ticking down, I told myself, ‘Don’t jinx it, don’t psyche yourself out and hopefully nobody jinxes it on the bench.’ The girls played really great in front of me and it was great against Penn State, because they’re such a big rival."
RMU head coach Paul Colontino said Kirk has been an excellent fit. Freshmen don’t normally play high-profile roles in Division I hockey but Kirk has so far split minutes evenly with sophomore goaltender Arielle Desmet.
"We liked the recruiting class and Raygan was a big piece in the sense that goalies can be the most difficult to recruit because in many cases, you feel you’ve gotta be right because it’s not like you’re bringing in two or three goalies (per year) like you would forwards or two or three defencemen," Colontino said.
"The class itself, we’re happy with, and in terms or Raygan, we’re happy because she’s just a great person, like we knew she was. She’s a very hard worker and to top it off, she’s a very talented goalie."
The Colonials, who were ranked No. 8 earlier in the season, have fallen out of the top 10 after a brutally tough pre-conference schedule that included a pair of losses each to No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Cornell and sixth-ranked Clarkson. Three of those games went to overtime, including a memorable Oct. 11 start against Minnesota when Kirk took RMU to overtime before losing 4-3 to the Golden Gophers.
That said, Kirk’s transition to the college level has been fairly seamless so far. In five appearances, she has a 3-2-0 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
"I had to adjust to the speed compared to midget hockey, which is definitely different," said Kirk, who played for the Eastman Selects in 2018-19. "I’m pushing myself, learning from every experience and focusing on the next game because we play pretty much every weekend."
Another major adjustment is the level of competition within the team — Kirk needs to earn her playing time against Desmet and junior Molly Singewald, the team’s No. 3 goalie.
"The coaches said right from the start that you’re basically fighting for your spot," the 5-8 Kirk said. "I learn a lot from (Desmet) and I think she learns from me. We have two very different styles because she’s smaller. She’s super quick and I’m bigger and more positional, I guess you’d say."
The conference schedule, against schools such as Lindenwood, are crucial to set the stage for the NCAA tournament in spring.
"They earn their starts every week," Colontino said. "The practice week can be rigorous and it’s obviously pretty competitive. It’s so early, especially with a freshman goalie, you don’t know exactly (what you have) and you need time for everybody to adjust to a new season and in Raygan’s case, a new level. She’s been doing that and she’s been doing very, very well."
Kirk, an environmental science major, said she’s settling comfortably into campus life.
She’s also looking forward to RMU’s post-Christmas tournament when the Colonials will host No. 2 Wisconsin on Jan. 4. The Badgers are defending national champions and led by their all-American senior goaltender Kristen Campbell of Brandon.
"I got to work with her at the goalie camp for Team Canada in May," Kirk said. "(I admire) the style that she plays — she’s a bigger goalie — and just how sound she is in the net. Just watching her at goalie camp and with the fitness testing and knowing how strong she is on and off the ice.
"I think she’s a great role model coming from Manitoba.
"It’s always great to have someone to look up to."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.