The Victoria Phantoms senior A women’s hockey team recently stamped a solid ending to a most precarious season in the South Coast Female Amateur Hockey League.
Despite taking a team of just 11 players, with two forward lines, the Phantoms finished third at provincials, tying the eventual champions Kamloops Vibe in Game 1 but losing to the Richmond Devils 2-1 in the semifinal. (Victoria won 11-4 over Simon Fraser University in Game 2.)
In the fallout, coach John Lou-Poy is hoping the team can use the upcoming offseason as a time to recruit a few extra bodies for next year.
“Going to provincials with two lines is, nobody does that, it’s insane, you can’t expect to win any games with two lines,” Lou-Poy said.
“Obviously it would be great to have as many women out as possible to tryouts in September. Senior A is very high level hockey and the Island is a hotbed of talent for this level of playing, but getting the players to commit is challenging.”
School, careers, travel and mothering all make it hard on young women to commit, he said. Plus, senior A women’s hockey tends to fly under the radar in B.C., and it’s no different in Greater Victoria. Senior A players are aged 19 and up.
Because the number of senior A caliber players is limited in here, Lou-Poy, who has coached the team four of the past five seasons, is saddled with some tough decisions. (Also threatening the team’s future is the recent disbandment of the South Island Breakers midget AAA team, for girls aged 16 to 18. There has often been as many as eight or nine Breakers graduates playing on the Phantoms in a year, with five this season.)
Senior A is meant to be competitive and the Phantoms want to win. Not just any player can make the cut, even if it doesn’t make Lou-Poy popular with every player who wants to be a Phantom. Then again, no coach ever is.
Nor is Lou-Poy running some sort of dictatorship. After a few years with Lou-Poy at the helm, the team made the decision to self coach themselves. It lasted one year, and they asked him back. Since Lou-Poy became involved in 2008-09 the Phantoms have been to provincials three times and won it twice, in 2009 and 2010.
The game plan with two lines is simple.
“We have to play very carefully, and we can only get away playing the way we do because we have very smart players,” Lou-Poy said.
“We try to slow the game down. We try to create lots of faceoffs. Anything to get a break. It was a tough go for us this season and it’s remarkable that we did this well.”
Adding a third line of non senior-A players, for example, would change the complexion of the team. At that level, it’s unlikely the Phantoms would have finished with a record of 11 wins in 23 games, which it managed this season.
Instead, the Phantoms ran with two forward lines, including the top line of Alisha Choy, Pam Lou-Poy and Micheleen Shagin.
Pam, Alisha and goalie Melinda Choy, Alisha’s twin sister, have come through the ranks since they were 10 years old. They lived near each other, were close summertime friends, and played minor girls hockey with the Saanich Braves.
The Choys played for the UBC Thunderbirds, while Pam opted not to go the CIS route.
Alisha was the South Coast league’s top scorer with 22 goals and 13 assists. Yet in the CIS she scored seldom
“I think with UBC, the way they used her and the approach to the game, it didn’t benefit her. Now, with Pam and Shagin, they’re a fantastic trio, and I especially like the way they think the game.”
For the majority of the year, although sometimes there was only four forwards, though the Phantoms usually carried five defenders.
Melissa Story, Casey Gero and Jen Mathieson make up the second forward line with Cara McFarlane and Kyla Schafer, Amanda MacKenzie, Hannah Coates and Lise Gillen all regulars on defence.
The team hit its lowest numbers at mid-season, when it showed up to Richmond with five skaters and Melinda in net.
“Somehow, we actually got lucky and won that game 3-2. Just goes to show you what happens when you get the lead,” Lou-Poy said.
“(This summer) we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves so that players will want to play for us,” he added.
Tryouts are in early September. Visit Victoria Phantoms website for more info.