By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers are headed to Montague and they're bringing a pretty good team with them.
In an effort to build awareness of the upcoming U Sports Women's Hockey Championships, UPEI is sending their women's hockey team to three different towns across the Island.
The Kings County community will get the first look at the Panthers on Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. at the Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre where they'll take on the St. FX X-Women. Souris will host a game on Jan. 6, followed by a trip to Alberton on Jan. 20.
"It's always great when we can take our level of sport and play in communities across the island," said head coach Bruce Donaldson. "It gives our players a chance to connect with the local community and meet a lot of young hockey players who may dream of playing at the U Sports level."
Coming off three hard-fought, one-goal wins, it's the perfect time to unveil this up-and-coming team that has climbed the standings and become a formidable competitor.
"We're here to showcase how fast, physical and competitive our game has become," Donaldson added.
The fact that they're building this team with an Island foundation is even more impressive. With six Islanders in their lineup, the Panthers carry more local players than any other program in the conference.
Out of the six, three are from Kings County – sisters Ally and Kelly Clements and Maria Clinton.
Kelly is in her rookie season and has already made her presence felt as she sits second on the team in goals (3) and points (9). She said she can't wait to return to the ice where she harnessed her hockey gifts.
"We're all from small towns and tight knit communities, so to be back on our ice with all our family and friends there watching is really quite humbling."
Ally doubled down on her sister's sentiment and applauded the Kings County fans and expects to see an enthusiastic crowd this weekend cheering with pride.
"Kings County always has a very supportive, engaged fan base, so it'll be nice to play in front of them," she said. "I think it's important for our team to go to these different communities and play in front of different crowds and really highlight females in sport."
One of the ways to do that is by building a contender. To do so, Donaldson and his staff spent the summer reassessing their roster and decided changes needed to take place. Nothing was guaranteed and players had to earn their way on the roster – rookies and veterans alike. A series of honest conversations, intense intrasquad battles and a heavy exhibition schedule helped create a competitive environment that hasn't been felt in years. And so far it's paid dividends, as the Panthers (6-4-1) are a win shy of the seven wins they captured all of last year.
Clinton, who has been with the team for three years and has seen the ups and downs, says she and her teammates are embracing the unique opportunity to perform on the nation's biggest stage.
"Being the host team for nationals is a lot of pressure but our team is ready for what's ahead of us."
And she's encouraging fans from all over the Island to join them in this journey.
"I think it's very important to showcase our team across P.E.I.," Clinton said. "Making the trip to Charlottetown can be hard for some people, so bringing our team to their home rinks will hopefully gain us some new fans."
*All Minor Hockey players admitted free
*Special two for one ticket offer for all Minor Hockey player's parents/guardians