The wait is finally over for Kiah Vail. She can play varsity women’s hockey again.
The 20-year-old native of Fort Smith, who plays defence, returned to the ice with the University of Ottawa’s women’s squad on Oct. 29 as they opened up the regular season on the road in Montreal against the Concordia Stingers, which ended in a 2-1 double-overtime win for the good guys.
It was the first game for Vail since February 2020 and while she played most of the game, she left in the third period with an upper-body injury, which forced her to miss the bonus hockey.
She wasn’t a fan of that because she doesn’t like watching games from the bench.
“That was painful to watch,” she said the day after the game. “It’s 3-on-3 and we had some good pressure in their end and we put one home.”
The Gee-Gees, as Ottawa’s teams are known, then took to the ice for the Ottawa Derby, if you will, to take on their crosstown rivals from Carleton University on Halloween night, Oct. 31, their home opener. It didn’t end the way they would have liked as the ladies were blanked, 3-0. Vail didn’t play on the advice of the training staff.
Like every other athlete who plays university sports in Canada, Vail played not one single minute of action last season as U Sports, the country’s governing body of university sport, cancelled everything due to Covid-19. The silver lining is that every athlete was given an extra year of eligibility because of it, meaning Vail, who’s in her third year of study at the school and taking an honours degree in environmental science, is only in her second year of playing.
Getting the news that actual hockey was going to happen again was both a sigh of relief and excitement for Vail.
“I thought the third or even fourth wave would cause everything to be cancelled again,” she said. “I held my breath, like everyone else was, and when they announced that the schedule was going to come out, I got real excited.”
The Gee-Gees play in the RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec) with five other teams and Vail said the division brings out the style of play she likes: crash and bang.
“When I played in Alberta (St. Albert Slash), there were a lot of smaller players,” she said. “Out here, the players are bigger and it’s really physical.”
Her first year with the Gee-Gees saw her play 20 games and finish third in team rookie scoring in the 2019-20 season as the team finished out the regular season by winning 10 of their last 16 games, which included seven wins in their final eight contests. It came to an end in round one as they lost to McGill in what Vail called a “meltdown.”
This season, Vail said team bonding before the season began was a big deal, especially considering they weren’t able to do much of that last season.
“It was hard to get to know the new girls because we weren’t all together,” she said. “That’s why the pre-season was such a big deal because we were on the ice as one and being in the same room together feels really good. That’s what makes a good team.”
Because of the lack of hockey at university last season, Vail decided to head home and play men’s rec hockey in Fort Smith for about a month just after the new year.
“It wasn’t the greatest situation but I wanted to play hockey,” she said. “I could study at home and at least get ice time when I wasn’t able to be at school.”
For this season, Vail said the team goal is to rebound from that playoff disappointment and take a run at winning the conference.
“That is a huge motivating factor,” she said. “Our coach (Chelsea Grills) came in after our former coach resigned and we all rallied around her. We have a lot of first-year players but we had a bonding session before the season started and it’s a real good feeling around the team.”