February 28th, 2024

Locals win national championship

By JAMES TUBB on March 25, 2023.

PHOTO COURTESY KAITLYN ROSS Redcliff's Kaitlyn Ross of the Mount Royal Cougars takes a lap with the 2023 U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship after beating the Concordia Stingers 4-3 in overtime Mar. 19 in Montreal.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Almost a week removed from winning the 2023 USPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship and Redcliff’s Kaitlyn Ross is still at a loss for words.

The local goaltender, alongside assistant coach and former Hatter Ken Turnbull, were part of the Mount Royal Cougars championship team who defeated the Concordia Stingers 4-3 in overtime on March 19 to capture the school’s first national championship.

“I am so proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished,” Ross said. “Even with nationals being cancelled two years ago, we still had our minds set on this and it was so nice to finish that business up and get the championship.”

“They’re just a special group and my respect is unmatched and supports unwavered and my love is forever for them,” Turnbull said. “They are just a really, really incredible group. I hope that every coach gets an opportunity to coach a team like that, because it’ll change their world.”

The 21-year-old goalie backstopped the Cougars to the championship held in Montreal, making 29 saves in the overtime contest while also picking up tournament MVP and all-star honours. Mount Royal was trailing 3-2 late in the third before tying it up with two seconds left. Heading into the overtime, Ross knew it was their game.

“I knew the energy was going to be up, it was going to be a high-stress game, but I knew that I needed to stay calm,” Ross said. “After we scored that tying goal, in the back of my mind I was like, ‘This is our game, we’re going to win this game. The hockey gods are on our side and I think we have this in the bag.'”

She finished her regular season having a record of 15-4-3 with six shutouts, a 1.42 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. Ross says she was playing some of the best hockey of her life this season, feeling calmer in net and ready to face anything thrown her way.

She says some of that feeling comes from the experience of playing four years of USPORTS and also playing baseball for Team Alberta and Team Canada.

“I’ve been here a while, so I kind of know the ropes, I know what it takes,” Ross said. “Even the baseball side of it helps me with these big stages and all the pressure that’s put on me. It all comes together and it gets me ready for these situations.”

Ross says she has two more years of eligibility with Mount Royal and plans on playing for those seasons. With eight graduating seniors this spring she admits it will be tough to repeat but is confident in the team and looking forward to taking on more of a veteran role.

“Our program has the confidence it needs and we’re heading in the right direction, we’re just going to keep building to hopefully another national championship,” Ross said. “The seniors were such a big part of this group and a big part of this program and they’ve built it to what it was. Now that’s going to fall on me and my other fifth-six years to take that role. And we’re ready for it.”

Turnbull, who joined the Cougars coaching staff while the season was already underway, hasn’t yet decided if he will return but continues to relish how special of a group Mount Royal was to work with every day.

“By far and away the greatest group I’ve ever come across and I’ve been in the game 48 years as a player and a coach,” Turnbull said. “They’re without a doubt the best group of people, and I say people first, that I’ve ever come across. It was an experience I will never forget.

“You watch how they go about their business every day, how hard they train, what they mean to each other. Winning is fun for sure, but watching them do that and have that close-up view, it changed my life forever.”

Turnbull says his strength and passion as a coach is building relationships to help teams come together toward a common goal.

Ross says Turnbull played a big part in their success throughout the season, providing the role of a mediator and someone who pumped up the team with motivation speeches when needed.

“He’s just been someone that the girls could rely on and I don’t think we could have done it without him,” Ross said.

Turnbull was emotional when hearing how much he meant to the team and shared a bit of his last speech to them.

“I said to them, my respect is unmatched for you, my support is unwavering and my love is forever because they’re like your kids,” Turnbull said. “It’s hard to spend that much time with them, see them go through what they do and not love them – I mean wholeheartedly love them. To see this group win, I sat on the sidelines just watching it all. I don’t know if there’s a prouder moment in the game that I’ve ever had than just watching.”

He has no doubts that Ross is the best amateur goalie in Canada but is an even better human.

“She’s an outstanding teammate but she’s even a better human, she’s a class act,” Turnbull said. “My respect for her is tenfold as a person than it is as a player. She’s just a fantastic person and I am absolutely proud to say that I was part of her team.”

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