Guelph Gryphons forward has Island roots
Kristen Jay will have a special group cheering for her this week at the U Sports women’s hockey championship at UPEI – some 1,700 kilometres from home.
Jay’s father, Shawn, grew up in Linkletter and went to Three Oaks Senior High School before moving away for university and his career. Kristen’s grandfather, Blair, and her uncle, Chuck, and his family all live in Summerside and will join Shawn and his wife, Janice, in the stands this week at MacLauchlan Arena.
“It’s really exciting just to be at nationals in general, and then to have all my family here supporting me it’s something that is really special,” Kristen said Tuesday after her team’s first practice at UPEI, the same surface where she attended Andrews Hockey Growth Programs camps during the summers growing up.
“It means a lot to be here and play in front of my family, especially my grandpa.”
Kristen, a 20-year-old Thornhill, Ont., native, and her Guelph Gryphons teammates flew from Ontario to Halifax on Monday before driving to Prince Edward Island. Blair was in Charlottetown for an appointment on Monday and was able to see Kristen for a few minutes after the team checked in at their hotel.
“You wouldn't believe how good it felt,” he said.
Blair hasn’t seen her play in about six years. It was overwhelming when he found out the team had made it to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) finals and earned one of the conference’s two berths to nationals.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” he said Tuesday morning from the hallway between the two ice surfaces at UPEI. “It makes me very proud to see her out there. She’s worked hard at it for many years.”
Gryphons head coach Rachel Flanagan said having the support in the stands can help motivate a team.
“When you score a goal, or you make a big save or a block and it’s not just your team that’s got your back, I think that’s important,” she said. “It can lift your emotions in a moment, but it also can be something that gives you some energy when you need it.”
The bench boss, who is extremely proud of the young women she coaches, said many of the parents are making the trip east to support not only their daughters but also the whole Gryphons squad.
“They wouldn't miss it for the world. They love the girls.”
Kristen, a third-year commerce student majoring in marketing management, was part of the Gryphons squad two years ago that made it to nationals. They lost the opening game in a shootout.
“That one hurt.”
With a veteran-laden squad this time around, the Gryphons are looking to get the tournament off to a strong start at the opening game of the eight-team championship Thursday at 3 p.m. against the Manitoba Bisons.
“I am so happy to be here with all my teammates,” Kristen said. “It’s a really exciting time for all of us. . . We can’t wait until Thursday.”
Flanagan said the team couldn’t get a direct flight to Prince Edward Island, so they decided to come early.
“It gets rid of some of those butterflies of coming in just the day before,” she said.
Kristen, a five-foot-nine left-winger, has good speed and although is a pass-first player, has a strong shot and a propensity for rising to the occasion. She scored the game-winning goal in the McCaw Cup to win the OUA title on Saturday and is a bit of an unsung hero for the Gryphons.
“She does things really well late in games,” Flanagan said. “She’s been used in the last minute of games to defend if we’re up a goal and if we have to pull our goalie, she’s one of the ones that’s going on.”
With her good size, many people might think the team would park her in front of the net, but that is not the case.
“We want her hunting down pucks and making those good plays, but also when she gets it on her stick, she’s got an eye for it in those big moments,” Flanagan said.
A look at the U Sports women’s hockey championship schedule.
3 p.m. – Manitoba (6) vs. Guelph (3).
7 p.m. – UPEI (7) vs. Montreal (2).
3 p.m. – Toronto (8) vs. Alberta (1).
7 p.m. – McGill (5) vs. St. Thomas (4).
10 a.m. – Consolation semifinal (two losing teams from Thursday’s games).
1 p.m. – Consolation semifinal (two losing teams from Friday’s games).
4 p.m. – Semifinal
8 p.m. – Semifinal
11 a.m. – Fifth-place game.
2:30 p.m. – Bronze-medal game.
6 p.m. – Final.