by Palak Mangat
Skating on the now empty rink, Jessica Hartwick does one last lap before heading toward the open side door. The team captain wipes her brow with a towel before heading into the nearby dressing rooms for the post-practice cooldown.
Hartwick has been instrumental in the growth of the women’s hockey team since the day it began.
Now it’s her fifth and final year.
“She’s been a part of the program since the first day,” says head coach Lisa Haley. “Ryerson women’s hockey only existed the day she was involved, along with other, now veteran, players.”
Being with the team since the very beginning has helped not only the Rams grow, but Hartwick as well, Haley adds.
According to second-year forward Alyssa Connolly, knowing when to buckle down and focus on hockey is Hartwick’s strength.
And it’s worked — she captained the team to their first playoff appearance last season, before dropping two straight games to the Guelph Gryphons in post-season action.
So far this year, the team has four wins and eight losses with 18 games left in the regular season, and defenceman Rachel Dowdall points out there’s still a lot of hockey left to play. She cautions fans not to worry just yet, especially with Hartwick healthy in the back end.
“Personally, I always feel comfortable when she’s on the ice because even in the short time that I’ve known her, I can always count on her to bust her butt,” says Dowdall, who sees Hartwick as a “role model.”
But that doesn’t mean everything to know about Hartwick is out there — at least not immediately.
Some players, like Connolly, are pleasantly surprised to learn she’s a “goofball” off the ice.
“We usually end up singing every possible country song together in the dressing rooms,” she laughs, before listing off artists like Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett and Dallas Smith as among their favourites. A smiling Haley chirps in — “Harty plays a starring role in our annual Christmas videos, too.”
This is Hartwick’s second year as captain of the team, but it seems she wasn’t always captain material, though — it’s a role she’s evolved into.
Alternate captain Melissa Wronzberg has known her for six years — they played in Brampton, Ont., together before coming to Ryerson. She sees that Hartwick has grown into a leader by being with the team since its inception in 2011.
“In Brampton she wasn’t really a leader on our team. I was a rookie and had (an assistant captain’s) letter, but she was a veteran and didn’t.”
There’s one thing the teammates agree on for sure though — Hartwick was destined to be in sports.
Whether she was figure skating or playing “fast-pitch softball,” as a kid, adds Wronzberg, Hartwick would’ve done some sport if it weren’t hockey.
Hartwick continues to lead, even when she’s off the ice.
She is a part of Ryerson’s skate training program, which helps people of all skill levels develop their skating techniques.
Still, some teammates agree that their first impression of Hartwick was that she seemed like a
shy player. Even Pierre Alain, the Rams interim head coach two years ago, remembers Hartwick as a quiet player.
“She was shy with me in the beginning, maybe because I was new.”
Alain, now with the Carleton Ravens after spending just seven months with the Rams, quickly adds matter-of-factly, “But now, she’s taking charge, she’s Jessica Hartwick captain of Ryerson’s women’s hockey team, a true leader.”
As Hartwick got comfortable with the team and new coach, Alain says he noticed a change in the young defenceman’s attitude.
“Sometimes her emotions would go over her rationale, but that year she was way better.” said Alain.
Players like Dowdall, meanwhile, see a different side of Hartwick. While she “isn’t as serious as you might think,” she has taken on a motherly role with the team.
“We have a group chat, and she’s so organized in it. She’ll speak to coaching staff and figure out what time we’ve got to be at a certain place while the rest of us have almost no idea what’s going on,” laughs Dowdall.
It may be because of her veteran status on the squad that Hartwick assumes that role — or the fact that she’s grown comfortable and familiar with them, as three other players have also been with the team since 2011.
Whatever it is, Dowdall sees it working in Hartwick’s favour. The captain’s experience in a motherly role will come in handy when she pursues a career in teaching after graduation.
Until then, the arts and contemporary studies student will look to take the Rams one step further into the playoffs.
While a shutout last month to the Guelph Gryphons hampered their chance at getting revenge, the squad has another shot in January.
By then, the team will also have a better idea of where they it stand in terms of a playoff berth. And it’s something Haley hopes Hartwick can help deliver.
“The bigger the moment, the bigger she wants to play,” she says as practice comes to a close at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
She watches the team walk out past her, Hartwick among them.
“She’s a gamer. We’ll miss her next year, for sure,” Haley smiles.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 18, 2015.