New captain Skoye leads young Griffins team into long-awaited Canada West debut Friday vs. Regina

New captain Skoye leads young Griffins team into long-awaited Canada West debut Friday vs. Regina

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The culture of hard work within the locker-room of the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team has been passed down from generation to generation.

Like an Olympic torch being exchanged from captain to captain and from senior to rookie, the team-first mantra that defines the program is the wings on which they fly into the Canada West ranks in 2021-22.

So, when the players voted on a new captain to replace graduated forward Morgan Casson, the choice was unanimous.

Kyrelle Skoye.

The fifth-year defenceman has learned under three captains since joining the program in 2016 – Sydney Thomlison, Nikki Reimer and Casson – but has been groomed for the position long before that, growing up watching and learning the Griffins way from older sisters Jayden and Matana, both of whom played key roles in their tenures at MacEwan.

"Kyrelle is extremely selfless," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "She is a player that's engaged every day on the ice, and provides a natural balance of intensity, comfort and team-first leadership.

"She was unanimously chosen in that role by her teammates and I believe they speak the loudest; Kyrelle will be the next leader of our team."

Skoye will lead the Griffins into their long-awaited Canada West debut this weekend as they welcome the Regina Cougars for the 2021-22 lid-lifter on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m., both Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

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"It's definitely a huge honour to get that leadership role and to know that your team sees you in that role," said Skoye. "We have a great group of leaders in the room."

She's one of just 11 players on the roster who were around when the Griffins last played a game – March 7, 2020 – but among those are her assistant captains: Chantal Ricker and Rylee Gluska, along with Sydney Hughson and Shyla Kirwer, who will rotate games wearing an 'A.'

Ricker led the Griffins in scoring in 2019-20 with 22 points in 24 games and was named ACAC player of the year. She's the only other player on the roster besides Skoye who was there for all three of the Griffins' ACAC Championships.

"She obviously provides a level of grit, intensity and offensive skill, and is someone who, all encompassing, loves hockey," said McAlpine.

Gluska is only entering her second year of eligibility, but has already shown her coach she deserves to wear a letter.

"She's a young leader who had to fight through adversity in her first season and came out of it stronger," said McAlpine. "She is also a role model student-athlete, leading our group in the classroom, as well as athletically."

Hughson is also only in her second season of eligibility, while Kirwer is entering her third. They bring different leadership styles to the team, both important to the success of the group.

"Sydney Hughson plays with a quiet intensity on the ice, but leads teammates with an open-arms approach," said McAlpine. "She is the first to embrace and welcome any new member, which has been instrumental in a year with a huge first-year group.

"Shyla Kirwer does all the little things right, understands and executes our system play, and has become a critical leader amongst our role players."

Kyrelle Skoye and Natalie Bender (background) are two of just 11 players who were with the Griffins the last time they played - on March 7, 2020 in Game 2 of the ACAC final at NAIT Arena (Len Joudrey photo).

All will be able to set an example and pass on the culture of the Griffins to a group of 17 newcomers to the program, including 13 in their first year of university hockey.

"Honestly, because we have such a young group, they're all very energetic," said Skoye. "Them coming in is making me feel like I'm a first year again, but it's a good feeling. You feel fresh, you try to keep up with them.

"We've got a good group of girls with a lot of skill, so it's definitely pushing us older girls to keep up with them, too."

Skoye, after all, was once a rookie, too. The St. Albert product credits hard work for her evolution over the past five years into a player who can lead the Griffins' defence in all situations.

"My first year, I came in knowing I would be in and out of the lineup – the sixth/seventh D," she recalls of the 2016-17 campaign – her first of three-straight championship seasons with the Griffins. "But I just continued to work hard throughout the year and just trust the process. Over time, I just got more confident. Again, I had great leaders every year helping me out, so I'm just hoping I can do that the same way for the new girls."

McAlpine is effusive with praise for Skoye, who has become an elite shot blocker in the Canada West ranks.

"When I think back to Kyrelle's game five years ago to now it's her consistency and dedication to becoming a key contributor that stands out," said the coach. "Kyrelle leads us offensively in numerous games in shots on net, but also dictates a ton of what happens in our D zone.

"She's one of the best shot blockers in the league. I'd put her up against anyone in Canada West. She's a great PK'er, leads our top PP unit, understands expectations in every system, plays with great structure and makes her teammates better.

"I think she emulates everything we've asked for out of Griffins players."

As the team heads into its inaugural Canada West season, they've been battle-tested through a tough preseason schedule against some of the top teams in the country.

Although they went 0-6-1, their story is still to be written how they ultimately stack up in the regular season.

For McAlpine, their success will always start and end with the process.

"Our expectations are to always compete," she said. "We have done it through preseason and I will continue to reiterate that to our group; we are in Canada West to compete, not to just participate.

"The Canada West women's hockey league I would argue is one of the toughest leagues across all of U SPORTS," she added. "You've got three or four national contenders in our league alone.

"If we can push for a playoff position, I think that would be a great goal in our first year, but again I would go back to – did we do the little things right and did we compete each game? That will be our focus."