New captain Hughson leads Griffins into season-opening weekend vs. Calgary

Sydney Hughson and the Griffins will open the season against the Dinos on Friday in Calgary before their home opener vs. them on Saturday, 5 p.m., Downtown Community Arena (Joel Kingston photo).
Sydney Hughson and the Griffins will open the season against the Dinos on Friday in Calgary before their home opener vs. them on Saturday, 5 p.m., Downtown Community Arena (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Showing initiative and leadership on and off the ice, Sydney Hughson was the clear choice to become the new captain of the Griffins women's hockey team.

The veteran defenceman was selected to the role via a team vote and will wear the 'C' for the Griffins as they kick off the Canada West season in Calgary on Friday (7 p.m.) with their home opener set for Saturday (5 p.m., Downtown Community Arena, both Canada West TV).


"They see the dynamic in the room every day," said head coach Chris Leeming of choosing the leadership team by player vote. "We see it from an outside perspective. From my perspective, she's been a leader in community engagement for us, work ethic in terms of strength and conditioning, practice every day, every game – she gives it her all and leads by example that way."

Hughson not only set the standard for the Griffins defensively in 2022-23, but she also led the team in scoring, producing five goals and 11 points in 28 games.  

"It's an honour," she said being named captain. "We have a really good special group of girls with us, so it's an honour to be selected and be asked. I'm really excited to get the year going and seeing what we can achieve this year."

The Griffins' leadership group will also include full-time assistant captains Jesse Jack and Makenna Schuttler, while Sydney Olsen will wear an 'A' for home games and Mila Verbicky for road contests. Goaltender Brianna Sank is also part of the leadership team.

"They lead by example, they say and do what needs to be done," said Leeming. "We identified some key characteristics and qualities our team wanted from the leadership group, and they voted on those pieces."

Sydney Hughson wore an 'A' last season, but take over as captain in 2023-24 after Shyla Kirwer graduated (Joel Kingston photo).

To be successful this season as they push for the first Canada West playoff berth in program history, the Griffins will do well to follow the example set by Hughson of unparalleled work ethic.

"If we're going to be successful, we've just got to close the gap with our competitiveness – working a lot harder both with and without possession," said Leeming. 

"It's making the right decisions when we have possession and not giving it up for free with unforced turnovers. When we do have possession, it's putting immediate pressure on them to get it back. That's one of the biggest things we're trying to close the gap on is how hard we're working with and without the puck right now."

They've also been putting in extra work on their special teams play, which needs to improve if the Griffins hope to push for the playoffs. They were a league-worst 6.5% on the powerplay last season, while finishing seventh in penalty kill percentage (81.9).

"We've already put in a bit more work on that than we did last year at this time, so hoping to see some benefit to that," said Leeming.

"We're committing to the details; we're throwing in some offensive structure and movement patterns for the powerplay and just trying to hammer down the right personnel for that – as well as on the penalty kill. We need to people who are going to compete, block shots, own the net-front and help our goalies out – ultimately sacrifice for the team."

Scoring more is also on the agenda as the Griffins tallied the second-least number of goals in the conference last season with just 39 in 28 games.

"Obviously, we're trying to implement a bit more of a dynamic offensive game here to try and generate more offensive opportunities and increase our shot volume," said Leeming. "Of course, we want to take care of our D zone – take care of things at home and then we can go to the playground at the other end of the ice and see what happens."

Hughson and her teammates had an encouraging outing against Calgary last Saturday in their final preseason test, losing 5-2 in a game that was much closer than the score indicated. MacEwan was only outshot 31-26, and two of the goals scored on them deflected in off their own players.

That shows they can compete this weekend and any night in the regular season.

"It's just going to take the dedication, commitment and consistency piece," said Hughson. "We have a long season. Twenty-eight games is a lot back-to-back. So, I think it's just not giving up, staying committed to the grind and being supportive teammates throughout the adversity – the highs and the lows – and just enjoying it, having fun, and wanting to get better."