Less than a decade ago, the Ottawa Gee Gees of the QSSF competed at the CIS Nationals. While programs like the McGill Martlets and Montreal Carabins have emerged as dominant forces, Gee Gees head coach Yanick Evola is ready to restore the pride. With a great coaching staff and strong leaders in Fannie Desforges, Valerie Watson, Elarie Leclair and Cassie Seguin, the program is ready to prove it can make an impact. Heading into the regular season, the Gee Gees were tied for tenth spot in the CIS National Polls.
A former player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Shawinigan Cataractes (including a 106 point season in 1995-96) and Val d’Or Fureurs, Evola’s influence in coaching was Danny Flynn. “Currently, he is the coach with Moncton of the QMJHL. He was a coach when I played in the CIS. I was a player at St. FX (St. Francis Xavier) University. I admired him and dreamed about doing his job. I learned from him, and it was a great plus for me.”
In five seasons with St. FX, Evola accumulated 199 points. He also played roller hockey with the Columbus Hawks and Dallas Stallions.
Prior to the Ottawa Gee Gees, Evola coached in the National Women’s Hockey League for the Montreal Axion (pronounced Action). Erika Pouliot, a current member of Evola’s coaching staff played for him in Montreal. “It was pretty good. We had several national members. Some from Team Canada, USA, and Sweden. Caroline Ouellette, Kim St. Pierre, Charline Labonte and Gina Kingsbury played there. Angela Ruggiero also played for us. We had a couple of kids from Canada’s Under 22 program, Jesse Scanzano, Blais, Desrosiers. Cecilia Andersson from Sweden also played for us.”
The opportunity to start coaching came at the prompting of a hockey legend. “I had graduated and starting teaching. France St. Louis contacted me and told me she had no coach for her team. That was the starting point of my coaching career.”
Last season, the Gee Gees had 17 freshmen, a difficult task for any coach. This season, there are only 7 (Maude Laramee, Camille Pauck-Therrien, Karyanne Poulin, Carolann Upshall, Genevieve Legault, Cindy Laurin and Logan Banks), but Evola preaches patience. “I signed them, I know what they are capable of. You just need to be patient. We use video as a way of giving feedback. It is really exciting. We feel we are better, and the dream is to play for the national championship. We are working hard to get there.”
The road to the CIS Nationals will definitely go through national power McGill (ranked number 2 in the national polls). “We beat them in the first game of the (2012) playoffs. It was outstanding. We believe we can beat the best of the best. We want to be the best.” When asked about the graduating class of McGill, which included Labonte, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand, and Jordanna Peroff (and the potential impact on the league), Evola replied, “Part of the game is graduation. We have to focus on our team. We do not check the other team’s lineup.”
Besides working as a coach, there is a lot more that entails to the position. “It is not only coaching. There is the business side of it, recruiting and administrative. We also have community involvement every two to three weeks,” said Evola. “We are participating in Running and Reading, an after school program in Vanier,” stated assistant coach Erika Pouliot.
Evola is quick to acknowledge his coaching staff. “We hired great people for our coaching staff. We were well organized this summer. Steve Seguin, a former player for the Los Angeles Kings helps out. We are one of the few teams with a full-time assistant coach. Cassie Seguin is our team manager. She played at Princeton and also coached with Team Ontario. Mandi Duhamel (former Gee Gees captain, and one-time Carleton Ravens assistant coach) also helps.” Marc Lafleur, Bob Bowes, Shelby Stableford, Veronique Audet and Isabelle Aube also contribute to the Gee Gees coaching and support staff.
Notable members of Evola’s great support staff also includes former CWHL All-Star goaltender Robyn Rittmaster, Kayla Hottot (a Red Bull Crashed Ice participant), and former St. Lawrence Skating Saints player Marianna Locke. “There are similar ties and different ties,” mentioned Locke. “It is a super time and a great time for the girls.” Added Duhamel, “The university level was the favorite part of my life. I want to make it that special for all of these student athletes.”
There is no denying that Evola is assiduous in putting together a superlative hockey program. Equipped with a great group of people, Evola is not only assembling a team, but he is building a family.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”