Gee Gees Heroic Alumni Give Back to Their Local Community

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Gee Gees Heroic Alumni Give Back to Their Local Community
Danika Smith (left) and Mandi Duhamel

In a celebration of Women’s Hockey Day on October 14, 2012, (and in recognition of the IIHF Women’s World Championships coming to Ottawa in 2013), Gee Gees alumni, and both former team captains, Mandi Duhamel and Danika Smith organized a special event. Prior to the Gee Gees home opener on Oct. 12 versus cross town rival Carleton, the event featured Ottawa and Carleton alumni.

This unique initiative that they spearheaded continues to show the leadership skills that made them such valued members of the Gee Gees squads of the mid to late 2000s.

“We want to try and promote the 2013 Women’s Worlds. There are only 200 days left. The launch party today was a great event, but we are not just targeting Ottawa and Carleton. We want to involve women’s hockey in general,” mentioned Smith.

“It is very important. This is a chance to celebrate the sport that is part of our lives. We were very happy to get this many women here tonight,” said Duhamel. Another aspect of the event was to strengthen the Gee Gees women’s hockey alumni.

“We are growing by the day. While this was a small event, it was great to see a lot of old friends. We want to help it grow. One day, we would like to have a full alumni weekend, a nice gathering. There have been many women that have played hockey for Ottawa in the last 15 years.”

One of the attendees at the event was former member of the St. Lawrence Skating Saints (which compete in the ECAC Conference in the NCAA), Marianna Locke. In four seasons with the Skating Saints, the forward accumulated 118 career points (including 63 goals).

The former captain at St. Lawrence was also the 2009 Sarah Devens Award winner (given to a player that demonstrates leadership and commitment both on and off the ice). During the 2009–10 Union Dutchwomen season, she was an assistant coach with former Harvard goaltender Ali Boe. Locke is another great member of the Gee Gees women’s hockey support staff.

Danika Smith being recognized as the Marion Hilliar Award winner (Courtesy of Flickr)

 

She is in her second year of graduate school at Ottawa, studying in Consultation of Sport and Physical Activity. “I work once a week with the women’s team. We do mental performance skills and strategizing. It is a super time for me. A great time for the girls.”

As the 2009 Marion Hilliard Award winner (the criteria was the student athlete that best combines athletics, academic and community service), the gracious Smith currently works for the University of Ottawa in Compliance. “I was pretty honored,” Smith commented on winning the award. “When seeing the girls that won it before me, like Shauna Denis, those are pretty impressive women.”  

At the time she won the award, Smith was working towards a masters’ degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology. In addition, she was the Chair of the Ottawa Student-Athlete Council. Her contribution to the community was running and reading with students from  who runs with and reads to inner-city Ottawa youth Tuesday afternoons at the Robert E. Wilson School as part of a team community outreach program.

During that award winning season, Smith was also the Gee Gees captain. “It was a great honor. Although I was the captain, there were so many leaders on that team. It was not a hard job,” joked Smith. “It was a ton of fun. A great group of women, and definitely an honor.”

Smith is used to representing Canada on the international stage. She has represented Canada at the International Ball Hockey World Championships.

“It started off with (former Gee Gees player) Kim Thompson. In 2007, she competed in Slovakia and I had heard about it. She was the reason I started. I realized what an amazing off season training it was. I had asked some Ottawa players to come out and do that. Eventually, Carleton added some girls.”

 

Former St. Lawrence captain Marianna Locke has emerged as a key leader within the Gee Gees community

She continued, “It was fun, and a social way to keep in shape. The girls knew the opportunity was there. The play is physically demanding.” Other Gee Gees that competed with Smith at the Ball Hockey Worlds included Fannie Desforges, Alicia Blomberg and Erika Pouliot. “The players that we met from the other countries were a great overall experience,” stated Desforges.

Along with Duhamel, all of them compete in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League, one of the finest in all of Canada. Marianna Locke has also competed in the league. “I ran into Fannie and Erika and that is how it evolved. They are a classy group, a talented group. To associate with them is a real pleasure.”

Duhamel and Smith (along with current Gee Gees goaltending coach Robyn Rittmaster) were part of another women’s hockey experience in Ottawa. The three played for the Ottawa Senators (sometimes referred to as Lady Senators) of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Smith played in the last season of the now defunct franchise (2009-10), while Duhamel played in the final two seasons. “I wish the team would have stuck around,” stated Smith. “It could have been much stronger.

It was disappointing to lose the team, but there was an issue with funding.” Duhamel added, “It was nice to be a part of it.”

Two of her former teammates, Duhamel and Erika Pouliot (also a former Gee Gees captain) currently serve on the coaching staff of Gee Gees head coach Yanick Evola. When asked if she was proud of them, Smith replied, “Absolutely. Duhamel is a great recruit for the coaching staff. When I played with Erika, it was a ton of fun.”

Danika Smith with the CWHL Ottawa Senators

 

A great leader with a heart of gold, the articulate Duhamel has a strong presence in the Ottawa area’s community outreach. She is the executive director of CAYFO (Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa). The organization helps support programs created and by young people.

The youth are given mentorship and the encouragement to develop skills and experience personal growth. Her goal is to develop the charitable organization while providing opportunities for youth.  “We are a non-profit organization dedicated to youth in Ottawa. I have been with them for two years and I am currently their Executive Director.”

Duhamel served with former Gee Gees head coach Shelley Coolidge at Carleton University. “I learned a lot from her. All the aspects from being a player to being a coach. Even from event host to manager. She has an extensive knowledge of hockey. I am appreciative of everything I did learn from her.”

She played for Coolidge at Ottawa, and appeared in several Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships. Duhamel’s greatest hour may have come on March 10, 2008 during the CIS Nationals. The tournament was being hosted by the Gee Gees.

In their final game of the tournament, the Gee Gees came back from a 5-0 deficit against the St. FX X-Women, and won the game by a 7-6 tally in a shootout goal by Erika Pouliot. In the dying seconds of the overtime period, Duhamel (the Gee Gees captain) blocked a slapshot that hit her in the stomach. 

Duhamel and Shelley Coolidge devising a game plan strategy with the Carleton Ravens (Photo by Murray McComb)

One of her greatest accomplishments was serving as an assistant coach for the Canadian women’s hockey contingent that claimed the gold medal at the 2011 Winter Universiade in Eruzum, Turkey. “That was unreal. There were so many life experiences on just that trip alone. The players taught me so much. It was a great event. How often can you say that you were in the middle of Eruzum, Turkey?”

“My biggest challenge as a coach is to make sure the team plays every game consistently. You cannot let up. Every game is at the highest level,” stated Duhamel.

For Duhamel, coaching is very important to her, “I do it for love of sport. After playing, I decided to do this. The university level was the favorite part of my life. I want to make it that special for all of these student athletes.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

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