The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented Karlie Bell from enjoying one final championship moment, but she finished a five-year career with the Grant MacEwan University Griffins women’s ice hockey team as a three-time league champion and on an 18-game winning streak.
The Griffins won all four of their playoff games and were leading the NAIT Ooks 2-0 in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference best-of-five championship when the season was cancelled due to the pandemic. They finished the season only one win away from a fourth straight ACAC title.
“It was heart-breaking,” said Bell. “We were one win away from winning four in a row, which would have been absolutely amazing. There were a lot of emotions going on, a little bit of anger, but just a lot of sadness, especially for the fifth-years, the graduating players, because we played in our last game without even knowing it was our last game.
“We obviously know it was for a good reason and with everything going on it needed to be done. Now it’s just important to focus on the season that we did have and celebrate what we did do because it was a pretty good season for MacEwan,” she added.
The Griffins topped the five-team league with a 21-3-0-0 record while allowing only 34 goals against. They won their final 14 games of the regular season dating back to a loss on Nov. 16, 2019.
Bell, 23, said that despite not being able to lift the championship trophy, her team still considered themselves the 2020 champions.
“For our team, we know that we would have come away with it just because of our consistency and our play all season. We worked so hard and we were good at improving every single game. We just knew that if we got one more game we would have won it all. In our minds it was our season to win it.”
MacEwan had only won one championship in the league’s 16-year history prior to Bell’s arrival for the 2015-16 season. She walks away after a historic season and as a three-time league champion.
“I think we had a good group of girls returning and then the girls we recruited came in pretty good too. Then just from the past experience of having success and carrying that forward and to build on it was good. This was probably the best team that we’ve had in my years playing and probably in the history of Grant MacEwan. That has shown in the season that we had with 21 wins in the regular season, 18 wins in a row to finish the season. It would have been one more at least if we were able to finish it out.”
The 5’8’’ forward had a goal and an assist in 20 games during her final season.
“I’m still kind of the same player. I am just one of the consistent ones. I’m not necessarily in the score sheet a lot. I really just emulate that team-first attitude and that carries out to our whole team and that was really why we were so successful was because we all just had that one goal and built off of that.”
Bell spent plenty of time on the penalty killing unit and worked in a shutdown role.
“My line was more of the defensive line kind of similar to back on the Wildcats. We were pinned up against other teams’ top lines sometimes just to shut them down. It was proven successful.”
Bell played 84 regular season games for the Wildcats, totaling 29 points and 22 penalty minutes from 2012-15. She added five points in 17 playoff games before playing a similar role in the ACAC.
“I think on the ice I really embraced the role that was laid out for me, which was showing up every game and being very consistent. Basically the coach knew what she was going to get out of me every game, just being a solid player all-around, especially defensively. I really honed in on my defensive forward skills. I didn’t have many goals scored on me, which was kind of my goal throughout it all.”
The Griffins men’s and women’s hockey teams will both leave the ACAC as the three-time defending champions as they move up to compete in the Canada West Conference in 2020-21. Most of the MacEwan athletics programs made the jump to U SPORTS five years ago.
“I’m excited for it and it is definitely well-deserved, especially for me seeing it from my first year when we were pretty average and got swept in the first round of playoffs and then to where it ended with three championships,” said Bell, who added that the Griffins will have a strong returning nucleus to handle the step up in competition. “I think we were ready to move on from ACAC and we proved that in our last season.”
The Griffins now have a beautiful home as they practice and play in the Downtown Community Arena attached to Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“It just makes it feel like we are a part of the university. Having an actual home with our name on it, it makes it feel like this is the real deal… Just having a place to call home is huge,” said Bell.
Bell is on track to graduate with a commerce degree with an accounting major and a finance minor. She will have the summer off and then is looking forward to getting her new career underway in Swift Current.