As the Carleton Ravens look to become a nationally prominent program, a key figure in their gradual rise is head coach Shelley Coolidge. A former manager of Female Hockey Development with Hockey Canada, Coolidge employs great acumen in hoping to make the Ravens' hockey championship dreams come true.
Prior to joining Carleton, Coolidge was the head coach of the Ottawa Gee Gees. Some of the great players from her tenure with the Gee Gees include Jessika Audet (known affectionately as Grandma to her teammates), Erika Pouliot (an eventual captain for the Gee Gees and world silver medalist in ball hockey), Mandi Duhamel (who served with Coolidge on the Ravens coaching staff, and served on Canada’s coaching staff at the 2011 Winter Universiade) and Danika Smith (the 2009 Marion Hilliard Award winner and member of the CWHL Ottawa Senators).
While with the Gee Gees, she was recognized as Coach of the Year. “When you are honored by your peers, it is always an honor. The most important thing is to look at how your athletes support one another and come together. How they are in our community is important. It is about the great kids that come through the program.”
Soft-spoken and humble, her greatest legacy with the Gee Gees was leading them to the CIS Nationals in multiple seasons, a goal she is hoping to accomplish with the Ravens, something no coach has ever done. “Our goal every year is to get the team to the CIS Nationals. It is more than just hockey experience, it is character experience and an invaluable life opportunity. Our goal is to win the QSSF and make a championship appearance this year.”
The Ravens' victory on the road against McGill during the 2011-12 season is an important event in the team’s history. “The win against McGill helped make these girls realize what they were capable of. To talk about it is like a David and Goliath scenario. McGill is a powerhouse now, but when I started coaching, it was Concordia. It is about people’s beliefs and what they can accomplish.”
During the preseason, Coolidge had to deal with a lot of injuries. “We have had a number of players given opportunities to play in a different role. We had Jessica O’Grady playing forward (against the Western Mustangs). Our defense has been really steady. (Freshman) Julianne Bruce has been solid on defense. (Against Western), Wendy Abramenko did not skate all week, but found her way back in the lineup.”
She continued by mentioning other players who have overcome adversity in the preseason. "No. 10 (Karelle Fucile) is still finishing CEGEP in Montreal, so this was only her second time out with the team. After the third period (against Western), our line settled. Kesley Evershed (No. 11) is in her first game back in one and a half years. All of these girls are in different situations.”
In September of 2012, the Ravens participated in several exhibition matches versus women’s hockey programs from the OUA (Ontario University Athletics): the Brock Badgers, Waterloo Warriors, Western Mustangs, and York Lions. While the matches provided fans the opportunity to see teams they are not accustomed to, Coolidge puts the level of competition in perspective. “Although they are out of conference games, most of our players come from the PWHL (girls’ junior hockey in Ontario). Our girls have played with or against a lot of kids from these different rosters. It is easy to raise your compete level against former teammates.”
One game that stood out during the exhibition series (which saw Carleton go 2-2) was against the York Lions. Ravens goaltender Tamber Tisdale played on the Notre Dame Hounds with York player. Coolidge served on Canada’s coaching staff with Dan Church (Lions head coach) on the gold medal winning squad at the 2009 Winter Universiade.
Coaching against each other was a unique experience for Coolidge. “Dan was a coach and mentor to me. Having an opportunity to see how his teams execute shows he is very focused on execution. You watch how he coaches when his teams execute well, and he makes adjustments when they are not. He makes me better as a coach and gives me a sense of what I am doing. It takes a lot for a team to perform. When you make adjustments, you can perform better coming out.”
Having had the unique opportunity to coach both CIS teams in Ottawa—the Gee Gees and the Ravens—Coolidge notices a difference in terms of academics. “The University of Ottawa offers programs in nursing and human kinetics. Sixty percent of the athletes one tries to recruit tend to have an interest in nursing and human kinetics. We do not offer that at Carleton. Many of our girls are pursuing interests in sciences (health, biology, neuro), criminology and engineering.”
A great point of pride for Coolidge is the leadership of the university. “From our President to our faculty to our staff, we have a ton of support. There is an open-door policy, a real commitment to help student athletes. Our president is at sporting events and other events at the University. She is very engaged. We see our athletic director at the rink, and she is supportive of all the teams. I have a lot of respect for that.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”