Last March, Mount Royal University’s women’s hockey program reached the summit of Canadian university athletics, capturing the 2023 U Sports National Championship in Montreal. A first in program history, the prestigious title was awarded to the Cougars following their 4-3 triumph over the 2022 champions, the Concordia Stingers, in overtime.

But, it’s not all glitz and glamour for the women’s program nowadays. After a summer of celebration, the team’s return to the ice came with added pressure — hanging on to their crowns.

As the reigning national champions certain expectations and demands need to be met to defend their crowns in their upcoming season. Expectations to stick to their winning ways and to replicate similar — if not identical — results. Demands to defend their title with the same amount of ambition and tenacity that first crowned them as the queens of U SPORTS in women’s hockey.

While the pressure mounts outside of their locker room, Cougars defenceman Emma Bergesen lauds her team’s mental resilience and ability to ignore the external forces. 

“It’s a lot of pressure for sure, but I think we are handling it pretty good,” Bergesen said. “I think we’re ready to fight again and prove to people that we are here to win another championship.”

Bergesen, who scored the game-winning overtime goal for the Cougars in Montreal, admits that she enjoys the heightened pressure that the program faces. For her, pressure is something that is continually embraced with open arms. 

“I feel like when I have pressure on my shoulders, that’s when I perform. As long as it’s not too much, obviously. But, I think people watching you and people thinking that you can play a certain way helps you to stay focused, on your toes and wanting to get better all the time.”

Emma Bergesen during practice. PHOTO: MATTHEW DEMILLE

Bringing up fresh talent

This season, the Cougars also added eight new recruits into their locker room ranks.

While hopping aboard a new team can be a challenging change of pace in nearly every situation, joining the reigning national championship is a different kind of challenge altogether. 

Yet, it was an opportunity that first-year defence player, Summer Fomradas, couldn’t have been more excited to jump into. Hailing from Lethbridge, having pre-existing connections with MRU’s head coach, Scott Rivett, and former players from the program helped shape Fomradas’ decision to suit up with the Cougars. 

“I’ve known Scott for a couple years now, almost over three years. And just knew of him and knew he coached Mount Royal. But, I was still undecided of where I wanted to go [for university],” Fomradas said. 

The 2023 Mount Royal University’s Women Hockey Team. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY ADRIAN SHELLARD & MRU COUGARS

Then, in grades 11 and 12, current Cougars alumni Tatum Amy, and Tianna Ko helped coach Fomradas’ previous team, the Calgary Fire. 

“I would say both of them really persuaded me to come to Mount Royal. So, that’s how I ended up here.”

Having the benefit of knowing some people in the organization, Fomradas had a better idea of what to expect when playing at the university level. And, in a way, these connections helped her prepare to join the reigning champions.

Now comfortably inserted into the Cougars roster, Fomradas has her eyes trained on the horizon — waiting for her own opportunity to be a ‘golden girl’ like her older teammates and mentors.

“I’ve never really won a championship, but to win a championship like U SPORTS, that would be a dream come true.”

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Matt DeMille is an aspiring sports journalist entering his fourth year in Mount Royal University’s communication program. He is also the sports editor at The Reflector.