Great athletes, including great goaltenders, are often praised for their razor-sharp focus, their exceptional ability to clear away distractions and concentrate on the task at hand, as much as they are for their athletic abilities.
It’s likely that anyone who has watched Mireille Kingsley mind the net for the Sudbury Lady Wolves this season, whether in league play or tournaments, at the recent provincial championships or this week’s Esso Cup nationals in the Nickel City, would come away impressed with both her physical and mental stamina.
And that’s without knowing just how much the 16-year-old Sudburian has been through since the puck dropped on 2018-19.
Kingsley’s family, their friends and the local hockey community were rocked last October when her older sister, Melisa, a former scoring star with the Lady Wolves who helped the team win a national title four years ago, succumbed to cancer at age 20.
The loss still reverberates through Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, where Melisa’s No. 23 now hangs over the ice. Her smiling face adorns promotional materials for the Esso Cup, from pocket schedules to billboards. Her memory has been honoured during each Sudbury warmup, with all current players donning her jersey.
And Kingsley wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t just come to terms with the fact that strapping on pads doesn’t make the outside world go away. She has embraced it, and perhaps become an even better goalie in the process.
“There has been a tremendous amount of support from family, friends, teammates and everything,” Kingsley said. “And I know that my sister is always looking out for us, looking out for our team.”
If anything, she said, the loss has brought the Lady Wolves closer together.
“The whole team is playing in honour of her,” Kingsley said, smiling. “And we’re going to make her proud.”
While the Lady Wolves’ continued to pursue their team goal, there was plenty to be proud of when players and staff from each of the participating teams gathered for the handing out of individual awards on Friday.
Kingsley was not only named top goaltender for the tournament, but the Providence College commit was also selected as most valuable player.
“It was really an honour,” she said, prior to her team’s semifinal against Stoney Creek Friday evening. “I’m really excited to have this chance, to have the opportunity to get this award.”
Kingsley’s play during the round-robin portion of this week’s championship was nothing short of superb. She backstopped the hosts and provincial champions to hard-fought wins over Stoney Creek and St. Albert, before performing well in a narrow loss to highly-regarded Saskatoon.
The 5-foot-9, 155-pounder recorded a 1.96 goals-against average, as well as a .928 save percentage in three contests.
“She has played super well in these games and I think she can ride it to the next level,” said Jay Duncan, the Lady Wolves’ head coach. “That’s what we need. We need fantastic goaltending to win this thing.
“She has done her job very effectively, very efficiently, and she still has a lot left in the tank. She’s going to rise to the occasion and bring it home for us. That’s what I hope. That’s what I know.”
Friday’s honour was validation of a season’s worth of hard work, Kingsley said, not just for her, but the whole of the team.
“It shows how much we’re putting into this and I think it has given us some confidence.”
The development of strong chemistry between Sudbury’s skaters and their goalies, she said, has been essential to their success.
“We have won some and we have lost some,” Kingsley explained. “And I think going through a lot of things like that, especially this week, staying together for a whole week, it has brought us together even closer and just being positive and playing as a team like that, it is really fun.”
The whole group took things to another level, she said, following a disappointing loss at the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League championships.
“We lost in the finals versus Mississauga, the week before going into provs,” she recalled. “It opened our eyes and we knew we had to push harder, work harder that week, before provincials, before Esso, before everything, just really work harder and minimize our mistakes so that we can win.”
What was a little extra effort, after all, compared the real-life adversity the team had faced earlier in the year?
The immediate aftermath of Melisa Kingsley’s passing was a difficult time, Duncan said, recalling how he sometimes had to wait for players to stop crying before giving them another shift. But with the Esso Cup approaching, he was less concerned that the tributes would be a distraction for Kingsley, and even more certain they’d only serve to motivate the youngster.
“She wanted to honour her sister and to do her very best,” he said.
“There’s not too many kids, in my mind, who can keep it together like she has. She’s a very mature person. She keeps a lot in and there’s certain times when it comes out, but very few people, I believe, see it. That’s good on her and I know she’s going to focus on the goal over the next two games and, hopefully, get us to the gold medal. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Kingsley thanked her family, friends, as well as her goalie coaches, Chris and Bruce McDougall, for their their support in helping her win Friday’s awards, as well as one other person, who never feels far away.
“I’d also like to thank my sister, for looking out for us.”
Esso Cup award winners
– Top scorer: Anna Leschyshyn, Saskatoon Stars
– Most sportsmanlike player: Isabelle Lajoie, St. Albert Slash
– Top goaltender: Mireille Kingsley, Sudbury Lady Wolves
– Top Forward: Alyssa Kawa, Stoney Creek Sabres
– Top Defender: Ashley Messier, Saskatoon Stars
– Most Valuable Player: Mireille Kingsley, Sudbury Lady Wolves