It’s mid–January, and the Mustangs women’s hockey squad is riding high. With a record of 13–4–1, the team sits in fourth place in the competitive Ontario University Athletics Division. But the team is doing more than simply excelling on the ice. Brian Gosling, team manager, has two daughters on the varsity team—Katelyn and Cassidy. Brian’s job, however, is to look at the bigger picture. He wants to market women’s hockey, not just for his own daughters, but also for women in general. In Brian’s words, he wants to “educate himself on what it takes to get junior girls to the next level.”
In November, the team put on its first women’s hockey development program. Over 70 girls aged five–12 registered for the program to take part in on- and off-ice activities with members of the current women’s varsity team. The initiative is part of Western’s larger “Hockey Outreach Program”, a grassroots program meant to help educate parents and kids about women’s hockey.
“We do the Outreach Program and run things like summer camps to try and get some of the younger players out here to work with these girls to see that there are some options [for them] to pursue,” Brian explains. “And part of it is educating the parents too—about how good the hockey is. The calibre of hockey is really good [in the OUA] and it’s unfortunate that we can’t get more people out to see that calibre.”
Despite not garnering large crowds to games, there has certainly been a significant leap in minor women’s hockey.
“In junior, it has just increased sky-fold,” Gosling said. “What you see is registration in women’s hockey is on the upside, and guys is on the downside.”
Western’s current head coach is Chris Higgins, another pioneer on the women’s hockey scene, and someone who has known Brian and his daughters since before they came to Western. He too sees the positives in women’s hockey.
“It really is growing by leaps and bounds,” Higgins said. “What I notice too is the talent level, even just between now and two or three years ago—there’s just more and better players.”
Higgins was one of the founding members of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), an amalgamation of smaller intermediate-AA women’s leagues that existed on their own across Ontario until they came together in 2004.
“My daughter was four years old when she went out for tyke hockey,” Higgins recalled. “So I basically started coaching her and I basically stayed with them forever. When a couple of people wanted to amalgamate our league with the others, we just got together to sit down and decided pretty quickly that it was a great idea.”
Ever since the league was created, it has turned into the premier women’s league in terms of recruiting, not just for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport, but also for the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States. Even Division 1 teams, such as Boston University, Cornell University and Yale University, recruit players from the PWHL. On its website, the PWHL boasts an impressive list of more than 40 alumni who have moved on to either CIS or NCAA competition. What’s interesting is that the split is roughly 50/50, meaning a lot of Ontario-born women are getting offers to play hockey in the NCAA. The key for Gosling, however, is to convince Ontario talent to stay put and play for the Mustangs instead of choosing to play elsewhere. Even his daughters got offers to play in the States.
“Yes, there were other options,” Katelyn Gosling said, now in her second year playing for Western. “There were state offers, like Division 1, where they offer a lot of money. Even with [the scholarships], the cost of going down there was something to look at. For me, staying at home was the best of both worlds.”
Convincing his own daughters to study and play hockey at home may not seem too difficult, but even Gosling’s younger daughter Cassidy considered other schools this past summer.
“I didn’t exactly come to Western because [Katelyn] did,” Cassidy said. “Even if she went elsewhere, it was about the options I had. I found that Western, the school itself, is looked at so highly so it made sense.”
Beyond academics, however, the team was a big draw for both Goslings, but not in the way you would think. Western’s women’s team had consistently finished near the bottom of the standings until last year, when they surprised many by not only qualifying for the playoffs, but upsetting both York University and the University of Toronto on their way to the OUA finals. Despite losing to powerhouse Laurier in the end, it was nonetheless an enormous step for a team that had never finished better than seventh in the regular season.
The fact that the team had struggled provided an opportunity for all three Goslings, parent and kids alike, to be a part of something they would have missed out on if they had chosen to pursue another school.
“The underdog position was the one to go for,” Katelyn said. “There are teams like Laurier and Division 1 schools who already have it. I think joining a team where they have nothing and trying to improve as a team is something different.”
From a managerial perspective, Brian has teamed up with Coach Higgins to fix the struggling results at the core, which starts with a fundamental aspect of all post-secondary athletic programs—recruiting.
“When Chris asked me if I wanted to manage the team, a big part of it was ‘how do we build a foundation?’ So recruiting was a big part of it and why I wanted to be involved. We really think we’ve done the best recruiting in the OUA,” Gosling said.
The results are starting to show. Higgins is certainly happy two of Brian’s daughters chose to be part of an improving team, saying their attitude is one of their biggest strengths.
“They both have the same kind of determination to win, and they both want to get better,” Higgins said. “But their playing styles are very different.”
Different indeed, explains their father.
“On the ice, Katelyn is more methodical and a perfectionist, whereas Cass just goes full out until the battery runs out. Then she refuels and goes again.”
It’s clear that the entire Gosling family is highly invested in making the Mustangs team a winner, possibly for the OUA championship.
“Each year you come in you want to keep improving. I think because we’re such a young team that we have the potential to grow, so that would be a dream,” Katelyn said.
Brian thinks last year allowed them to grow, so a championship is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
“Last year was huge because it gave us a taste of what it takes to get to the OUA finals,” Brian said. “We raised the bar with our team last year, and now they get a bit frustrated because they want to keep winning. So there’s some growing [Higgins] will have to work with.”
Higgins knows it won’t be easy.
“There’s a lot of good teams between us and our goal,” Higgins noted. “We’re ranked now in the top 10 in Canada, but it’s going to take an incredible playoff run to get through all the good teams.”
If last year is any indication, this year’s Mustangs should be right in the thick of things come playoff time, and the Gosling family deserves some credit for making that happen.