From skates to stands, Melissa Berney has made the switch to UOIT women’s hockey assistant coach after finishing up her five years as a defence player for the Ridgebacks’.
The choice to coach was simple for Berney, a graduate of the UOIT criminology program, who was approached by newly hired coach, Justin Caruana during the off-season.
After years of sharing the ice with a group of teammates, some might think the shift from player to assistant coach may be difficult but for Berney, it’s all about perspective.
“It’s an adjustment. Some days I just want to be out there playing still. But it’s a good opportunity and I’m happy to still be involved,” said Berney. “[Having been a player is an advantage because] you’ve seen the game from a different perspective. I think I’m learning a lot more about the game now and I’m learning more about how to coach.”
Berney joins the ranks with other assistant coaches, former NHLer Jim Jackson and former Ontario Hockey League and minor league professional, Tom St. James. Through this role, Berney observes the game from the stands, tracks stats and does some video work for the team. She also takes on a mentor role with the current players, a role that comes naturally for this Bowmanville, Ont. native.
Rachel Budden, a forensic psychology student and fourth-year player on the Ridgebacks, was defence partners with Berney for a few years and had the opportunity to witness her mentoring first-hand.
“With her being captain last year she played a mentorship and leadership-type role. So her transitioning to assistant coach, it wasn’t as drastic as you might think,” said Budden. “The biggest difference is she’s not on the bench. But you come off the ice and she gives you a little fist bump and is like ‘do this, do that, you played a good period’.”
Coming into their sixth game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 24 against the Laurentian Voyageurs with a two-game losing streak, the Ridgebacks may have appeared as if they were in need of some mentoring. According to Berney, it isn’t about what happened in the past that determines the future.
“I think that it’s really important that the girls know that on any given night any team can win. It doesn’t matter if you’re in first place or last. And [the girls] have learned that from both the winning and the losing side,” said Berney. “So I just remind the girls that you gotta work hard every shift and that yesterday is in the past and it’s how you show up for this game.”
The team seemed to follow Berney’s mentality as they came out with a 3-1 win against the Voyageurs.
After losing their previous two games against the Toronto Varsity Blues and Nippissing Lakers, the Ridgebacks came to the Oct. 24 game ready to fight, snagging two goals by Nicole Gorda and Jenna Carter, respectively, in the first period. Both teams were aggressive in the second, but after a back-and-forth power struggle, the period went scoreless. Laurentian came back out determined to score in the third, and they did, but not before the Ridgebacks’ Sarah Biesenthal scored, clinching the lead and the game for the team.
The Ridgebacks are set to take on the Guelph Gryphons on Oct. 31 in Guelph, Ont.; the puck drops at 2 p.m.
*This article can also be found in Clarington This Week and online