There was talk during the summer that Avery Lajeunesse wouldn’t be returning to the RDP Queens … that a broken ankle would spell the end of her college hockey career.
But the 21-year-old Red Deer native isn’t built that way.
“I went through a lot in the summer and it was a struggle to get it ready but I always knew I was going to play again, there was no doubt in my mind … I kept pushing it and finally turned the corner,” said the star forward.
“I really missed being with the girls and that drove me that much more and the support I got from the team helped me that much more in my recovery.”
Despite still recovering, Avery is off to a good start to the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League season with three goals and an assist in four games.
“I can still feel it, but it’s manageable … there’s the ups and downs but I get through it.”
Avery broke her ankle in the Queens fourth game last season in early January.
“My surgeon said I likely had a stress fracture and when I went to make a sharp turn, it gave out and broke,” she explained.
She was in a walking book until the beginning of April, then wore a brace.
“I couldn’t work out much early, although I did ride the bike even with the boot,” she said. “But I had a landscaping job in the summer so I didn’t start lifting again for about four months.”
She finally got back on the ice in Juby and more often in August.
“I didn’t want to push it and I skated once in July and irritated it so I didn’t want to push it so I waited. I skated a few times in August with Kelly (head coach Coulter) and a couple times with Bob Rutz but it wasn’t until I was back on the ice playing that I began to feel myself.”
Avery has battled through injuries most of her playing career that saw her come up through the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association, but this was by far the hardest setback on her mentally.
“Not knowing if I could play again was the hardest thing and in the first couple of exhibition games, I didn’t feel myself and I was hesitant to be involved in the battles. After a couple of games I put it in the back of my mind and I felt I was back to myself.”
The injury doesn’t show on the ice as Avery is one of the best skaters in the ACAC.
“Skating in a straight line doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s when I stop and start, pivot and go backwards that it’s more difficult, but I can play through it.”
Coulter has to smile when talking about his star forward.
“She had a great rookie campaign (eight goals and seven assists in 23 games in the 2019-20 season) and was off to a good start last year before the unfortunate injury,” said Coulter. “She is definitely one of our leaders and it was huge having her back after losing Cam (Wallan) and Mary (Hirsch) to graduation.
“Avery is a complete player. She has natural instincts and the things that drive her is pride, willingness to win her battles along the boards and her compete level.
“She has that drive to score and help the team in any way she can … just a good 200-foot player.”
Avery indicated she takes a lot of pride in her two-way game.
“I pride myself in my work ethic and I drive myself every game and leave it all out there, whether I’m in pain or not.”
One of the biggest disappointments of missing last season was watching the Queens win the ACAC title from the sidelines.
“That was hard but I took stats and did as much as I could to still help the team,” she said.
This year she’s back on the ice as a leader.
“I enjoy being a veteran and a leader,” she said. “We have a good group of girls, it’s easy to guide them as they know what’s expected of them. We have a good group back and the new girls fit right in.”
The Queens are off to a solid 3-1 start to the season with their only loss to the NAIT Ooks in Edmonton.
“I think that game got in our heads a bit, but to win a championship you can’t let one game bother you. We just have to ID the areas of trouble and move on.”
The Queens have a home-and-home series this weekend with the newest ACAC addition — the Lakeland Rustlers. Teams meet Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre and Saturday in Lloydminster.
“They’re good for being a first-year team,” Lajeunesse said. “We expected that as they won the junior league last year. But it makes us play stronger … those are the best games to play in.”
Avery is working on her Education degree and will be at RDP one more year.
In other RDP action, the hockey Kings (6-1-1) have a thrilling weekend as they face the Ooks (5-1-2) Friday in Edmonton and Saturday at home at 7 p.m.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org