It’s easy to see why RDP hockey Queens veteran forward Mary Hirsch took the career path she did.
The Calgary native is a leader on the Queens and enjoys working in a team environment. That attitude played a major role in why she got into nursing and wants to work in an operating room.
“I’ve always wanted to work in the operating room as surgery really intrigues me. How the environment works is based heavily on teamwork and with my background in hockey, it really helps me going forward. It makes me feel comfortable when I have a team working behind me.”
It’s that attitude that has the Queens on the verge of their fourth overall ACAC championship and first since the 2015-16 season. The Queens hold a 2-0 lead on the Olds Broncos in the best-of-five final with Game 3 Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre.
It’s been a tough season for Hirsch. who has been working in the OR since the beginning of February.
‘It’s been a bit of nerve-wracking but it’s where I’m at and I’m close to graduating which is exciting.”
Although she’s in her third season with the Queens she’s finishing her fourth year of nursing after last hockey season was cancelled because of Covid.
That was the only disappointment of her time in Red Deer.
”That was the tough part as my first two years I was building momentum and I was really excited about coming back for my third year, but obviously we know what happened. It was disappointing for everyone. I know how many girls put in the work to be ready and that took it all away from them.”
But Mary showed why she’s a team leader as she put in extra work to be ready when the team did get back on the ice.
“I used the year to really work on my fitness and over the summer I trained five times a week to be ready. This year is the result of the momentum I build at the end of my second year and the extra work. Just like a lot of the other girls.”
It showed on the ice as she lead the Queens in scoring with five goals and nine assists in 15 games. She placed second in assists and points in the ACAC.
All this despite taking a regular shift in the OR.
“I missed a couple of games in the preseason with a bad back but didn’t miss a regular season game,” she said. “It was draining at times as I’d work a full shift, get off work, drive to Edmonton, be ready 10 minutes before the game, play, drive home and work a shift the next morning.
“It’s been demanding but in January I didn’t have any clinics and I took the time to work on my fitness and prepared for the rest of the year. I haven’t been able to get back (in the weight room) since then but my fitness carried over to the end and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
The fact Mary could combine hockey and nursing played a major role in her picking RDC.
“I was lucky as I got into the nursing my first year. It’s tough to get into at times, but I studied hard coming out of high school and was fortunate enough to be accepted. With smaller class sizes it makes it easy to get a good education.
“I was fortunate the two (hockey and nursing) lined up perfectly.”
Queens head coach Kelly Coulter likes what he sees from players in the nursing program.
“Credit to Mary and the others in nursing for what they have to do. They balance being an athlete with a little social life and studies. They do a phenomenal job. It’s nice having nursing students as they’re here for the long term but it’s definitely a lot to balance.
“It’s been a tough last couple of years for Mary with a heavy workload but it sets her up for the rest of her life.”
Hirsch was only a handful of veterans back this season with only Brook Skrypichayko returning on the blueline.
“When Kelly told us we had 19 rookies this season and only seven returnees, we, as a leadership group, sat down and said we had to get the new girls up to speed and ready to play. Our first regular season game we lost to NAIT and we realized what it takes to work hard as a team and we built on that momentum since then and here we are.
“Kelly did a great job of recruiting defencemen,” she added. “And when we had some adversity with Covid and injuries some of the forwards, like Monica (Bowtell) moved back and did a great job.
“Kelly teaches defence wins championships and that’s something we all work on since Day 1 and I think any one of us could have stepped in.”
Plus the Queens have the best goaltending in the league.
“Our goaltending has been insane,” said Hirsch. “All three are amazing. They compete hard in practice and it shows in the games. They give us an extra sense of security.”
Rookie Tanya Disotell-Dunsmore was in goal for the Queens 3-2 opening game win with veteran Madison Fox making 24 saves in a 4-0 shutout in Game 2. Izzy Palumbo rounds out the trio.
But despite sitting with a comfortable lead Hirsch isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” she said. “This week we made sure we turned off any distractions and focused on what we need to do.”
“It sounds cliche but one game at a time,” he said. “It’s a best-of-five for a reason and they’re hungry and have a never quit attitude.
“But we have great leadership and they’re doing a great job of keeping us focused on what we need to do on the ice to be successful.”
Hirsch and captain Camryn Wallan will call it a career after the final game.
“We’d loved to finish with a win … it would be an awesome way to end our college careers.”
Coulter will be sorry to see her leave.
“She been a phenomenal player … a 200-foot player. She’s very competitive and on top of that a fantastic student. She’s great in the room with a welcoming attitude and helps create the Queens culture where the rookies are in a family right away. That’s what it takes to play college hockey. When she leaves it will leave a big hole.”
If the fourth and fifth games of the final are necessary they go Saturday in Olds and Sunday at RDP. Both 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 email@example.com