Cornell players cope with heartbreaking season’s end

Cornell advanced to the ECAC Championship after defeating Harvard. Photo courtesy of Ned Dykes

By Mikayla Heiss
BU News Service

ITHACA, NY — Cornell Ice Hockey forward Jaime Bourbonnais chatted with friends in the Harkness room. Three games remained, and people were hopeful for the season’s end. All was well until Bourbonnais bumped into a friend who broke the news: check Twitter, the championship is canceled. 

Shocked into silence, Bourbonnais walked into the dressing room. The news didn’t sink in until the coach began thanking the seniors, wrapping up the season. Tears flowed. 

“We really felt that we had a chance of winning,” Bourbonnais said. “We didn’t understand why we couldn’t just play the last three games. It was so close that it was hard to understand that we weren’t going to be able to finish it out.”

On March 12, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championships. Members of Big Red Women’s Hockey, ranked first by the season’s end, were heartbroken. The team spread out, coping with the abrupt end, looking ahead to their future as hockey players. 

“It’s so heartbreaking that it ended on that note, with such a short amount of time to say goodbye to everybody and not be able to finish out this record breaking season that we had,” Bourbonnais said. 

Cornell’s final game of the season ended in a 2-3 overtime loss in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey Championship. On the first shot on goal, Kristin O’Neill, a senior forward, put in the puck past second-seeded Princeton at 18:34.

“Princeton has been our rival these past four years,” O’Neill said. “It’s hard to get past them, but I’m really thankful that I was able to score my last game.”

Over the years, O’Neill gained confidence and improved her game, scoring more goals each season. She is still in Ithaca with five other teammates.

Athletes around the world have been adapting to social restrictions. O’Neill visits the famed Ithaca gorges, rollerblades, lifts weights and goes for frequent walks. Spending time with teammates has helped through the changes.

“It’s more important to maintain those relationships right now instead of focusing on our season or hockey,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill has aspirations for the future. By 2021, she hopes to be centralized, pursuing a career with Hockey Canada. However, coping with the pandemic takes priority.

“Maintain your training, but right now there are a lot more important things going on like maintaining social distancing and appreciating the health care workers,” O’Neill said. “Taking a bit of time to relax and gaining perspective is important right now.”

The team continues supporting and maintaining a tight bond. The trainer sometimes even conducts treatments via Zoom to allow the players time to reconnect, Bourbonnais said.

The NCAA cancellation was not the first disappointment Bourbonnais faced. Bourbonnais and Micah Zandee-Hart expected to play for Team Canada at the 2020 Women’s World Championship. When news of its cancellation made the rounds, Bourbonnais still had the Cornell season to finish. 

“I still had something to work for, and I didn’t really have time to sit back and dwell on the fact that it was canceled,” Bourbonnais said. “When my season got canceled, I think that’s when it really hit me like, wow, I don’t have any hockey. I don’t have this hockey, and I don’t get to go to the World Championship. That was really hard.”  

Bourbonnais and O’Neill don’t plan on hanging up their skates, but their time with Cornell has ended. Returning to Canada, Bourbonnais is separated from her old skating grounds, but her pride for the 2019-2020 team will not die.

“In my four years,” Bourbonnais said, “it was the best team that we’ve had.”

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