On the docket as patrons filed into the CN Centre in Prince George, B.C., in late February 2015 was the final of the Canada Winter Games between Quebec and Ontario. What onlookers were treated to that night was a spectacle, a knock ’em down, drag ’em out, winner-take-all affair that saw the combatants battle to a draw through regulation before Quebec managed an early overtime-winner to capture gold. But what fans also witnessed, unbeknownst to them, was a head-to-head between Elizabeth Giguere and Loren Gabel, two forwards who would in four short years become the most dominant one-two punch in the college game.
At the time, Giguere and Gabel were wholly unfamiliar with one another. Despite crossing paths on the provincial level and at Team Canada development camp, even calling the pair acquaintances would have been a stretch. That began to change around the time Giguere made her official visit to Clarkson University, though, and changed forever after Giguere’s first skate as a Golden Knight. “Since the first practice, they put us together,” said Giguere, 21. “Literally the first practice.”
That was nearly two years ago, and what has blossomed since is an ever-growing off-ice friendship, accompanying an on-ice brilliance that has gone unrivalled throughout the NCAA.
To hear Gabel tell it, it’s as though the two, not to mention center Michaela Pejzlova, are on-ice soul mates. The chemistry was instantaneous, and Gabel gushes about Giguere’s ability. “She brings a lot to the ice every day,” said Gabel, also 21. “She works hard day in and day out, has really good heads-up play, her skills are amazing and, for my game, it’s been amazing to have her on my line because she works hard and she gets me the puck.”
There’s a symbiosis to pair’s play. Though both dynamic in their own ways, if you had to cast them into roles, Giguere would be the playmaker and Gabel would be the sniper. Their numbers this season back up the billing. Entering late February, Giguere led the U.S. college women’s game with 40 assists. Gabel, meanwhile, was the only player in the NCAA averaging more than a goal per game, netting 34 in 32 contests. Together, the duo has combined for 124 points and only once all season have both been held off the scoresheet in the same game.
Giguere and Gabel’s output en route to twin nods as top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award is worth putting into perspective. As the top two scorers in the nation (Giguere had bragging rights with a two-point edge entering March), the Clarkson combo is in line to accomplish a rare feat. The last teammates to finish one-two in the nation in scoring were Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt. The current Team USA standouts, then linemates at the University of Minnesota, blew away the field with respective 101- and 82-point campaigns in 2012-13. That’s the kind of company Gabel and Giguere are keeping.
As one might expect from members of a back-to-back national championship-winning club, however, offensive production alone will do little to satisfy Giguere, who scored the overtime goal to clinch the 2018 title, or Gabel, who had the primary assist on the insurance tally that sealed the 2017 final. “She’s a really competitive person, and she really wants to win,” said Giguere of Gabel. “I am, too, but she really wants to win every single game, do our best. And even if we win and we’re not playing our best, we’re not satisfied, and she’s not satisfied with herself.”
While that is no doubt an innate quality Gabel possesses, as most of the game’s elite talents do, it’s a trait that was cemented in her by her mentors at Clarkson, such as Cayley Mercer, Genevieve Bannon and Shannon MacAulay. And like those who’ve come before her, Gabel wants her indelible mark on the program to include not just national titles but also the attributes that can lead future teams to similar success. “All those people are amazing players who brought a lot to Clarkson hockey, and they left an amazing legacy when they were here,” Gabel said. “That’s definitely something that I want to accomplish when I leave.”
For Gabel, that time is drawing near. When this season concludes, so too will her collegiate career. She’s already taken the next step in her journey. In October, she earned a spot on Canada’s 4 Nations Cup roster, her first time representing the national team. That has put her squarely on the radar for the World Championship. But when it comes time for her to step off the ice for the last time at Clarkson, her hope is that Giguere, the once freshman and now friend whom Gabel took under her wing two seasons ago, can carry the torch and hold it high.
But don’t go thinking that will signal the end for Clarkson’s dynamic duo. The bond the two have built gives Giguere and Gabel reason to say that they will “always” keep in touch – both use that word – and there was a clearly expressed hope that the future could include a reunion of what will go down as one of the most prolific pairs in NCAA history. “I don’t know what she’s going to do after university,” Gabel said. “But wherever we both end up, hopefully we can end up playing with each other again, and I think that would be amazing to play with her at the national team level, as well.We both just need to keep pushing for that.”