By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
Jade Gauthier couldn’t help but ask the question during training camp.
Who is this baby-faced kid on the Kitchener-Waterloo Rangers Provincial Women’s Hockey League team?
But the 18-year-old North Bay native soon found out 15-year-old Loren Gabel had game.
“When I first saw her, I wasn’t sure if she was on the team, because she was so small,” Gauthier said. “But when I saw her on the ice, I was like, ‘Wow, she’s pretty good.’ And in game situations, she’s even better.”
That is because Gabel, who at five-foot-two is a mouse amongst her teammates and the 16- to 21-year-olds that populate the PWHL, has usually been ahead of her time.
In the last year alone, the playmaking forward made a dramatic WCSSAA varsity girls hockey debut, scoring four times in her first game as a Grade 9 rookie at St. Mary’s High School, won a provincial silver medal as an underage midget-AA player in the Waterloo girls minor hockey system and was invited to the Team Ontario under-18 camp.
She is at it again this fall in the PWHL, the top provincial feeder league to the Canadian and American college ranks where future NCAA prospects, like former Rangers forward and current Princeton University student-athlete Molly Contini, dot the hockey landscape on a consistent basis.
Gabel, who has enjoyed time on the Rangers’ power play, has made a “seamless” transition from the midget-AA level, according to her coach, and is leading the team in points (14) and power-play goals (four).
“She can handle the puck in traffic and move quickly doing it,” Rangers head coach Cindy Eadie said. “That’s where other players entering the league might find it difficult, but she was able to get through that pretty easily.
“She’s a creative player, has some skills and thinks the game pretty well, on the offensive side particularly. She’s a goal scorer and that’s not something you can teach.”
On that note, Gabel, who has been playing hockey since the age of four, has worked hard on her speed and stickhandling to stay ahead of the pack.
Her dad, Larry, owns and operates G an G Skating Training Centre on Victoria Street, where Gabel works out twice per week on a skating treadmill. At home, she takes a golf ball and a stick into the backyard and stickhandles around the family dog — an agile 14-pound Pekingese-Poodle mix.
“It’s usually a good competition between him and I,” Gabel said.
Speed and elusiveness are important aspects of Gabel’s game because, as Eadie explains, the top teams are the top teams for a reason in the PWHL — “they’re big, tough and strong, that’s just a little bit different than in midget.”
As a result, Eadie has also surrounded Gabel with a couple of older midget-AA grads — Gauthier and Kincardine native Hannah Davidson — who can compliment and are not afraid to stick up for their younger linemate in a pinch.
The relationship with Gauthier has even taken on a sister-like component, “without the arguments or any of that bad stuff,” Gauthier said.
“We’re pretty close, even though we just met in September,” Gabel said. “She’ll take me to Laurier (women’s hockey) games and I’ll help her around the city.
“It definitely feels like she’s a big sister to me.”
At the same time, the rest of the team is starting to find its groove after a 0-2-2-1 start to the season.
Before last weekend’s back-to-back losses to the top contenders from Aurora and Mississauga, the eighth-place Rangers (5-6-2-1) had won four of their last five games, taking advantage of games against teams ranked lower than them in the standings.
The Rangers will look to continue that over the next couple weeks as they complete a five-game home stand with games against Durham West, Cambridge, Leaside and Brampton before hosting the USA-Canada Cup Series from Dec. 7 to 9 at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium and RIM Park in Waterloo.
The first of those games, against Durham West, is Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Aud.
For the Rangers, the goal for the rest of the season is to stay in the top-10 in the standings.
“The top-six, we need to try and compete with them and try to win those games, and we haven’t won any yet,” Eadie said. “But we’re working those things out and we really need to take care . . . of the teams that right there with us (in the standings.)”