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Barrie native leads surging Raiders in scoring

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Barrie native Jessie Eldridge leads the Colgate Raiders in scoring this season with eight goals and 27 points in 39 games. Her team hosts the Dartmouth Big Green on Friday afternoon. BOB CORNELL, COLGATE ATHLETICS/PHOTO

Barrie native Jessie Eldridge leads the Colgate Raiders in scoring this season with eight goals and 27 points in 39 games. Her team hosts the Dartmouth Big Green on Friday afternoon. BOB CORNELL, COLGATE ATHLETICS/PHOTO

As a young girl, Jessie Eldridge would tag along to watch older brother, Kyle, play for a team coached by their father, Duane.

“I’d always go the rink and watch them,” the 19-year-old native of Barrie recalled.

She loved it, but as it usually goes for young siblings just two years apart, she wanted to jump on the ice and prove she was better than her older brother.

“I always wanted to beat him up and be as good, if not better, at anything he does. So, I got involved in (hockey),” she said.

“It was just something that I wanted to start doing,” added Eldridge, who is now a star sophomore forward with the Colgate Raiders NCAA Division 1 university women’s hockey team.  “It just kind of went from there.”

Has it ever.

After putting up an impressive 54 goals and 109 points in 77 games over two seasons with Toronto Aeros in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League, Eldridge landed a scholarship at Colgate.

It didn’t take her long to make quite the impression in Hamilton, N.Y.

The five-foot-nine centre recorded nine goals and 27 points in 39 games as a freshman last year to finish third in team scoring, while helping Colgate record 22 wins - best ever at the school for the women’s hockey program - and lead them to a berth in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.

This season, Eldridge has taken her game to another level, leading the Raiders in scoring with eight goals and 17 assists to help Colgate get off to a strong 14-2-1 start and 5-2-0 record in conference play heading into Friday afternoon’s home game against the Dartmouth Big Green.

“We’ve had a good start and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of it,” said Eldridge, who attended Eastview Secondary School for Grade 9 before attending boarding school in Toronto. “We’re hoping to keep it rolling into the second half of the season.”

The strong start by Eldridge and her teammates has given them a real shot at earning an NCAA Division 1 tournament bid, which would be a first for the school’s women’s hockey program.

“We knew we had a good team, we just wanted to come in and work as hard as we could every day,” Eldridge said of the big expectations coming into this year. “And we knew we have a chance against anyone we played.

“I think so far it’s showed and we’re going to keep getting better and better,” she added. “The games will get tougher and we’ll face more challenges, but I think we’re doing pretty well so far.”

As for her own strong start, having a year of under her belt at Colgate has made a big difference.

“I was more comfortable coming into the season and school year,” Eldridge said. “Last year was a lot of nerves and trying to figure everything out. This year I kind of knew what to expect coming in.

“In the first game there wasn’t the nerves. It was just kind of easing right into it and I think that helped.”

So did having so many familiar faces around her.

Current Colgate teammates Hannah Rastrick, Breanne Wilson-Bennett and Lauren Wildfang also played with the Toronto Aeros.

“I love this place. I consider it my second home now,” Eldridge said of Colgate. “My best friends are here and not even just teammates, but our coaches are amazing and I think the whole athletic community is really tight, which makes it even more special.

“I came to Colgate with three of my ex-teammates from Toronto, which off the bat has been a lot of fun. It was nice knowing people already coming in and there’s 10 girls from Ontario, which makes it feel like home already.”

Strong support is also there with a large sophomore class on the team that has gone through all the same experiences and challenges she has.

“We’re a really close bunch and the rest of the team were very welcoming and just made us feel at home the second we stepped on campus,” said Eldridge, who has yet to declare a major, but is leaning toward geology. “We tried to do that with the freshmens this year and all our new players.

“Our team is really close. We’re like a family and we’re always together, so it makes it much easier this year for sure.”

Balancing a busy hockey schedule and schooling can be a challenge, but Eldridge says it’s just something all athletes growing up had to do.

Her experiences last year at Colgate taught her lot.

“There is a time frame last year you go through just trying to figure it out,” she said. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s a routine you go through every day.”

Eldridge sees herself as a playmaker out on the ice. Her hockey sense helps find her teammates on the ice.

“I know the goals are fun, but assists are just as much fun,” said the forward, who is a big fan of NHL star Sidney Crosby. “That’s something I take pride in.”

Eldridge credits her teammates with her strong start and believes Colgate’s success early this season is a result of their willingness to play a team game.

“The commitment goes on everyone and not just one person, so I think we just wanted to come in and do whatever it took to make our team successful,” she explained.

She also believes a strong coaching staff led by head coach Greg Fargo, that is always willing to spend the time helping players work on their skating or shooting and passing, is another reason the women’s hockey program is as strong as it has ever been.

Along with a new rink, named Class of 1965 Arena, it’s no surprise there’s plenty of excitement around the team this year.

“We’re just looking to make history as far as our program goes with wins, which has been a lot of fun for us,” Eldridge said. “I think we’re just focused on not getting too ahead of ourselves.

“Just coming in and putting the work in and then go into the next weekend knowing that if we do what we can, we have a chance to win.”

Eldridge “talks a ton” to her parents through the week. Duane and Lisa make the trip to Hamilton, N.Y., when they can, as does brother Kyle, a senior at Dalhousie University, when he’s home from Halifax.

“They’ve always been my biggest supporter,” she said of her family.

While the days of the sibling rivalry on ice having mostly faded, Eldridge is just happy to have Kyle be there to watch her in the stands.

“I give him a lot of credit. He’s my best friend and my biggest supporter,” she said of her older brother. “Having him come watch me in the stands, I just know he’s the biggest reason I am here.”

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