During the last drill of a vigorous 90-minute practice, a streak of golden light zips down the ice, blows past a defender and flicks the puck past the goalie and into the back of the net.
The golden skater, Isabel Menard, repeats the process three times, leaving three different defenders frustrated in her wake.
During the second run, the puck barely trickled over the goal line before the goalie swiped it away. The net-minder argued she made the save, but Menard bounced over to the coach and gave her energetic appeal.
The forward won, if only for the reason that she always wins when it comes to scoring goals.
Menard’s play stands out on the ice. The Orange women’s ice hockey forward has already made an impact at Syracuse in her first year and a half with the team, and now is making waves beyond the college level.
Menard is recognized nationally in her home country of Canada. A former member of the Under-18 squad and currently on the roster for the U-22 team, Menard was invited to skate with the Canadian National team this past summer and is making a bid to play on the international stage.
Hockey has always been a part of Menard’s life. A native of Ottawa, Ontario, she grew up in a hockey household located in a hockey city.
“Hockey is something my family is accustomed to,” Menard said. “They are really, really into hockey, so they had me skating at 2 years old.”
Menard started playing the sport at age four, and played with the boys up until she began to play at the midget level. Growing up in a French-speaking household, it was through playing sports on mainly English-speaking teams that Menard learned the language.
As the forward moved up though the ranks of hockey, she started to play on teams to get noticed by the national committees. At 16, Menard tired out and was selected for the Ottawa Women’s Hockey Association’s provincial team. There she earned a bronze metal at the provincial championships in 2007 and won the Ottawa District Women's Hockey Association in 2008 with the Nepean Wildcats Midget AA team.
Menard’s play at provincials garnered her an invitation to attend Canada’s National Women’s U-18 Team selection camp in Calgary in July 2008. That’s where she was selected for the team and competed in several intra-team championships, including winning a gold medal at the 2008 U-18 championship in Lake Placid, N.Y., that August.
“Just having the opportunity to represent your country is always awesome,” Menard said. “The feeling to be with those girls and to get the win is just a great feeling.”
Menard’s play with the U-18 team not only put her on the radar for selection for other national teams; it was also the first time Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan saw her compete.
“From the first time I saw her play, I could just tell she was a real elite player,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan wanted Menard to play for him early in the recruitment process, and luckily for him, Menard liked Syracuse from her first visit. She and her twin sister, Talia, grew up playing hockey together. They wanted to continue that tradition in college, and the Menard sisters both felt a connection to Syracuse.
“When I came to visit I felt really good in the dressing room,” Isabel said. “It felt like a positive component in my decision to come here.”
Menard’s next step to reaching the ultimate goal of playing for the Canada National team was to be a member of the U-22 squad. Although she was already in consideration after playing with the U-18 team, Menard had to perform well in her freshman year at Syracuse to earn an invitation to selection camp in the summer of 2010.
To say Menard had a good freshman season is a bit of an understatement. She was named the College Hockey America Rookie of the Week five times and was a unanimous selection for the CHA Rookie of the Year. Menard led the team in points (37) and assists (22), averaging .63 assists per game, good for 24th best in NCAA. The Ottawa native was also selected to the All-CHA First Team and CHA All-Rookie team.
(Photo: Matthew Ziegler)
“She has the ability, and the work ethic, and we provided the venue and a place to showcase her skills,” Flanagan said. “I think we expected her to come in here and have an immediate impact, and she’s done that.
“She’s even better than I thought she’d be.”
In order to track Menard’s progression, representatives from the Canada National team came to watch the forward play with the Orange throughout the 2009-10 season. Menard never knew when they were coming or if they were at a game until it was over.
“You never know if they are there or not. You always have to play hard,” Menard said. “I really just focused on playing my game.”
Menard’s strong play in Syracuse and with the U-18 team granted her an invitation to the U-22 selection camp this past August. She became one of 13 forwards to make the U-22 final roster. Just as she did with the U-18 team, Menard moved on to play a three-game series against the U.S. U-22 team. Canada swept the series, and Menard scored a goal in Game 2. Menard is now among the players who will be selected for the 2011 MLP Cup in January in Switzerland. Just like last season, she will be monitored throughout her season with the Orange.
Menard’s whirlwind of a summer concluded in September when she and teammate Ashley Cockell were invited to the Canadian National Team evaluation camp. The camp featured 64 skaters, including members of the 2010 Olympic Gold medal winning team.
“Just talking to [the veterans] about their experiences at the Olympics just gave me a little bit of boost and gave me confidence throughout the trial,” Menard said. “It was a big stepping-stone for me.”
Menard received feedback from the National Team coaches during practices, including playing particular systems and how to position herself on the ice.
Menard returned to Syracuse with increased skills not only on the ice, but in off-ice training and preparation as well. Even in the first few months of the 2010-11 season, Flanagan has seen the growth in Menard.
“It’s just all the sudden, ‘I want to make that national team,’” Flanagan said. “If you have the chance to play and train against the best teams in Canada, you’re mindset is just to crank up your training.
“Then she brings those things back with her, and then that helps us here because it elevates a lot of our athletes too.”
For as dynamic and dominating a player as she is on the ice, Menard speaks with a quiet voice off the ice. Talia, who after spending so much time playing with her sister, instinctively knows where she is on the ice. The sisters are roommates at Syracuse.
“She’s kind of quiet, but she can be the other way too,” Talia said. “Sometimes she’s random and just starts being energetic.
She just comes out of nowhere sometimes.”
Menard has a sneaky way of coming out of nowhere on the ice as well. One of her goals in Nov. 5 game versus Clarkson, in which she blew past all five opponent skaters to score, is already being called Syracuse’s nomination for Goal of the Year.
However, if this season is anything like her last, Menard won’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore. Menard is on pace to make noise not only at Syracuse, but on the international stage as well.