Toronto, ON- It was the McCaw Cup Final, Courtney Gardiner exploded like a bullet across the ice, and rifled the puck into the net. As the fans went wild and the players spun in celebration, little did people know that Gardiner’s move was something that she had worked on with one of hockey’s smartest minds: Rachel Doerrie.
When Doerrie arrived at York University, she entered a hockey program that had a history of men’s success, and a women’s team that has never made a big impact in the Ontario collegiate circuit. Doerrie’s arrival brought an instant boost to the performance of York’s program and made a massive statement to the improvements in Canadian university hockey when she chose to come back home to Toronto rather than taking her talents to a major NCAA program.
A graduate of the Laurentian University Sports Management program, she has long been connected to U SPORTS. She spent time with the Nipissing Lakers hockey teams before being plucked from U SPORTS to go to the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. After a year in the Devils, Doerrie returned home to Toronto, where she is studying, all while revolutionizing the York Lions hockey teams.
While student-athletes have to balance sporting pursuits alongside academia, Doerrie has a similar challenge. Her sports are numbers- she is constantly tracking, watching and breaking down every aspect of the game in hopes of bringing the Lions to the next level.
Before she arrived at York, there were only a few schools that had tracked advanced statistics, and only McGill had done so at the level that she is with the Lions. The UBC Thunderbirds are an example of a school that has done advanced tracking but has not implemented it in the same way as Doerrie, and neither has had as dramatic results.
Few in the analytics community get to bring their observations and analysis to the ice alongside the players, but this is something that Doerrie has done on a regular basis. “I spent a lot of time on the ice with the girls this season, and some of the goals they have scored have come off of a result of things we have practiced,” said Doerrie. The goal by Gardiner in the McCaw Cup Final is only one example of how she saw something that a player could improve, spoke about her idea with the player, guided the player through the process on the ice, and in the end, it resulted in a goal that nearly won a championship.
There are countless people who track, analyze and graph hockey, but few are able to affect the on-ice outcome as well as Doerrie. In just one year with the Lions, the implementation of her ideas brought the women’s team to a final and helped Peter De Coppi, a senior on the men’s team earn himself a professional contract. There’s something about her personality and the way she operates that works to bring the best out in players. She has built a strong trust among the rosters, which has only led to further success.
It’s this effect that Doerrie jokingly calls “The Nemo Effect.”
Nemo is a nickname that she’s garnered throughout her hockey career. “It’s something I’ve been called for a while. People don’t know how to pronounce my last name, so I always tell them it’s like the fish from [The Disney movie] Nemo.” The nickname only got better when she separated her shoulder playing hockey, and with her arm in a sling, people around her began to call it a “broken fin.”
With nickname in toe, the Nemo Effect has proven to be a lot of things for the York Lions. At first, it was the impact she had with De Coppi and the women’s team, who both found outstanding success in her first year, but it has morphed its way into one of the program’s most intricate aspects, that being recruiting.
The off-season may be in its infancy but the Lions men have already brought in a number of highly-touted recruits, many of whom are coming to York by virtue of Doerrie being with the program. Word has gotten out that York boasts such a great mind, and the proof came this past season that she is a person that can help players reach their full potential. It’s this effect that has drawn players to the program, some of whom are at a higher level than the Lions could have attracted before.
In just one season, Doerrie learned a number of lessons and has already greatly affected the Lions program. With U SPORTS cancelled until at least January, there is no telling whether Rachel will be back with Lions hockey next year, as she’ll likely have opportunities elsewhere to consider. However, the fact that her presence has helped to attract a number of talented players to the men’s team is something that can only point towards success. She has a year of experience, as well as a season’s worth of data, which gives her the opportunity to prepare York’s returning players ahead of next season, even if they cannot hit the ice during the summer due to COVID-19.
Rachel Doerrie is a talent outside of the main picture of U SPORTS hockey, but is a person who has changed the way the York Lions hockey programs operate, the way their team’s play, and soon how their team’s finish a season, which she hopes is with a pair of gold medals around their necks.