By Justin Walters
Coming in as a first-year player isn’t easy, but so far, it’s been a smooth sail for Ryerson Rams women’s hockey player Claire Banks.
When asked to describe the skill-set of the rookie defender, Rams head coach Lisa Haley didn’t mince any words.
“She’s as fit and as strong and as powerful as anybody on our team,” Haley told The Eye. “She’s only 18 years old. She gets better with every game she plays.”
Banks is one of two rookie defenders on the team this year, and she’s feeling more comfortable each and every day.
She credits playing in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) over the past three years, as a big reason to why she feels so ready for Ontario University Athletics (OUA) competition.
“Getting to play [in the PWHL] for three years I think really helped, because some only get to play for two,” Banks said. “The speed, it’s a little bit faster here. It’s a step up.”
Fast and active, Banks plays a defensive style of hockey, and she plays it well. She only tallied 11 regular season points in her three years with the PWHL’s Bluewater Hawks, but was a regular on the team’s penalty kill unit.
She considers herself to be a shutdown defenceman, and Lisa Haley would absolutely agree.
“She’s very gritty, great with one -on-one battles,” Haley said. “She’s so good in her own end. Those things you can’t get enough of.”
For a lot of first-year players, playing in a lot of games can be a challenge, as ice time is usually given to the older, veteran players.
But Banks’ start was better than most, dressing in Ryerson’s first four regular season games.
“Claire’s doing everything right and has earned every opportunity she has been given. She’s going to be ready for her next opportunity, there’s no doubt in my mind”
“I was really surprised,” Banks said. “I came in expecting to maybe get a few games here and there but to start the first four was just incredible.”
Despite Banks’ strong performance, she sat out the next two games and isn’t 100 per cent sure when she will be suiting up again.
However, her head coach isn’t worried about her confidence being broken.
“The communication lines are really important,” said Haley. “Claire’s doing everything right and has earned every opportunity she has been given. She’s going to be ready for her next opportunity, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
The Rams coach isn’t the only one who’s been impressed with Banks’ work ethic this season.
Second-year forward Olivia Giardetti has also been extremely impressed by her teammates hard work and attention to detail.
“She’s always the last one working out in the gym,” Giardetti said. “She’s also putting a lot of effort into schoolwork.”
When she’s not on the ice, Banks focuses on her studies as a first-year in Ryerson’s nursing program.
The program requires a ton of focus, which is a mindset that Banks appears to have.
“When I look at what it takes to be successful in a program like ours, academics [is] first and foremost,” Haley said. “Claire’s an outstanding academic student and she’s in a really challenging nursing program.”
The strong defender has made her passion into a full-fledged playing career. She says she’s had many great people come along the way who have helped her. Of them all, her former PWHL coach of three years Earl Horton was her personal favourite.
“I wasn’t maybe as skilled in Bantam as all the other people on my team, but he took a chance and helped me develop a lot. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Banks is enjoying her first year at Ryerson. Loving her program and getting more ice time than expected. She’s excited for what the future holds, and so is her coach.
“This is the place for her to reach her full potential in all aspects of her life,” Haley said. “She has a bright future with us.”