Loren Gabel is doing an incredible job of making it seem like she had nothing to do with the 40 goals she scored in 38 games this season with Clarkson University, and the Patty Kazmaier award she recently won as the top player in NCAA hockey.
The 21-year-old from Kitchener, On., thanks her family (twice), she thanks her teammates, she thanks her coaches. "I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without them," one of the newest faces on Team Canada says, earnestly.
It seems the only way to get the centre to talk about her skill is to ask her to give a scouting report on her own game. Gabel opens her self-assessment with a nervous laugh.
"My shot’s pretty good," she says, looking down at her running shoes after a recent practice in Toronto, just before she and the rest of Team Canada headed to Espoo, Finland, for the world championships. "I mean, a couple coaches have told their team not to let me shoot. I use my speed a bit. I’m a heads up player, I guess?"
Ok, that’s half decent. Gabel really undersold herself, but at least she led with the thing that makes her a very welcome addition to a Canadian team looking to break a streak of four straight losses to Team USA in the world championship final: Her shot.
For the record, it’s not just "pretty good." Shannon Szabados, Gabel’s teammate and one of the best goalies in the world, calls Gabel’s shot "one of the best I’ve seen in a while."
It sure was on display on Tuesday against the world championship hosts from Finland, when Gabel sent a laser beam, top shelf, over the glove of goalie Noora Raty, with a crazy-fast release. It marked Gabel’s second goal in a 6-1 round robin win, and she also added an assist on a beauty set-up for linemate, Brianne Jenner, earning Canada’s player of the game award in the process.
Canada plays Germany next in the quarterfinals, on Thursday.
So far through the round robin at these world championships — Canada is 3-1, having lost only to Team USA — Gabel has three goals, including a game-winner, which came during a 6-0 drubbing of Switzerland to open the tournament last Thursday.
Team Canada head coach Perry Pearn has had Gabel on the second line for much of the tournament. He coached her first at the 4 Nations Cup, when she made her debut with Canada at the senior level, with four goals in four games.
"She has a unique ability to score goals," Pearn says. "If you watch lots of female hockey, that’s the hardest thing is to score goals. We have a great group that does a lot of things well, but we don’t often score a pile of goals… We’re trying to get better in that department. That’s a unique skill set she brings. I’m sure she’s worked at it, but it’s a bit of a gift, too."
Gabel has been working hard on that shot since she was a youngster, and fine-tuning it at G&G Skate Training Inc., in Kitchener—it’s her dad, Larry’s, business. The facility is home to skating treadmills, plus a rapid shot shooting machine, which is basically a batting cage, but for hockey. "I’m always on the rapid shot, so…" Gabel says, and she figures she shoots upwards of 400 pucks per day in the summer months. She’s listed on the company website as an employee, so you can imagine how she spends her downtime at work.
An eighth overall pick of the Buffalo Beauts in the 2018 NWHL draft, Gabel is known not only for her ability to score — her 213 points (116 goals) are the most in Clarkson University women’s hockey history — but for what comes after. She has authored some epic celebrations.
"I think when I score, my body just does its own thing," she says, grinning. "I get really excited when I score. My coach and teammates always laugh at me, but they say it gets everyone pumped up, the crowd gets excited, they get into it."
Gabel has not yet been on the winning side of a clash against Team USA at this level, with two losses at the 4 Nations Cup and one earlier this week in Finland. Her first-ever goal for Canada’s senior team actually came against Team USA at 4 Nations, when she wired a rebound top shelf. "It was a game-tying goal in the third," she says. "Definitely an amazing feeling, being in Canada and having the crowd go crazy was so cool."
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s betting that this world championship will finish any other way than the way it has in every single tournament since the first-ever, in 1990: Team Canada vs. Team USA. Canada has not won the world championships since 2012, and the reigning Olympic champions, Team USA, are after a fifth straight.
Should the teams meet again, it’ll happen on April 14, in the gold medal final. No doubt Gabel is a welcome addition to the team trying to break that American streak.
"That would be just an amazing feeling, to beat the U.S.," Gabel says. "Hopefully we can get the ‘W.’"