NAPANEE, Ont. — Meghan Dufault is used to being the youngest player on the team. Back home in Winnipeg, the 14-year-old is the only ninth grader on the Balmoral Blazers. She regularly plays with girls three and four years her senior while maintaining a gruelling schedule of training, practices and schoolwork.
This week she gets a break from her hectic pace to take part in the National Women's Under 18 tournament, which opened on Wednesday in Napanee, ON. Here, again, Meghan will be the youngest player on her team, and in fact, the youngest in the tournament.
But Meghan's skills help her stand out in a crowd. Despite being a rookie, she gets equal ice time to older teammates and contributes to Team Manitoba’s points total. Meghan feels that things don't change significantly at this level of hockey.
“It's still the same teamwork and the same play,” she notes.
Meghan works hard to maintain her grades and do well in school. She does homework on her lunch break, or while riding the bus to games. Her goal is to play hockey at the university or college level, and also to take part in the Olympics one day. If she continues to play as well as she does now, that dream could well come true.
Meghan was granted "exceptional player status" to be part of Team Manitoba, which is made up mostly of 17-year-olds, of whom many play on Meghan's team back home. This process meant she had to switch from coed to girls' hockey and also play in some qualifying tournaments. To be granted exceptional status means a player needs to prove she has the skills and maturity to play at a higher level.
But winning this status wasn't an immediate ticket to the tournament. Some 140 girls tried out for Team Manitoba, and Meghan is proud to have gone through the process and made the team.
There is a lot of talk about the young forward in hockey circles. She has the speed, skills and instincts to excel, and will be on a lot of scouting lists in the near future. Meghan is aware of the talk, but tries not to focus on it.
“I try to act like it isn't there," she confides. "It's hard sometimes, but I don't want to let it affect my game.”
Meghan may be the youngest player here, but her attitude is refreshingly mature.