Ontario Red may be chasing its sixth-consecutive gold medal at this year’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Surrey, B.C., but there are seven other teams hot on the trail of the many-time gold medalists.
Team Atlantic, for instance, is more than ready to play catch up – especially after ending up at the bottom of the pack at last year’s national championship in Napanee, Ont.
In fact, this year the squad representing the four Atlantic provinces boasts three players that were picked for the National Women’s Under-18 Team that faced off against the United States in a three-game series in August.
Team Atlantic general manager Nic Jansen said that’s the most female players from the region that have ever been named to a national team at the same time. And he promises it will show at the 2009 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
“With these girls, it’s pretty evident when they come together, the work ethic that they have and how they can push the other players,” he said of goaltender Carmen MacDonald from Pictou, N.S., and forwards Jillian Saulnier from Halifax, N.S. and Sarah Davis from Paradise, Nfld.
“All three of them are natural leaders,” Jansen said. “They all perform well on the ice and off the ice. They’re all outgoing girls that are willing to do whatever it takes to make our team successful.”
Not only is it an indication that the team itself is improving, he said, but it’s also an indication of just how fast female hockey is growing in Atlantic Canada.
“Everywhere you go, you see more and more girls playing hockey,” he said. “(And) the level of hockey just continues to go up and up.”
Davis, 17, points to the first Team Atlantic summer camp held at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. as another sign that the sport is taking off on the country’s east coast. The camp brought together close to 60 of the region’s best young female hockey players in July, giving coaches and scouts a better look at their abilities and giving the players a chance to become comfortable with each other on the ice.
Previously, the players for the regional under-18 women’s team were picked solely based on an annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament called the Atlantic Challenge Cup.
“We’re going to have more improvement because we did the summer camp this time for try-outs,” said Davis, who is in her third season with Team Atlantic and played with the National Women’s Under-18 Team for her first time this year. “So we got to know each other over the summer … it (has) improved the team chemistry.”
Fellow three-year veteran Saulnier, also 17, said Team Atlantic will have to work had to battle its way to the top of the statistics this year, but adds she and her teammates are determined to reach their goals of hockey greatness and are just as hungry for national championship gold as the competition from the rest of the country.
“There’s nothing holding us back at all,” she said. “There’s no individual player on this team that’s going to be able to win it for us, but if we work as a team, anything can happen.”