When three-time Olympic gold medallist and Saskatchewan native Colleen Sostorics is asked for her autograph, beside her name she often scribbles down the words “small steps, big dreams.”
That motto has served her well over her own successful hockey career, from playing with the boys in her hometown of Kennedy to helping Canada win gold on home ice in Vancouver. It’s something she hopes resonates with the participants of the 2010 Esso Cup now that they have left Regina and returned to their own hometowns.
“Every day, when I learned how to take a slap shot or learned how to do a crossover, all of those things added up to me getting a chance to wear Canada’s colours and compete at the Olympics,” Sostorics told hockeycanada.ca. “If it wasn’t for all of those long hours in the rink … I wouldn’t have (had) the foundation to make it happen.”
Sostorics was invited to the 2010 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, to share her motivational message at the tournament’s awards banquet, where the girls who took to the ice throughout the week-long tournament hung on to the female hockey star’s every word.
“This is one of those great stepping stones in your career,” she told the young players of the incredible experience they were gaining at the Esso Cup. “Maybe one day I’ll be watching you guys play in the Olympics.”
But Sostorics emphasized that it takes a lot of hard work to play with the best in the world, explaining she and her teammates on the National Women’s Team had a long road to travel in order to reach 2010 Olympic gold.
After months of intense training and growth both as individuals and as a team, the Canadians were “battle
hardened” and ready to face off against their American rivals in the Olympic final.
“Together, we achieved something great,” she said, holding up her sparkling gold medal to an awed audience of girls with stars in their eyes. “What an amazing moment to have.”
Sostorics said she soaked up that golden moment, and encouraged all the young players listening intently to do the same while at the Esso Cup.
“What an opportunity to be here with … the girls that you’ve gone to the rink with day in and day out,” she said. “Now, you (may even get to) call yourself national champions.”
Sostorics said while the Esso Cup is a significant milestone in the hockey careers of these young women, the national championship itself is an important milestone in the growth of the female game.
“To give players a chance to compete at the national level, but with their club teams . . . that’s something special,” she said. “(It) wasn’t available when I was young.”
Fellow Saskatchewan native and Team Canada veteran Hayley Wickenheiser agrees that the establishment of the Esso Cup simply “makes sense,” and is creating a bridge that will connect players to the under-18 and under-22 national programs.
But she added it’s just one of many steps needed to ensure the female game continues to grow.
“We really have to put some resources … into getting the best players in the world in one league,” she said. “For the future of the game, you need to … have players that can challenge you at every level.”
Wickenheiser said that when she was growing up in the small town of Shaunavon, her only option was to play with the boys. “I actually only knew that women played hockey in 1990 when I watched the world championship on TV.”
So, while women’s hockey has a long way to go, it has also come a long way since Wickenheiser played with the boys, with more opportunities for females at every level. For elite players in her home province, for example, there is the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, which includes the 2010 Esso Cup hosts, the Regina Rebels, and the tournament’s silver medallists, the Notre Dame Hounds.
Wickenheiser said the Esso Cup “gives girls a measuring stick, a benchmark, a place to go.”
“It’s a really tangible thing … they can see where the level of competition is that they need to be at and go from there,” she said. “I just wish it happened when I was a kid growing up in Saskatchewan – it would have been great.”