MAKING THE MOST OF ESSO CUP GOLD
One year ago, goaltender Amanda Makela and her fellow Thunder Bay Queens “believed” that they could become 2010 Esso Cup champions.
A team theme sparked by the “I Believe” anthem of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, that positive attitude adopted by Thunder Bay not only paid off in Esso Cup gold, but for Makela and forwards Michela Cava, Kaitlyn Tougas and Brittany Zuback, it also resulted in invitations to the National Women’s Program strength and conditioning camp in Calgary, Alta., last May, a mere month after the Queens took their thrones as national female midget champions.
Following that spring off-ice camp, and a national under-18 selection camp over the summer, Makela and Zuback were kept on to play for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in a three-game series against the United States held last August in Lake Placid, N.Y., where both experienced the thrill of wearing the Team Canada jersey for the first time.
Zuback said the thought of making the cut for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team wasn’t even on her mind as she and the rest of the Queens toiled through seven hard-fought games at the 2010 Esso Cup last April in Regina, Sask. “I wasn’t really thinking about anything else but winning that gold medal, so when I got the email (inviting me to) the conditioning camp, I was pretty excited,” Zuback said. “Just being considered is an honour.”
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to wear the Team Canada jersey,” said Makela, adding she never thought she’d end up in red and white as soon as this past January, when she took silver as part of the Canadian contingent at the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship in Stockholm, Sweden. “To compete against other countries is just an amazing experience.”
Melody Davidson, head scout of Hockey Canada’s women’s national team programs, said the chance to see Cava, Makela, Tougas and Zuback perform at their very best during the 2010 Esso Cup played a big role in their invitations to the national program, starting with last spring’s strength and conditioning camp.
“They were in our mix, on our list, but the opportunity to see them against other top-end players, kind of solidified that decision,” Davidson said, adding the evolution of the Esso Cup from a national tournament for top senior women’s players to Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, “is a tremendous step for us, in terms of providing that one last look at Midget players before we make our final decisions.”
The four Thunder Bay Queens aren’t the only 2010 Esso Cup participants to get the call from Hockey Canada. Forward Olivia Howe of the Notre Dame Hounds, who were edged 4-3 by Thunder Bay in the gold medal game, also attended both the spring camp and the summer selection camp.
From the inaugural Esso Cup, which took place in Calgary, Alta., in April 2009, Brigette Lacquette of the Westman Wildcats went from winning gold at the first-ever National Female Midget Championship to winning Canada’s first-ever gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship in Chicago, Ill.
It’s clear the Esso Cup, a tournament equivalent to the TELUS Cup on the men’s side, is an important step forward in growing the female game across the country and increasing exposure of its skilled young players, Davidson said.
Makela and Zuback agreed the 2010 Esso Cup was an important showcase for their team, and competitors. “Everybody’s eyes were on us,” Zuback said. “(They wondered) ‘who are these girls from Thunder Bay?’ ”
For the Queens and other female Midget players aspiring to wear the maple leaf, the Esso Cup has made believing in their hockey dreams all the more possible.
“It made me realize that I can go somewhere big in hockey,” Makela said of her journey from Esso Cup gold to Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team. “It makes me want to work harder, so that I can make the U22 team and then, hopefully later, the Olympic team.”