Want to win your first national championship and first world championship within less than a year of each other?
If the on-ice accomplishments of forward Taylor Woods are any indication, it’ll take you a lot of “heart work” – putting your whole heart into working hard toward accomplishing your hockey goals.
That may be the best way to describe how Woods, 17, went from winning gold at the 2011 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, with the Notre Dame Hounds last April, to winning gold at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship with Team Canada this past January.
“I’m just really determined and motivated, people tell me,” Woods says of her winning ways, which not only helped garner gold medals for her teams, but also put her second in scoring at the 2011 Esso Cup in St. Albert, Alta., and third in scoring for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team at this year’s world championship in Prerov and Zlin, Czech Republic.
“It’s just because I love it,” the Morden, Man., native explains. “If you don’t love it, then you’re not going to be interested in it, but if you love it – if your heart’s fully there – you have the desire for it, so why not work towards it?”
Her key to success may sound simple enough, but Woods emphasizes it takes plenty of preparation, and pushing yourself both physically and mentally, to be the very best that you can be – to be, golden.
“Hockey is just so complex … like the sensation of scoring a goal, the sensation of winning, the hard battling in the corners,” she says. “I just look at every single part of the game as a challenge.”
It’s that attitude that gave Woods the edge she needed to earn her first invitation to Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team selection camp, said the star player’s former head coach Janice Rumpel, who led the Notre Dame Hounds to a silver medal at the 2010 Esso Cup in Regina, Sask., prior to last year’s gold.
“Every day, she does something to make herself better,” Rumpel said of what sets Woods apart.
Athletes such as Woods, and fellow 2011 Esso Cup gold medallist Olivia Howe, who was invited to Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team selection camp for a second time last August, know the importance of fully showcasing their skills on the national stage.
“Every good player that gets there has to take that and use it to their advantage,” Rumpel says of how Woods and Howe, who earned top forward and top scorer awards at last year’s Esso Cup, have “risen to the challenge.”
Pierre Alain, head coach of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, says Woods continues to display her hockey talent at high levels, first making the cut for a three-game series against the United States following last August’s selection camp, then being named to this year’s world championship-winning team.
“She gained a lot of speed and a lot of confidence on the ice,” Alain says of strides Woods has made. “She was a spark for our team.”
Alain adds it’s clear Woods also “knows what she wants. She wants to be the best.”
This year’s Canadian contingent became the second to bring gold home from the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in the event’s five-year history, and Woods became just the second player ever to win gold at the Esso Cup and U18 Women’s Worlds. Fellow Manitoban Brigette Lacquette won gold at the 2009 Esso Cup in Calgary, Alta., the inaugural event, before helping Canada win its first-ever gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship.
The 2011 Esso Cup was also an important jumping board for 17-year-old defenceman Abbey Frazer, who claimed fourth place with the Kodiaks du Lac St-Louis before getting her second invitation to under-18 selection camp – followed by a call to join Canada and its quest for under-18 women’s world championship gold.
“Every time we can bring in more high-end events, every stepping stone, helps our players,” Rumpel says of tournaments such as the Esso Cup and the National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
In the end though, the players themselves have to want to succeed – just as much as Taylor Woods wants it.
Whether she’s leading the Balmoral Hall Blazers in the Junior Women’s Hockey League (JWHL) this season, or competing for a spot within Canada’s National Women’s Program, Woods says she’ll keep “working, working, working” to get what she wants.
“My ultimate dream is just to play on the Olympic team,” she says. “It might be a hard mountain to climb, but I’m willing to climb it … and if it gets too steep, I’ll just keep climbing.”
It’s that honest passion to keep going until she reaches the top – and then to the next top – that continue to make her golden.
“My heart’s in the game,” she said. “My heart for working is what gives me success.”