DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – For defenceman Alexa Ranahan (Salmon Arm, B.C.) and forward Hannah Miller (North Vancouver, B.C.), there was truly something magical about putting on that jersey with the maple leaf for their very first time, when they played for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team against the United States this past summer.
And after beating their American rivals 2-1 in the annual three-game series, Ranahan and Miller made sure to bring that magic back to British Columbia, to share with their provincial teammates, and impress home crowd fans at Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Dawson Creek, B.C.
Traditionally an “underdog” team at nationals, British Columbia set a specific goal for itself going into this year’s five-day tournament, and skated away from the elite female hockey event at the EnCana Events Centre with full bragging rights of having accomplished that goal.
“Our goal as a team was to make the semifinal game,“ Miller said of what represents a major step forward for the top under-18 female players in the province.
“Our goal was to get into a position to win a medal, which means winning a quarter-final game to get into semifinals,” BC Hockey female high performance coordinator Bruce Tuck elaborated prior to this year’s national championship. “So top four.”
It was that specific goal, because British Columbia finished fifth at the 2011 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Saguenay, Que., and has only once finished better than that, winning the bronze medal at the inaugural Jan. 2005 national championship.
That is, until now.
British Columbia beat Quebec 4-2 and edged Alberta 2-1, both very competitive teams, to earn a spot in semifinals and ultimately play for the bronze medal at this year’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship. The west coast “underdogs” played with some serious bite, displaying skill and speed in front of local fans who cheered them on until the final buzzer.
In the end, B.C. only fell 3-0 to always impressive, seven-time defending champions Ontario Red, claiming a very respectable fourth place finish at the 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship – just as promised.
“This is the best Team B.C. that I’ve played on so far,” said Miller, who travelled to Saguenay for last season’s national championship, and also represented her province at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax, N.S. “We really pulled together as a team, all lines are firing, and we’re doing all the little things right.”
Ranahan added that this year’s British Columbia contingent was “a really tight knight group.”
“We’re pretty strong this year,” said Ranahan, who also played alongside Miller at last year’s under-18 nationals. “We have a lot of depth … and a lot of different styles of play.”
Tuck agreed “depth” is a key component to British Columbia’s steady development within the female game, at both the national and international levels. “It will definitely support us down the road.”
British Columbia becoming a hotbed for hosting female hockey events, including the National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Salmon Arm both in Jan. and Nov. 2005, as well as in Nov. 2009 in Surrey, will also help grow the women’s game across the province, he said.
“There is a fair bit of publicity generated, so locally, always with small communities, you hope it has a direct impact,” he said. “We’re hoping that with that type of exposure, there will be more and more interest just in the general population for female hockey.”
Having players such as Miller and Ranahan, and 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship gold medallist Jordan Krause (Kelowna, B.C.), lead the way for up-and-coming young west coast women’s players is also key to ensuring British Columbia’s future success on the ice.
“They’ve seen the competition at the next level up,” Tuck said. “The really have a good understanding, so when they’re under pressure they definitely know how to handle it better, and just the exposure and experience they’ve had helps.”
And of course, there’s also the joy in sharing that special feeling of wearing that jersey on the ice while representing your province – or your country.
“The way we did it made it so special,” Ranahan said of lifting that Team Canada jersey over her head and then her equipment in unison with the other 21 members of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in Calgary, Alta., this past August – including Miller.
“Seeing all the girls in the room, putting it on at the same time, was probably the coolest moment ever in my 16 years,” Ranahan said. “It was amazing, and it felt really rewarding to finally be in that jersey.”
Miller’s memory of that whimsical hockey magic mirrors that of her fellow British Columbian.
“The first game of that series, we all kind of sat back and got dressed, got our shoulder pads on, and no one put their jersey on right away,” she recalled. “We all put our jerseys on together, as a team.”
The women’s hockey spotlight will be back on British Columbia next April for the 2013 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, in Burnaby. So what advice do Miller and Ranahan have for the country’s top female Midget teams, who will be representing their regions and provinces, including host team the Fraser Valley Phantom of the BC Hockey Female Midget AAA League?
“When you do get the opportunity to show yourself at nationals or a big tournament when people are watching, you really need to … capitalize on those,” Miller said. “Make the best out of every minute you have on the ice.”
The puck drops in Burnaby, B.C., on .