Back where it all began
Before playing for their country, Emily Clark and Jessica Campbell made their marks in the SFMAAAHL
Wendy Graves
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March 25, 2016
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Before their NCAA Frozen Four appearances and Clarkson Cup championships, their National Women’s Team selections and 4 Nations Cup celebrations, and even their IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship gold medals and golden goals, there were battles won and lost in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League (SFMAAAHL).

And for Emily Clark and Jessica Campbell, those memories couldn’t be sweeter.

“We took a lot of pride in the Prairie Fire organization,” says Campbell, “so for me the community of Melville and my time playing in Saskatchewan are really good memories because that’s where I grew up. That’s what built me and those are the people that supported me and believed in me from Day 1.”

Campbell played in the league its first two years, 2006-07 and 2007-08, and enjoyed being part of creating the team’s identity and culture. Both seasons she was named a league all-star and her team’s most valuable player.

Clark played three seasons, from 2009-12, with the Saskatoon Stars and finished second in league scoring her final year. The Stars advanced to the league championship series every season and each time faced a familiar foe.

“My favourite games were against the Notre Dame Hounds,” says Clark. “We ended up losing to them three years in a row in the final, but every game we played against them was a hard-fought battle.”

Those series gave Clark her first glimpse of high-pressure, high-intensity games, experiences she took with her when she played for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team midway through her final season with the Stars.

Her time with her hometown team, especially her first season, also made her a more adaptable player.

“Going in as a 13-year-old I didn’t really play as much as some of the other girls,” says Clark. “That was my first taste of learning to accept different roles on a team.”

Campbell was 14 and in her first year of girls’ hockey when she joined the Prairie Fire. In competing against players up to three years older and taking more losses than wins those two seasons, she learned where she had to raise the bar to in order to compete at the next level.

“There’s no better league than the SFMAAAHL in terms of preparing you for what it takes to play for Team Saskatchewan,” says Campbell. “There’s a different culture, and you have to scratch and crawl for every inch to be successful coming out of Saskatchewan.”

“I think what’s unique about hockey in the Prairies is just that grit that’s part of the game and the work ethic that the Prairie teams have,” says Clark.

Both players embraced the role of hardworking underdogs anytime they wore provincial green. Clark played in two National Women’s Under-18 Championships, serving as an alternate captain in 2011 and captain in 2012, and the 2011 Canada Winter Games. Campbell represented Saskatchewan at the U18 nationals in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

“We weren’t always successful,” says Campbell, “but what I remember is that we never gave up once and that’s part of who I am today.”

Hockey has since taken them elsewhere – Campbell recently won the Clarkson Cup with the Calgary Inferno; Clark helped the University of Wisconsin reach the NCAA Frozen Four – but never completely away from home.

Campbell has a hockey school, Prairie Built, and hopes to pass on, she says, “what hockey has to offer you just stepping on a fresh sheet of ice.”

Clark keeps tabs on her former team via the league website. Her dad is the operations manager at the team’s rink and both her parents still go to games. Last season the Stars won their first provincial championship and advanced to the Esso Cup.

“To watch them go through the same path that I did and see their success is pretty cool,” says Clark. She skates with some of the players during the summer and her influence has clearly been felt: last year more than a third of the Stars listed Clark as their favourite female athlete on their Esso Cup player profiles, and coaches and parents have told her as much in person. “It’s pretty special knowing that you have girls looking up to you and you’re a role model.”

You never know who is watching and hoping to follow in your footsteps.

“My first year trying out for Team Saskatchewan, I was roommates with Jessica Campbell,” says Clark. “I really looked up to her growing up, so it was pretty cool playing alongside her last year at the world championship.”

Clark and Campbell debuted together with Canada’s National Women’s Team in 2014, winning gold at the 4 Nations Cup. They both picked up silver medals at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship and 2015 4 Nations Cup. All told, they’ve won a combined seven gold medals on the international stage.

In 2010 Campbell was named MVP of the U18 women’s worlds and deflected in a point shot in overtime against the United States to give Canada its first gold medal. That, however, isn’t her lasting memory of that tournament. “Being the captain and representing the Prairies was one of my biggest accomplishments and honours.”

Another one came last year. Then a rookie in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Campbell was voted an all-star team captain by the fans.

“To me that just speaks to what Saskatchewan is all about,” she says, “because that’s where the votes were coming from. You give those people the opportunity to be a part of hockey tradition and they run with it.”

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Morgan Bell
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427
mbell@hockeycanada.ca

 

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