How else to explain why three teenage girls would regularly make the 360-kilometre round-trip drive from Manitoulin Island to Sudbury, Ont., just to practice – never mind play – with their hockey team.
But as they juggle hockey with homework, Kennedy Lanktree, Deidre Debassige and Victoria Pitawanakwat of the Sudbury Lady Wolves never feel like their lives are going in circles.
“Kennedy and I have been doing it since Atom so it’s not even a big deal to us,” says Debassige. “We get in a vehicle. We drive two hours there. We drive two hours back. We’re used to it.”
The commute to practice is now significantly shorter for Debassige and Pitawanakwat, who both now live in Sudbury (Debassige with a cousin; Pitawanakwat with her grandmother).
“When I was in Grade 8 and travelling to Sudbury, my dad would bring me supper when he picked me up at school and take me to Sudbury,” says Pitawanakwat. She’d do her homework in the car. “I’d get back at 12 at night.”
As the girls got older they added even more balls to the juggling act: track and field, volleyball and basketball.
Debassige says a typical day went something like this: finish classes at 3 p.m., basketball practice until 5 p.m., pick up by parents at school – again, a meal waiting in a running vehicle – arrive in Sudbury by 7p.m., practice umtil 10 p.m., home and in bed by midnight.
Lanktree still lives on Manitoulin Island and admits the travel can wear on her. “But it’s definitely worth the drive to come and play in Sudbury.”
Hockey on Manitoulin is limited to boys’ rep and house league teams. The three played for the Manitoulin Panthers together, but knew they would have to look elsewhere to find a more competitive team.
“It’s not like we want to live away from home,” says Pitawanakwat, “but you have to.”
Living closer to the arena has not only made the commute considerably shorter but also mostly eliminated any weather-related obstacles on the drive there.
Lanktree, however, may sometimes want to call a holding minor on Mother Nature.
“I’ve had to miss a lot of hockey this past year due to snow storms, rain storms and poor visibility,” she says.
Debassige can remember at least three instances when she still lived at home when she drove to Sudbury for dryland practice only to find it had been cancelled. “We just turned around and drove back home.”
Now, the travel to games is a whole other story.
Up until this year the Lady Wolves had played in a Midget boys’ house league in Sudbury.
When deciding about the 2013-14 season, head coach Tim Armstrong took the decision to his returning seniors.
“I said what do you want to do in your last year – do you want to play against the boys or against the girls in the Lower Lakes (Female Hockey League),” he says. “It was unanimous. They didn’t want to go back to the boys.”
But joining the LLFHL came with a caveat: Sudbury would have to play its home games two hours away in Parry Sound, Ont.
“It was the closest town between us and Toronto with indoor rinks,” says Armstrong.
All three players say the opportunity to play higher-end hockey was made possible because of equally committed parents.
“They drove the extra two hours from the island to come to Sudbury to pick us up and go to Parry Sound,” says Pitawanakwat. “My dad probably has 300,000 kilometres on both cars from driving back and forth to Sudbury for trips.”
Between travelling to cities such as Toronto, Whitby and Aurora for league away games and venturing even farther for tournaments, Armstrong estimates his team has booked more than 30 nights in hotels this season.
The cost to the parents, he says, is close to $1,000 more than it was last season. Sponsors have helped alleviate some of the expenses.
The last road trip of the season has the players and their families in Stoney Creek. One more week of hotel reservations was made possible when the Lady Wolves won the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association championship to advance to the Esso Cup this week.
“It’s why we’ve been travelling to Sudbury all the time,” says Pitawanakwat.
It’s also what keeps the girls doing their homework by the light of a laptop night after night.
“We just love the game,” says Lanktree. “It’s my commitment to the team.”
“I mean, why else would we do it?”
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