Former Team Canada member Fiona Smith-Bell’s first piece of advice to the players participating in this
year’s Esso Cup is simply “to have fun.”
“It goes by so fast - it’ll be over before they know it,” the Saskatchewan native said. “Enjoy the journey
and strive to be the best (you) can be.”
That positive attitude is exactly how Smith-Bell, honorary chairperson of the 2010 Esso Cup, has
approached her own impressive hockey career, which includes winning gold at both the 19 IIHF World
Women’s Championships and bringing home silver from Nagano in 1998 as a member of the first women’s hockey
team to represent Canada at the Olympics.
“In the back of my mind I had always hoped that I would one day become an Olympian but I never, ever
thought that women’s hockey would be in the Olympics – I thought I might have to change sports,” Smith-Bell
said, referring to how far she’s seen the sport come since she first laced up her skates at age four. “But
when I actually got the opportunity to represent (my) country on the world stage … it’s just a dream come
While it took years of demanding training to see that dream realized, Smith-Bell said at the heart of her
own journey was a pure passion for the sport, stemming from the enjoyment she got from it growing up and
playing the game in Edam and North Battleford, Sask.
“I kind of followed in my brother’s footsteps,” said Smith-Bell, who played hockey with the boys until she
was 14 years old. “I just loved the camaraderie and going to minor hockey tournaments.”
But despite starting off on the ice with boys, Smith-Bell was eventually scouted out for a women’s
provincial team. “Had I continued playing (with) boys … I (may not) have had the opportunity to go on to the
But times have changed, she said, explaining scouts now seek out female talent “whether they’re playing
boys or girls,” a sure sign that the popularity of women’s hockey is on the rise.
The fact that the Esso Cup now exists is also a strong indicator of the sport’s incredible growth,
“The Esso Cup is just a wonderful opportunity for young girls to be able to develop as players,” she said
of the National Female Midget Championship, now in its second year. “I think it’s a tremendous opportunity
for them to showcase their talent and prepare them for the next level.”
Smith-Bell hopes this year’s Esso Cup, especially since it comes in the midst of an “Olympic high,” will
encourage more fans to check out the strong level of hockey that will be played throughout the tournament and
encourage more girls and women to give the game a try.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Grab somebody’s gear, whether it’s your brother’s, or it might even be your
older sister’s gear … but it’s never too late to try and take up the game.”
Even for Team Canada alumni, it’s important to remember what makes hockey so special. Smith-Bell used to
play shinny with other kids in her Saskatchewan neighbourhood, who imagined the Stanley Cup was at stake
every time they stepped onto the ice.
“That’s what it’s about – is going out and being able to play at your leisure and have fun and not have
that pressure … to perform,” she said. “You just go out and play.”