Dorothy Gale said it best: There’s no place like home.
After a season that has taken her up and down the province of Alberta and
to various points across North America in pursuit of her Olympic dream,
Halli Krzyzaniak got the chance to go back to her roots.
The fourth game of the Canada-United States pre-Olympic series on Dec. 5
had special meaning for the blue-liner; it was in Winnipeg, just over 10
years ago, that a teenage Krzyzaniak made a life-altering decision.
“I remember being there in 2007 when the world championship was there and
being in stands,” she says. “That was the moment when I decided that’s what
I wanted to do; I wanted to be [Team Canada], and be out there wearing the
jersey. So to be able to come full-circle like that, and be able to be out
there and hopefully inspiring the next generation of female hockey players
was really special.”
The journey to get back where she started took Krzyzaniak to British
Columbia, to North Dakota and around the world, but it started in Neepawa,
Man., a town of just under 5,000 located 187 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
It was her hometown, and the people in it, who shaped the 22-year-old –
both as a player and a person.
“It’s the sense of camaraderie you have,” Krzyzaniak says of small-town
life. “Everyone knows everyone, and everyone keeps tabs on you, and is
always asking how you’re doing, how’s hockey going … it’s a sense of pride.
You want to do well for them and represent them well.”
There likely aren’t many in Neepawa who can argue Krzyzaniak hasn’t
represented them well.
Her path to Canada’s National Women’s Team has Neepawa written all over it,
starting with the blue-collar work ethic that has brought her within just a
few months of a trip to PyeongChang.
“I think living in such a small town and growing up on a farm have given me
life skills and life values that have helped me in hockey,” she says.
“Things like hard work, determination and discipline; all those things you
learn being from a small town with not a lot around. You know you’re the
one who has to push yourself, because you don’t have the resources.”
In the end, it was that lack of resources that necessitated her first big
hockey decision. At 13, Krzyzaniak made the move west to Kelowna, B.C., and
the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy.
“It was definitely tough to leave family and friends, but I knew this was
the dream I wanted and I knew that to achieve that I would have to leave.”
she says. “Back then female hockey wasn’t as developed as it is now in
Manitoba, so I knew if I wanted to take that next step that I needed to go
She flourished in her five seasons at POE, winning league championships and
learning how to be a leader, serving as captain in her final season before
departing for the University of North Dakota.
Her performance also put her on the radar for provincial and national duty;
Krzyzaniak debuted for Manitoba at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, and was
named MVP and Top Defenceman at the 2012 National Women’s Under-18
“That was my first experience playing female hockey at a high level, at the
Canada Games in 2011,” she says. “Just seeing the girls with the other
provinces and how good everyone is across Canada, that was an eye-opening
experience for me.”
Krzyzaniak cracked her first Team Canada roster in the summer of 2011, and
helped Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team to back-to-back gold medals
at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in 2012 and 2013, earning Top
Defenceman honours in her second appearance.
She has continued to trend upwards ever since, making her debut with
Canada’s National Women’s Team at the 2014 4 Nations Cup and playing in her
first IIHF Women’s World Championship the following spring.
It all led back to Manitoba, back to Winnipeg, and back to the arena where
her Olympic dream was born.
The 2-0 win over the Americans was a chance to reconnect with the family
and friends who made make the trek from Neepawa, to say thanks, recharge
and get a little bit of a push as centralization enters the homestretch.
“It really was a dream come true. The support we felt not only on the ice,
but all week and the months leading up to the game, everyone was so excited
to be able to be there. It definitely gives us a boost heading into our
last couple months.”