2021  n w t ashton bell main

Adapt and excel

After winning gold as a rookie at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Ashton Bell – a small-town forward-turned defence – is looking to help Canada do the same in Beijing

Bernadette Larose
December 18, 2021

For Ashton Bell, adapting to change has been key to her success in the game.

Bell got her Team Canada start as a forward, winning silver with Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship. She returned the following year under then-U18 head coach Troy Ryan, was named captain and helped secure another silver medal for Canada.

It was in her sophomore year with the University of Minnesota Duluth that the change came for Bell, making the switch from forward to defence.

The move was suggested by Hockey Canada staff alongside the Bulldogs’ coaching staff, who worked with her on the transition.

“They brought it up to me after my sophomore year at school and we kind of just started talking about it and then made that transition into my junior year,” Bell explains. “[It was] definitely a big move, but I love playing defence and it was a good challenge for me.”

After captaining the Bulldogs to the NCAA Frozen Four as a senior in 2021, Bell got tapped by Ryan again, this time to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship.

The 22-year-old, who was the second-youngest player on the Canadian roster, averaged more close 12 minutes of ice time per game and scored her first National Women’s Team goal in a quarterfinal win over Germany en route to a gold medal.

“It was such a cool experience just to be a part of it all,” Bell says. “You look up to these players for so long, it was definitely a surreal feeling getting to play with them. Just being a part of it all was so incredible.”

The rookie defender adapted to the new environment with help from the team’s veteran blueliners like fellow Manitoban Jocelyne Larocque.

“Someone like Ashton Bell, their first international games with the senior team being at a world championship is very unusual,” says Larocque. “And I've been asked by media on interviews, ‘Are you worried about how young or how inexperienced your D corps is?’ and my answer is ‘No, not at all.’ Those players are ready. They're confident. Their ability is amazing. So, we try to just keep things light and keep things fun and remind them that they're there for a reason.”

Bell uses the experience gained at women’s worlds as she trains and competes with Canada’s National Women’s Team as part its centralization season, preparing for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

“The vets on D like Larocque, [Erin] Ambrose, [Renata] Fast...they were all great with me,” Bell says. “If I had questions, they were open to answer them for me, and the coaches were great, too. They knew I was going to take time to get used to that pace and playing at this level.”

The Deloraine, Man., native inspired the next generation of hockey players in her community with her world championship win and hopes to do so again at the Olympics.

“When I was home [after worlds], I actually had a little gathering in town and all the little girls came up and seeing the big smiles on their faces and the medal around their necks, they were just so pumped,” Bell says.

It’s a tight-knit hockey community in Deloraine (population: 978), where passionate volunteers and coaches help players like Bell thrive.

“We're in a small community,” says Bob Caldwell, a skills coach who has worked with Bell. “We run a Breakfast Club here. At 7:30 in the morning, we run skill sessions for 45 minutes before school, and then feed the kids breakfast. Ashton's mom still looks after the program today.”

Bell showed early promise with the Deloraine Minor Hockey Association before playing U18 AAA with the Westman Wildcats of the Manitoba Female Hockey League, winning back-to-back league MVP honours in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

“It might [have been] -40 degrees in Manitoba…they called school off, but we kept having hockey practices,” Caldwell remembers. “But every time I got to the rink—I wouldn't get there until 7:00—there'd be one little person out skating around the rink, and that was Ashton. She'd beat me to the rink almost every morning. That's how keen she was.”

If Bell earns a place on Canada’s Olympic roster, she would join a small group of women’s hockey Olympians from Manitoba, joining Larocque, three-time gold medallist Jennifer Botterill, Bailey Bram, Brigette Lacquette and two-time gold medallist Sami Jo Small.

On the possibility of that opportunity, Bell says, “I think it's huge for Manitoba and small community like where I’m from. I’m from a very rural area, so I just feel so honoured to be able to inspire those young girls and make them realize that they can dream as well and get to where I am.”

Canada’s National Women’s Team’s centralization schedule continues Monday night (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) with Canada facing off against the United States in its seventh of nine games in the Rivalry Series.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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