2021 22 nwu18t etobicoke dolphins feature

A pod of Dolphins in Wisconsin

For the first time in Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team history, six members of the same club team are playing together at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship

Shannon Coulter
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June 10, 2022
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Competing for a roster spot on Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team with the best players across the country can be a daunting task. But for several members of Team Canada, they had five of their teammates by their side during the process.

Avi Adam, Reichen Kirchmair, Sarah MacEachern, Mari Pietersen, Alyssa Regalado and Mckenna Van Gelder all play with the Etobicoke Dolphins in the U22 Elite division of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA). Now, the three forwards, two defenders and one goaltender have traded in their Dolphins jerseys for the Maple Leaf to represent Canada at the 2022 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship.

“It can be scary being away from home and being in a selection camp,” says Pietersen, 17. “Knowing that I have support of my five teammates that are here with me, [it] kind of feels like a home away from home.”

This is the first time in Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team history that there have been six players from the same club team on one roster. Since 2008, there has been five instances of Team Canada having four members from one team, mostly recent the Pursuit of Excellence from the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) in 2018.

“Having the girls here with me today, I feel so supported,” says Van Gelder, 18. “We all went through the same thing. We can all talk to each other about it. And it's just a great thing to have some of your best friends here with you.”

The chemistry amongst the Dolphins is not limited to this season, either. Adam, MacEachern, Regalado and Van Gelder will head to Cornell University together in the fall. Kirchmair, Regalado and Van Gelder have been with the Dolphins’ U22 team since the 2019-20 season. Even further, Regalado and Van Gelder have played together since they were eight years old.

“Whenever I want to talk about hockey... she's always right there for me and such a great hockey player,” says Regalado, 18, of Van Gelder. “It's so good to be able to experience these big achievements with her and to be able to play with her at this next level.”

The preparation to play for Team Canada can be linked back to their time with Etobicoke. Head coach Joe Butkevich says the team focuses on educating players about professionalism, strength conditioning, and on- and off-ice expectations—all intangibles that pay off in the national team selection process.

“They’ve accomplished so much, whether it be academically or scholarships or provincial programs, and now the national program. It’s been awesome just to sit back as a fan of theirs,” Butkevich says. “We just play a small role in helping them get to where they are, so this has been phenomenal. It’s been a journey like no other.”

The 2021-22 season for the Dolphins has been a journey in itself. After finishing first in their division, the Dolphins went into a tough league championship weekend and finished as runner-up to the Durham West Lightning. In the two weeks leading up to the provincial tournament, Etobicoke felt like it had unfinished business and became laser-focused on their next goal: to win the OWHA title.

The Dolphins took an “all gas, no brakes” mentality into the tournament. In the end, Etobicoke defeated Durham West 2-1 in the final to win the team’s first-ever provincial championship.

“It’s kind of a storybook ending for us, especially for kids that have been on the program for three years or two years,” Butkevich says. “I wanted it for them. They give their heart and soul for our program, and they did everything.”

“It was surreal. I’m still on cloud nine,” Van Gelder says about winning the provincial title. “Everyone was just playing for each other at that point. No one cared who got the points. No one cared who got the ice time. We just wanted to say that we were provincial champions. We wanted that medal around our necks.”

Out of the six Dolphins on Team Canada, only Pietersen is returning to Etobicoke next season before she heads to Boston University in 2023. She is soaking up the experience at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship so she can share with her teammates next season.

“I’ll be an older girl with the team next year, so [I can] provide more of a leadership role [to] a lot of the younger girls,” Pietersen says. “Kind of show them what it was like to be [on] a national team and hopefully be someone they can look up to.”

From the regular season to playoffs, and now representation on Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, the Etobicoke community has been with these six players every step of the way.

“I think we all got choked up when they called home [saying they made the team], but the first thing from every parent that I’ve talked to was, ‘How about the rest of the girls?’ Everybody’s pulling for each other,” Butkevich says.

“Playing in Etobicoke has been amazing,” Pietersen adds. “The community is so close. Our team was the closest team I’ve ever been a part of. Always supporting one another through the players, staff, the families. It just motivates you so much, and it makes you feel like you always have someone to go to.”

Having a trusted community support system is also beneficial when you are competing on an international stage for the first time in your career.

“During these times, it can get really stressful because everyone’s trying to be at their best and perform at their highest level,” Regalado says. “I know myself personally, I put a lot of pressure on myself. So just having an outlet to go and talk to and laugh with, or just forget about what’s happening right now and just focus on having a good laugh, I just think it’s really big.”

As the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship continues in Madison and Middleton, Wis., the six Dolphins are looking forward to enjoying this experience not only with their Etobicoke teammates, but also with their newly created Team Canada family.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, since the Sochi Olympics when I saw the game-winning goal,” Van Gelder says. “Representing your country with 22 other family members [is] an unreal experience.”

“Now, it’s just about being a good teammate,” Regalado adds. “I’ve come so far. They know how I can play… how can I support my teammates?

“The good connections on and off the ice will really lead to how we can be successful and hopefully win a gold medal in the end.”

There may be six Dolphins on the ice in Wisconsin, but there will be another in the stands. Butkevich will be at the U18 women’s worlds in person, cheering on his players while they wear the Maple Leaf.

“I have a Hockey Canada jersey with all their name bars across the back of it, so I’m pretty pumped. I feel like a second dad to them, I got goosebumps right now thinking about it,” Butkevich says. “I can’t wait to watch them as a fan, not as a coach, but—other than their family—their biggest supporter.”

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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