A dream 15 years in the making will come true for Halli Krzyzaniak when she steps on the ice in Kamloops, B.C., this week for her first appearance as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team.
“There are no words to describe how it feels to be named to the team – pure excitement and happiness,” says Krzyzaniak. “To wear the maple leaf in front of a home crowd is going to be a dream come true.”
Krzyzaniak got her first taste of hockey as a four-year-old, following in her big brother Kyle’s footsteps and playing with the boys during long winters in Neepawa, Man.
“I’ve wanted to play for Canada since I started playing hockey,” she says. “Growing up in Manitoba, there really wasn’t a whole lot to do in the winter, so my dad would build an outdoor rink. I started playing with the boys and went from there.”
Neepawa was where her hockey dream started, but B.C.’s interior is where she spent half a decade working to become one of the country’s top players.
When Krzyzaniak turned 13 she left home and headed west to Kelowna, B.C., to attend the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy.
“The first time I played girls hockey was at Pursuit,” she says. “My brother had gone to the boys’ academy and I knew it was the right choice for me and my development.”
These days the University of North Dakota is home for Krzyzaniak, but the Okanagan remains a place she holds close to her heart. Making her debut for Team Canada just two hours up the road from the facility where she spent years building her game will have special meaning for the 19-year-old defenceman.
“To play my first game in B.C. is really an honour,” she says. “I spent some of my most influential years there and I grew a lot as a person. Moving away from home at a young age helped me to mature and I learned to be independent and focused. The discipline of the program really helped me get to the next level.”
Five years of dedicated training at Pursuit certainly paid off for Krzyzaniak. She was named captain during her senior year, committed to the University of North Dakota, and earned a place in Canada’s Program of Excellence, twice being named to Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and contributing to two world championships.
In her former coach’s eyes, her success is no accident; it’s what happens when discipline meets hard work.
“Halli’s work ethic is second to none,” says Scott Spencer, former head coach at Pursuit of Excellence. “I’ve never seen someone as driven, determined and committed.”
According to Spencer, it takes a special kind of player to sustain the level of focus Krzyzaniak reached at the academy. It’s a grind, day in and day out. It’s non-stop training –
10 months straight, five days a week, four hours a day – and then add high school to that schedule, and of course tournaments on weekends.
“She is relentless in her need to be better,” says Spencer. “Her drive is something you are born with and it’s nearly impossible to teach. She just does everything the right way.
“She never missed a workout or a session or a shift – she always showed up in a big way. She has really earned the opportunity to play for Canada and she’s had to work hard for it.”
Maturity, discipline and confidence are the very strengths Krzyzaniak plans to draw on during the tournament.
“My game builds off solid defence,” she said. “I’m focused on making easy, simple plays and I’ll jump the rush when I can. I’m just going to play my game and do whatever it takes to make sure Canada comes out on top.”
She is one of 10 players who will experience their first game as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team during the 4 Nations Cup.
“The skill level is going to be different,” says Krzyzaniak. “I’m expecting the players will be stronger, more mature and have more experience than you see at the under-18 level, but the young players on our team are ready to show what they can do. We’ve got a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm.”
Team Canada will benefit from a combination of emerging talent and proven skill – 10 of the players who contributed to Canada’s Olympic gold medal in Sochi are in Kamloops. Canada has won the tournament 13 times since its inception in 1996 and is the defending champion.
“The players who have been through this level of competition before will help make the transition smooth,” says Krzyzaniak. “Everyone has been so supportive of the young players like me, and even though we haven’t played together as a group, there is this amazing feeling of unity that putting on the maple leaf brings out.”