Manitoba may not have finished in the top four teams of the 2013 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, but the fifth place finishers certainly have their strong points, including some seriously skilled veterans who helped lead their team on and off the ice.
Among these are captain Stephanie Grossi of Winnipeg, Man., and Lauryn Keen of Manitou, Man., who guided their province to a 4-2 win over Saskatchewan in preliminary action and a 2-0 victory over Team Atlantic in play-offs.
“It’s fun to be around the girls, and we push each other to be better every game,” Grossi said after her team’s second win of the week Saturday. “It means the world being able to play in these nationals, and playing with and against the best players.”
Grossi, who has played in two previous under-18 nationals, had a goal and an assist in Manitoba’s final game, adding up to a total of four points for the whole tournament. The convincing 2-0 win over Team Atlantic helped Manitoba secure a fifth place finish at this year’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
“I think having experience in knowing how fast the pace is, and knowing just to keep it simple out there, really helps with the amount of confidence I have out there,” she said.
Keen, who is playing in her second under-18 nationals, said that it’s an honour just being able to represent her province at a high level.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to play in a national championship, so coming into … this is amazing and it’s just a great experience,” Keen said following the game. “It makes you play a little harder knowing that you’re playing for your province at a higher level.”
Keen, who notched a hat-trick in Manitoba’s victory over Saskatchewan, also recorded the game-winning goal in Manitoba’s final game.
“The hat-trick felt great,” she said. “It was just a team effort and I happened to be rewarded with it.”
“I think I had some more confidence out there this year, just knowing I’d been here before and I knew what to expect,” Keen added.
Although Grossi and Keen will not be eligible to return to under-18 nationals again next year, there is a line-up of girls on the team who will be looked upon to take over these leadership roles for Manitoba.
“I think the quality of play and players keeps getting better,” Grossi said of her team. “And the game itself continues to get faster every year.”
As a matter of fact, over half of Manitoba’s team will be eligible to return to the prestigious national championship next year.
Being one of the youngest teams in the tournament, Manitoba head coach Neil Chow credits much of the province’s success on the ice to its five returning players this year, including Grossi and Keen. He hopes this will be a trend in future years to come.
“The current leaders do a lot of the heavy lifting for the team right now,” Chow said. “It helps out all of the younger girls.
“Although all of the returning veteran players do not wear a ‘C’ or an ‘A,’ they sure do act like they do, and that helps contribute a lot to this team.”
Even though Manitoba will have eight players who will be unable to return for the 2014 event, the skates of Grossi and Keen will most certainly be filled by some very capable girls next year, and for many more to come.