Mackenna Parker and Willow Slobodzian have already experienced a lot together.
They’ve won three league titles and three provincial championships, been to two national championships, one Hockey Canada strength and conditioning camp
and, most recently, the IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp, among other things.
That’s a lot to have accomplished by the ages of 15 and 16, respectively, but for Parker and Slobodzian, these were simply stops on a map the two drew for
themselves years ago.
Point A: Clavet, Sask., a village of 386 people just east of Saskatoon.
“We live on acreages, so there’s lots of room to do whatever you want,” says Slobodzian. “You pretty much know everyone, which is nice. You developed good
friendships just because everyone’s so close.”
Parker moved to Clavet when she was in Grade 4 and found in Slobodzian a player with ambitions as big as her own.
“I remember I was intimidated by her because she was so good,” says Parker. “We were the only girls on a team full of boys. We became good friends and
we’ve been great friends ever since.”
“We hit it off right from the start,” says Slobodzian. “We’re quite alike. We have the same goals in mind.”
“Willow and I decided that we wanted to take the next step and go into Martensville [40 minutes north] and try that out,” says Parker. They played with the
Marauders (Peewee AA boys) for two seasons. “That was probably the moment we realized we wanted to go all the way and develop as the best hockey players
that we could be.”
They were 11 and 12.
They joined a spring team together, the first time either had played girls’ hockey. The team travelled to Minneapolis, Minn., for a tournament and brought
home a gold medal.
It was the start of an incredible – and still ongoing – run.
They switched to girls’ hockey full-time in Bantam and helped the Saskatoon Comets win league and provincial titles in 2013-14.
Still Bantam-age, they made the leap to the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League the following season. As two of the team’s
five under-agers, they were big reasons why the Stars exceeded expectations in 2014-15. The team won the SFMAAAHL regular season title, then went 9-0
during the playoffs to capture the league crown.
At the Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, the pair won a bronze medal.
Last season was a coming-out party for both. Parker finished second in SFMAAAHL scoring, Slobodzian was named the league’s best defenceman, and both were
first team all-stars. The Stars repeated as league champions and returned to the Esso Cup, this time finishing fourth
With league-rival Weyburn hosting the Esso Cup, hometown support followed them, as it always has.
Hockey dreams drove Parker and Slobodzian to look to bigger towns and cities to play, but the compass has never veered away from Clavet.
Growing up in a small, tight-knit community where everybody literally knows your name – national championship participants or not – and has your back stays
with you. It makes you want to do well not only for yourself but for everyone.
“It’s unique because you walk into the rink and you see someone you know and it’s just a great atmosphere because you’re around people who have supported
you throughout your journey,” says Slobodzian. “You’re always surrounded by great people who are interested in your career and have helped you along the
way. You feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of something special like that.”
Neither player would be who she is – nor where is – today had the road opened elsewhere.
“I don’t think coming from a small town and starting your hockey there, that’s not a disadvantage whatsoever,” says Slobodzian. “I don’t think it matters
where you start, it’s where you want to go and how you get there, that’s what matters.”
This week Parker and Slobodzian are together again, at Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team selection camp in Calgary. But for the first time in a long
time, they’re not wearing the same jersey.
Parker is with Gold; Slobodzian is with Blue. That means they’re going head to head during intrasquad games.
“We got a good laugh [about it],” says Slobodzian. “We wanted to be on the same team, but at the same time we like playing against each other, even
battling against each other in practice. I like being able to battle with her and test myself.”
Good showings at camp would earn them roster spots on Team Canada for a three-game series against the United States. And it would put the final peg in map
they’ve spent years together travelling.
Point B: Team Canada.
“She’s like my other half,” says Parker. “Without her, I don’t know if I would be where I am today. We’ve always done everything together. It’s great to
spend all these times with her and [make] all these memories together.”