Sunday, 5 July 2020

Canadian Expansion

If there's one thing that can pick me up pretty quickly when I'm feeling a little off, it's news of more opportunities for women to play hockey at a high level. After the disappointment that was spawned through the Lethbridge announcement and the letdown about Alberta taking the season off, it seemed opportunities were being taken away rather than being more available. I'm happy to say that two announcements in March will make the 2020-21 season in the Junior Women's Hockey League a little more competitive as they are adding two teams officially for the 2020-21 season in Canada!

For those unaware of the JWHL's current teams, there are seven teams that call the league home as full-time members of the JWHL. Those teams include the Pacific Steelers (Richmond, BC), the Balmoral Hall Blazers (Winnipeg, MB), the Ottawa Lady 67's (Ottawa, ON), the Ridley College Tigers (St. Catherines, ON), the Boston Shamrocks (Boston, MA), the North American Hockey Academy Winter Hawks (Wellesey, MA), and the Washington Pride (Washington, DC). Those seven teams are spread out across the continent, so they travel on specific weekends for showcases where the teams compete against one another and other invited prep teams such as Shattuck St. Mary's and Gentry Academy.

Two new teams will join the JWHL next season as the league expands its coverage and, with this expansion, its level of competition! The JWHL will welcome Stanstead College from Stanstead, Quebec and the North York Junior Storm from North York, Ontario!

Stanstead's inclusion was seemingly elementary as they've played in a number of JWHL Showcase weekends already, so getting them aboard full-time automatically makes the league stronger with a team that is accustomed to the level of play in the JWHL. At last season's Massachusetts Showcase Weekend from October 11-13, Stanstead went 4-0 with wins over the Blazers, the Steelers, the Shamrocks, and the Lady 67's by a combined score of 21-4. Needless to say, adding Stanstead in as the eighth JWHL team will only force everyone else to raise the levels of their games.

North York was also an easy decision in adding them to the JWHL as they too played in past JWHL Showcase events, and they'll make the league stronger as well. North York was at the Ottawa Showcase Weekend from November 22-24, and they went 1-1-1 as they tied NAHA 4-4, defeated the Shamrocks 4-1, and fell to the Steelers 3-2. Getting North York into the league looks to be a wise move as they showed that they can hang with the best teams in the JWHL that weekend.

Adding these two squads to the JWHL in Quebec and Ontario also gives forty more girls a chance play at an exceptionally high level while possibly being noticed for post-secondary school aspirations. As we've seen in Canada West, the addition of Trinity Western has resulted in a handful of players from the JWHL land there as they prepare for their first season at the U SPORTS level, and there might the same opportunity moving forward with a school like Bishop's who will join the RSEQ in this upcoming season. If Bishop's needs another high-level program from which to recruit, Stanstead is just 30 minutes south of that campus! North York's proximity to Toronto means there are lots of programs who may come down to see the Junior Storm play games as well.

Adding highly-competitive female programs to a league like the JWHL is good for the sport. More girls playing at a high level means that the hockey will continue to get better, and we'll see more exceptional players going to places like Concordia, McGill, Toronto, York, and other post-secondary programs across this nation. While education will always be first at the U SPORTS level, adding more exceptional athletes who will make the play better never hurts.

Giving more girls a chance to play is always a good thing. Here's hoping the expansion of the JWHL can continue in future years so more girls get a shot at chasing their dreams.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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