Sunday 7 February 2021

The Winners And Players

As you heard yesterday on the audio posted here on HBIC, the Edmonton Pandas captured the 2020 Female World Sport School Challenge gold medal. The one thing that I wanted to stress throughout the week of games were the players who suited up for each of the featured teams because these are the women who will play in or near your communities at the university next season when hockey presumably returns to rinks on or near campuses. If everything goes well, a select few of these women likely will represent Canada and the US at some point whether it be on an Olympic stage, a World Championship stage, a Universiade stage, or some tournament in between.

The Female World Sport School Challenge has been held in Winnipeg for each of the last eight years since 2013, and there have been some major names who have played in the tournament along the way such as Sarah Potomak and Halli Krzyzaniak who suited up for the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in 2013, and both have played internationally for Team Canada.

Alexa Ranahan and Hannah Miller played for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in 2013. Ranahan would skate for Canada at the U18 World Championship as well before moving on to the NCAA's Ohio State Buckeyes before transferring to Canada West's UBC Thunderbirds. Miller also played for Canada at the U18 World Championship, but her career would see her spend four years at the NCAA's St. Lawrence University Saints before heading over to China to play for the KRS Vanke Rays in the CWHL and the Russian professional women's league.

More recently, Ryleigh Houston of the Balmoral Hall Blazers put together a solid career with the NCAA's University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs after representing Canada on the U18 World Championship stage. Aerin Frankel was a member of the Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres teams that played, and she's currently tending nets for the NCAA's Northeastern University Huskies while being considered for Team USA. "Sophia Shirley", as she was listed on the roster, is Sophie Shirley who played with the Notre Dame Hounds at the tournament before making a name for herself in the CWHL with the Calgary Inferno who then jumped to the NCAA to star with the Wisconsin Badgers as Team Canada salivates over her skills.

As you can see above, this is entirely one of the best tournaments in North America for young women to showcase their skills, and the turnout that the tournament sees from universities and national team programs is impressive. A quick walk through the BellMTS Iceplex restaurant usually sees a dozen scouts sitting alone at tables, typing away on their laptops about players they've watched that day while dozens more are watching from afar on the video feeds that the tournament provides. Having over thirty registered scouts last year is proof that this tournament is one of the best places to see future stars.

While there isn't a tournament to be had this season thanks to the pandemic not only limiting travel, but basically shuttering hockey below the professional levels, I highly encourage everyone who has a daughter that is interested in or playing hockey to attend or watch or listen to this tournament on the various media available. As stated throughout this past week, a lot of the women who play at this tournament will likely suit up for a university near you at some point, so getting to see them at the U18 level before they go off and become stars at the university level is exciting!

If you're wondering, the only repeat champions that the tournament has seen have come from the Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres program. There have been seven different teams who have won the tournament, proving that this really is the best of the best and any of the teams can win with some hard work, perhaps a little luck, and some great hockey for four-straight days. Here are the winning teams and the finalists for each of the last eight tournaments:
  • 2013: Edge Hockey Academy over Okanagan Hockey Academy.
  • 2014: Shaftesbury Titans over Pursuit of Excellence.
  • 2015: Pursuit of Excellence Red over the Shaftesbury Titans.
  • 2016: Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres over Pursuit of Excellence.
  • 2017: Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres over Pursuit of Excellence.
  • 2018: St. Mary's Academy Flames over Gentry Academy Galaxy.
  • 2019: Lloydminster Steelers over St. Mary's Academy Flames.
  • 2020: Edmonton Pandas over St. Mary's Academy Flames.
Now, you might be saying "Teebz, there's a pile of names in that list that are the same," and you're right. That's not to say that there aren't good teams sent to this tournament as seen by Pursuit of Excellence's four-year run from 2014 until 2017. Those good teams push other teams to be better, and we've seen the level of hockey for some of the teams improve year to year as they return to this tournament looking to improve upon the previous year's finish.

St. Mary's Academy, for example, has really become a high-level prep hockey program thanks to their exposure to other high-level programs such as Edge, OHA, POE, and Shattuck-St. Mary's. They're the hosts of the tournament, so we've seen eight years of them playing some of the best hockey teams to attend the tournament, but they continue to build on what they learned from these other programs to make them better. Head coach Larry Bumstead has done an excellent job in making St. Mary's Academy one of the best places to learn the game at the prep level in anticipation of a university career based on the number of recruits who have moved on to university programs, and the young women who have moved on often find success at the university level both in the classroom and on the ice.

I guess what I'm saying, at the end of all this, is that I feel privileged to have been able to call and watch these games. I get to see tomorrow's university hockey stars today, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a future Olympian or international star. I get to work alongside some amazing colleagues - Alana Serhan, Amanda Schubert, and Bryan Sveinson to name a few - and I really enjoy the fun that the volunteers bring in keeping everything light as a four-day tournament moves along its schedule. The people from St. Mary's Academy do such a great job that it's hard not to be grateful for everything they provide when it comes to a radio goofball like me needing anything.

While I'm sad that there is no tournament this year, the option to keep everyone safe is a better choice. The Female World Sport School Challenge will return in the future, and there will likely be a lot of teams looking to get into the draw to play against some of the best Canadian and US programs one can find. Of course, UMFM and I will be there alongside the volunteers as we bring you more radio action from the tournament, so you where to find all the action from at least one of the rinks.

I miss calling hockey games, and I miss the rush of calling games at the Female World Sport School Challenge. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: