Chasing the Dream of Women’s Pro Hockey: Training Camp

As seen in The Epoch Times September 26, 2011. 

Taking a faceoff in our first exhibition game against Guelph University

After months of preparation and waiting, training camp weekend is over and done with in the blink of an eye.

When I walked into camp last Friday, I kept wondering to myself if I had put in enough ice time this summer and if I had spent enough time in the gym.

Before getting dressed to go on the ice, we had our individual team photos taken wearing the Burlington jerseys; these photos will be used on the CWHL website with the team roster.

The team atmosphere is so different than what I am used to. Here, there are three very dedicated coaches, three team trainers, and equipment managers. All of our needs are looked after from something as simple as needing hockey tape for our sticks, to getting advice, to getting our skates sharpened, to addressing any medical concerns, and having old injuries assessed.

Throughout the weekend, I met with the team trainers and discussed my lower back and knee problems and the recurring pain and injuries I have had. The trainers took their time to look over these problem areas and give me advice on pain management and helped relax the areas before I hit the ice.

Day 1

With 22 players showing up at camp the first day, the coach assigned the players to one of two teams for a 5-on-5 scrimmage.

After the puck dropped, I realized just how fast this level of hockey is! I could definitely keep up with the pace, but it was a speed I was not used to playing at, having never played at a level higher than Intermediate A.

While I could keep up with the skating, puck handling at that speed is definitely something I need to work on. In all my previous hockey seasons, I was one of the fastest skaters on the ice, not needing to be good at puck handling because I just had to skate by opponents. Here, the women are just as fast as I am so that is not going to work anymore.

A few of the better players were able to puck handle through the whole team, doing toe-drags through their opponent’s legs, through their own legs, and getting a wicked shot on net. All I could do was stare in awe.

When the general manager had drafted me, he asked me what my faceoff percentage was. I told him it was at least 70 percent. In the scrimmage, I managed to win 85 percent of my faceoffs; the assistant coach told me he had been keeping track.

Day 2

The original plan for the second day of camp was to have another 5-on-5 scrimmage. Because a handful of players couldn’t attend camp on Saturday night, we ended up skating and doing drills for an hour followed by a 25-minute 3-on-3 scrimmage.

It felt so great to be in a practice environment again. Over the past few seasons, I’ve been playing in leagues with games once a week—no practices—and I’ve really missed them.

First, we did some typical skating drills to warm up, which included doing 10 push-ups whenever the coach blew his whistle. Then we got into some really interesting puck handling drills (doing half circles with just the top hand on the stick and then doing half circles with just the bottom hand on the stick) before doing some passing drills.

 

Day 3

Game day!

Sunday was the day I was looking forward to the most—the exhibition game against the women’s varsity team from Guelph University. But as soon as I arrived at the arena, fear started to sink in.

Before we went on the ice for our 20-minute warmup, the coach held a team meeting to go over some offensive and defensive zone coverage. The more the coach talked about his systems and how easy it should be to comprehend and execute at this level, the more nervous I got about getting on the ice and doing things incorrectly.

In action with the Burlington Barracudas

I was very hesitant and tentative in the warmup. My stomach was lurching as every second ticked away on the score clock. The two assistant coaches noticed this and pulled me out of the dressing room before the game started to give me a pep talk.

I only played four shifts in the first period. I won my faceoffs and tried to remember the coach’s systems to make sure I was where he wanted me on the ice.

During the intermission, I approached one of the assistant coaches to ask him how I could improve myself in the second period. He told me to just go out there and keep playing the way I did in the first period.

One of our players got injured in the first period, so we only had three full forward lines going into the second period. I played a lot more in the second period, getting on every third shift or so.

Again, I did pretty well in the faceoff circle. While I didn’t have the puck on my stick a lot, I did make a few good plays in the defensive zone.

Another one of our players went down injured in the second period. As a result, in the third period, I played almost every other shift. The assistant coach said to me, “You’re in shape, you’ve still got legs. You get to go out again.”

This was one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten on the bench. It felt so good to have the coaches notice that I’ve been training hard off the ice and that I received extra playing time because of it.

At one point, we were killing a 5-on-3 penalty and the coach sent me out to kill the penalty. I actually asked him twice if he was sure he wanted me out before finally jumping over the boards to take the faceoff.

Even though I have played on the “special teams” (power plays, penalty kills) many times, I did not expect the coach to have that much faith in me such that he’d put me on the ice at such an elite level. While we didn’t get the puck out of our defensive zone during the time I was on the ice killing the penalty, we did manage to keep Guelph from getting any good shots on net.

We ended up winning the game 2–1 even though Guelph had twice as many shots on net as we did.

Final Roster

We will play another exhibition game this Saturday, Oct. 1 against Brock University before the coach makes his decision about the final roster. He will be keeping 20 players and will be protecting a few players as affiliate players.

The players on the final roster will attend all practices and games while the affiliate players will need to find another team to play for; however, they will still be associated with the Barracudas and could fill in for games during the season if required.

The coach may also release a player or two. We will find out the final roster, protected players, and released players on Sunday, Oct. 2.

I think my speed, dedication to conditioning off ice, and skill in the faceoff circle will give me advantages. I know I have some work to do when it comes to my confidence and puck handling ability at this level, but I personally think my strengths outweigh my weaknesses.

The first game of the CWHL regular season will be at home to Alberta on Oct. 28.

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