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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019
Albiani and Bennett combine forces with new Hockey Academy
by Randy Pascal

The landscape of girls hockey is drastically different, these days, than the one that both Paula (Mailloux) Albiani and Lindsay Bennett experienced locally more than two decades ago.

Still, there are constants. The advantage of providing female mentorship and role models for aspiring young female hockey talent has never been disputed.

Safe to say that a mix of the old and the new will be in play as both successful graduates of the Sudbury hockey scene combine forces, offering two different week-long sessions this summer as they launch The Women's Hockey Academy at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in August.

Now 38 years old and living in Toronto, Albiani would translate a hockey background that first evolved during her time at Marymount Academy, recruited to join the juggernaut McGill University Redmen in Montreal, and continuing for several years, lacing up her skates with the NWHL (National Women's Hockey League) with teams in Oakville and Ottawa.

Though her career would see Albiani suit up with the likes of Kim St Pierre, Charline Labonté and Caroline Ouellette, all Olympians and all former teammates, her future on the ice was marked far moreso, in the early days, by a hockey prodigy much closer to home.

"I spent a lot of my time on my backyard rink with my brother," said Albiani. The small patch of ice in Capreol would spawn the OHL career of Rob Mailloux, a 55 goal scorer with the Kingston Frontenacs in 1997-98.

"I started playing ringuette and switched over the hockey, but I had always played hockey with my brothers, road hockey and such." She would eventually step away from the on-ice battles for the birth of first child - she and husband Steven now have four children - moving on to squash and tennis.

Not surprisingly, as her three daughters grew older, Albiani re-immersed herself, in a different capacity, in the girls hockey scene. "I'm a huge promoter of girls playing with all girls teams," she said. "It is more the social aspect, when you see like-minded girls coming together for sport, and the friendships they get out of that which is key."

In a sense, that was the genesis of the partnership with Bennett that would lead to this point. "I think that having female role models that have played the sport at a high level is actually a great thing for girls hockey," said Albiani.

Five years younger and teaching in Sudbury, Lindsay Bennett can easily relate.

Born and raised in Lively, one of a twin sister pairing that are "complete opposites", Bennett recalled that time which long preceded the current glut of Sudbury Lady Wolves' teams starting as young as age seven or so.

"Around eighth grade, when ringette was a little bit bigger, all of my friends started playing ringette, so I jumped on that bandwagon for a little bit," said Bennett. "But I played hockey the whole time as well."

Coed mixed houseleague teams were common, as they remain to this day, with Bennett recognizing the double-edged sword that parents still continue to debate. "You remember getting dressed in your own locker room, and having to check before going in, or rushing out after the game - but I never felt too out of place," she said.

"I definitely have mixed feelings on that, I get it. When I played rep girls, we played against competitive boys the whole time. Back then, it was the family and the friendships, and being part of that locker-room experience, which is such a big part of the game."

Thankfully, her talent translated well in both settings. "My first girls rep team, we weren't the Sudbury Lady Wolves yet, or anything like that," Bennett reminisced. "I think we were the Nooners, with these horrible green and yellow jerseys, the most hideous uniforms I can remember."

Notwithstanding asthetic pleasantries, Bennett would draw enough attention to make her way to the University of Wisconsin Superior Yellow Jackets, an NCAA Division III squad, where she would major in Exercise Science & Health, with a minor in Health & Coaching.

Though Albiani and Bennett had never played together, a common acquaintance would facilitate the connection. "Last year was my first year of coaching with the Lady Wolves," explained Bennett. "Our head coach, Darryl Williamson, knew Paula and he introduced us at tournaments down in Toronto. Naturally, we got talking hockey."

For Bennett, the fit with coaching with all too natural. "I went out initially, just to help run a tryout, but instantly, I was hooked, of course. I love kids and I love hockey, so why not."

From there, talk turned to a collaborative effort that could offer something the Sudbury tandem never experienced in their youth. "I was being asked about summer hockey schools and it just didn't seem like there was a place just for them (the girls)," said Bennett.

"There is a mjor drop out rate of girls in sports at a certain age, and we want to help alleviate that dropout rate," noted Albiani. "We want them to have a connection to something that they don't want to leave."

And so became the Women's Hockey Academy, the next step in a sport that continues to expand and develop. "Looking at where girls hockey is heading now, you see some of these kids that are just phenomenal hockey players," said Bennett.

"I don't remember us being that good. I wish I could say that we looked that good too. But there are so many opportunities, the game has grown so much, the skill has grown so much." And now this Sudbury tandem is anxious to add to the advancement of that progress.

The Women's Hockey Academy is offering a pair of sessions this summer, from August 13th to the 17th, with the groups broken down into brackets of girls born from 2004-2009 and girls born from 2010-2012.

For further information, visit to Academy website at www.womenshockeyacademy.com.

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