There are many reasons that the 2019 Esso Cup might have been special for the members of the Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves.
For forward Kelsey Dunn, you can add one more reason to that list.
Earlier this month, the local product committed to join the Queen's University Gaels for the 2020-2021, earning this opportunity in spite of the fact that scouting opportunities for recruiters, these days, are few and far between.
"Thankfully, they had watched me play before, because there isn't many options for that right now," said Dunn, currently suiting up with the Durham West Lightning of the PWHL (Provincial Women's Hockey League).
"They watched me at the Esso Cup, so it was nice to have that tournament."
Ironically, concerns over being seen in her final year of high-school were likely the furthest thing from her mind as Dunn excelled locally in her early teenage years. "Initially, there were a lot of opportunities in the States," she recalled.
"In the US, they will recruit you earlier than they do in Canada. I was quite young then. I've seen some people commit (verbal commitment) as early as grade seven, but I was not ready do that."
"Honestly, I was never quite sure if I wanted to go to the US or stay in Canada, so I just tried to keep my options open."
Ultimately, a variety of factors conspired in leading Dunn to the school were fellow Sudburian Stephanie Pascal excelled, capturing OUA Goalie of the Year honours in 2017-2018 and attending a pair of national championships.
"With everything going on with COVID, I know some of the girls that have gone down to play hockey (in the US)," said Dunn. "Who knows when they will be able to come back home. For me, it was a better fit to stay in Canada."
With so many questions unanswered, Dunn took it upon herself to ensure that she would land on her feet, come next September. "Over the summer, I was doing some more research, seeing as though I couldn't go and visit the campuses," she said.
"I knew that once I moved down for hockey this fall, I wouldn't have my parents around to talk to about options - and admissions come up really quick, so I reached out to Queen's."
"Academically, they have a great reputation; that definitely factored in. You're there for hockey, but you're there for school first. And the head coach (Matt Holmberg) has built a really good program. He's been there more than ten years."
Throw in a cousin who is currently attending Queen's and a chance to do a campus visit in recent months and Dunn was sold. "That was a big deal for me," she said. "I really did not want to commit to a school for the next four to five years and not really have a feel for it."
"The facilities weren't open to the public, but I got to walk around campus and that was plenty for me."
One of a handful of local girls who have moved south to pursue their hockey dreams this fall, Dunn is anxious to prove that she can more than handle her own at the OUA level. "I've got to say that going from midget to junior is definitely a jump, skill level wise, in the best way possible - even with playing four on four and not playing as often as a normal season," she said.
"When I'm at practice, I really have to focus. I have to work to keep up with these girls. In a perfect world, if we were playing a regular season, I might be a little better than I am right now. But otherwise, I think I am on a good path."
"I think I've always had a good work ethic, always wanting to get better, and also pushing other girls to get better."
In addition to having Dunn with the Durham West Lightning, other former Lady Wolves with PWHL outfits include Kristen Mrozewski (2003) and Aoife Mahaffy (2004), both with the Central York Panthers, as well as Ellie Laberge with the Mississauga Hurricanes.
And while everyone is aware that the entire U Sport landscape has been put on hold until the 2021-2022 campaign, the situation is much more fluid south of the border. On November 16th, RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) opted to forego both men's and women's hockey for 2020-2021, leaving local product Maddy Papineau in practice mode only.
Meanwhile, over in Rhode Island, the Providence Friars women's team opened with a 6-2 win over the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. While senior Sandra Abstreiter earned the win between the pipes, the goaltending trio for Providence also features Sudbury freshman Mireille Kingsley, as well as sophomore Katrina Broccoli.