Given all of the chaos that long-time Sudbury Lady Wolves' forward Danika Lalonde endured in the years leading to her first season of post-secondary hockey, it seems only fair that she should be rewarded with a year to remember in Canton, New York.
The 18 year-old graduate of E.S.C. l'Horizon took the SUNY Canton Kangaroos by storm, twice earning conference player of the week honours, named to the all-rookie team at the end of the season and walking off with Rookie of the Year accolades at SUNY both for her team as well as for all female varsity sports.
It's enough to make the team's leading scorer (26GP - 10G - 13A) completely forget about losing much of her U18 eligibility to Covid and a year that was split between the Barrie Sharks junior squad and a return to the Sudbury U18 AA crew.
Mind you, the mere fact that she found herself even playing hockey at all is far more a reflection of her close friendship with Kianna D'Attalio, the companion she would follow through a variety of athletic escapades.
"My first sport was soccer and really the only reason I was playing soccer was because my best friend (D'Attilio) was also playing," suggested Lalonde with a laugh. "We would hold hands and run across the field."
"That same friend was also the one who encouraged me to play hockey."
D'Attilio may not have enjoyed any kind of clairvoyence in predicting this outcome, but there was little doubt that Lalonde would eventually be smitten by all that competitive sport had to offer.
By the time her teenage years arrived, the youngest of two children in the family garnered an awareness of the possibilities that were present given her acumen on the ice.
"My second year of bantam, that's when I realized I could have an opportunity to go and play college if I wanted to," said Lalonde.
The genesis of this development lie in a work ethic forged out of some degree of necessity as the Valley East native battled to find her niche in hockey early on.
"When I was younger, I was always one of the shortest ones on the team," she recalled. "I had to work harder to try and be the best. At bantam age, I grew and that really helped me develop strength and speed."
The pieces were in place for a chance to shine over the three year period that is the recruiting window of U18 hockey.
But after Covid effectively spoiled the first two, circumstances would lead Lalonde to endure just a half season in Barrie before returning home. Thankfully, she had shown enough to impress the Kangaroos.
And though ultimately the credit for on-going progress should be heaped upon the athlete themself, the young woman who scored in her very first game with Canton was quick to deflect the praise in the direction of a man who lent a huge helping hand.
"I give a lot of the credit to Rick Kilganon, my trainer," said Lalonde. "He got me to the next level. A lot of the footwork and explosive drills really helped me. I kept getting faster and faster."
"I gained so much speed and really worked on shooting, all summer long. Now I can finally score goals."
Despite the clear improvement, Lalonde's confidence did not substantially diminish the anxiety that is pretty much standard for any first year varsity athlete.
"At first, I was really intimidated," stated Lalonde. "I went in knowing I was a freshman and might not get as much ice time as I would have hoped."
But a pre-season marker against Utica gave way to four goals in three games in November versus Hilbert College and SUNY Potsdam, with another three in three stretch a month later.
"My teammates really helped me," said Lalonde, adding that she particularly clicked with Finnish junior Iida Laitinen, Canton's leading scorer in 2021-2022.
In posting a record of 8-9-1 in the Northeast Women's Hockey League (NCAA Division III), Lalonde and the Roos qualified for post-season play, a solid accomplishment under first year head coach Kalie Grant.