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Fighting hard for a ringette resurgence

For mothers in northern Ontario with something of an athletic background, it is clearly a catch 22. Growing up in a far different era, when the advent of girls hockey was still only bourgeoning, ringette was the winter sport of choice.

Women like Laura Caldwell reminisce with favourite memories of their youth from a sport that owes its very existence to a pair of northern Ontario gentlemen (Sam Jacks and Red McCarthy).

With daughters of their own now coming on to the sporting scene, they are understandably torn. While the growth in girls hockey has been nothing short of phenomenal over the past decade or so, ringette continues to exist as an option, perhaps to the surprise of some.

“Anyone who has played Lady Wolves before, but is looking for another sport that is challenging, ringette is a great alternative, because it has lots of speed and agility involved,” explained Caldwell recently.

With a background coaching both houseleague and provincial caliber ringette teams in the area, Caldwell is one of several women who believes that both ringette and girls hockey can co-exist and flourish.

The key, according to many, is to ensure the survival of provincial level teams on a regional basis, providing an avenue for the young ladies who would be attracted to more competitive play.

But like other local sports such as lacrosse and baseball, where numbers dictate a certain course of action, suiting up with multiple teams becomes a reasonable solution. “Protocol is that because of the numbers in ringette, if you play competitively, you also play in houseleague as well,” said Caldwell.

Having just returned from their all-Ontario championships a few weeks back, Caldwell and company are hosting the U12 and U14 tryouts this Friday at the T.M. Davies Community Centre in Walden.

In fact, this will be the first time in a handful of years that the Walden Ringette Association will act as host to locally based provincial “A” teams. It is an age grouping that is critical to the growth of ringette, according to Caldwell.

“At these ages, the girls are really developing their skills. There is an incredible improvement from the start to finish of the year.” Part of the reason that Caldwell believes both girls hockey and ringette can co-exist is simply due to the varying demands of the respective sports.

“For parents who are looking at less traveling, less tournaments, ringette is a good alternative to get your child into a very competitive field,” she said. Because of the time involved with their own houseleague teams, rep players will gather typically for a pair of training camp sessions, as well as taking part in usually three tournaments a year plus provincials.

If the girls high school hockey ranks often drew on players with a ringette background in the past to round off their rosters, Caldwell is hoping the reverse can be true moving forward.

“Girls that move from competitive hockey tend to transition to competitive ringette pretty quickly. It’s just a matter of picking up the skill with the ring and making a couple of minor adjustments with the rules,” she said.

Despite originating in northern Ontario, ringette is perhaps in need of a resurgence in the home of the sport more than any other part of the province. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel, notes Caldwell.

“Southern Ontario is running strong, but North Bay getting the Worlds (in November of 2013) is great for northeastern Ontario,” she said. To that end, even having Lively native Erika Kiviaho named to the Team Ontario roster which would garner Gold at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, helps to provide tangible goals for aspiring young ringette players in the area.

“Girls that are currently U12, U14, will be attending this event (Worlds) to learn and watch,” said Caldwell. “If we can get provincial teams running in all four of the northern areas (Sudbury, Sault, West Ferris and Timmins), then it will help grow the sport.”

While players with both ringette and hockey background are more than welcome to attend the weekend tryouts, Caldwell noted that much like girls hockey, finding goaltenders often becomes the biggest challenge.

But tackling challenges is something those passionate with keeping ringette alive know all too well.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League