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Kayla Brown remains at home - sort of.

In the end, Lively goaltender Kayla Brown is hoping to bring together the best of both worlds.

After spending three years as a member of the Sudbury Midget "AA" Lady Wolves, beginning there as a Bantam, the talented local puckstopper was looking at a change.

Pursued by teams in southern Ontario, Brown could have opted to play intermediate/junior in the Provincial Women's Hockey League (PWHL), almost a given if she lived anywhere but in Northern Ontario (the PWHL has no teams north of Barrie).

Yet leaving home would not be easy. Over the summer, Brown decided to sign on with former NHLer Darren Turcotte and the North Bay Ice Boltz, a veteran-laden team that featured a very aggressive competitive schedule, one that could see the team enter as many as ten tournaments in Canada and the United States.

Garnering attention from NCAA Division I scouts for the past couple of years, the 17-year old netminder is understandably anxious to take the next step in a path she has travelled for the past 13 years.

"I started as a player and I would switch, on and off" Brown said, first taking to the ice at the age of four. "I was a good skater, but I really didn't know what to do as a player, so they put me at center and I just skated around a lot."

"Goalie just seemed better for me," she said with a smile. That would be a huge understatement. After getting her feet settled under her in the crease for a couple of years, Brown made the jump to rep hockey in her second year of Atom, spending three seasons as a member of the Walden Devils on teams that featured only one girl.

"The guys were really good," Brown said. "They treated me just like one of them, didn't really treat me like a girl." And as is the case for so many young ladies who compete regularly on boys teams, there was no lack of motivation.

"I've always felt like I have so much more to prove as a girl playing with the boys." As a first-year Bantam, Brown made the transition to girls hockey, quickly gaining attention.

Off the ice, the quiet soft-spoken red-head began a transformation as well. "The social aspect was such a huge difference. With the boys, I had to change in a different dressing room and there wasn't always that communication, because we didn't always have a lot in common," Brown said.

"When I started with the girls, I was talking non-stop." The changes and adjustments extended on to the ice as well. As a general rule, the creativity of boys in the offensive zone and the speed of puck movement provides a stark contrast to the girls game.

For a goaltender, being able to adapt is critical. "With the guys, I find that you get a little more help with the rebounds," Brown said. "With the girls, I just have to be a little more cautious with the rebounds."

"And I had to work on my focus," she added. "I was coming from boys games where I might get 40 or 50 shots to the girls hockey games where you might only get 20 shots. It was hard, at times, trying to maintain the mental part of the game."

Blessed with outstanding quickness and anticipation, Brown helped lead the Midget Lady Wolves to a medal at Provincials while playing up as a second year Bantam.

It wasn't long before the youngest of two children in the family had to begin considering life beyond high school. Balancing the scholastic side of the equation with the athletic attractiveness of U.S.-based universities is seldom easy.

"The academic is definitely more important to me, because I would like to go to a good university and try and work into a good career," Brown said. "The hockey is also important, but with the hockey comes the academics."

Inevitably, Brown will leave the comfort of Northern Ontario to pursue her hockey career - just not quite yet. "I grew up with all of the people I'm going to school with right now," said the Lively District Secondary School senior.

"To leave in Grade 12 and not graduate with them would be really hard. And there's so many things here in Sudbury that are really important to me hockey-wise," Brown added.

"If I have a bad game, I can always go back to Netminders North and figure out what my problem was. And to be away from home, away from my dad - he's always been such a huge part of my hockey career. It would just be really hard."

In the end, it can wait one more year. Brown will remain at home in Walden, attending LDSS, while completing her final year of Midget hockey in North Bay, She wouldn't have it any other way.

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