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A Regional Ringette update

Perhaps it's because the sport of ringette owes its very origins to this neck of the woods, first envisioned by a pair of men from North Bay and Espanola, seeking to find a winter sporting equivalent, for girls, to hockey.

Perhaps it's because given the countless options now available for active youngsters, those who do participate in ringette are often excessively active.

Whatever the reason, there is no denying that the core fanatics who strive to grow ringette in Northern Ontario take on a stewardship for the game, doing everything in their power to spread the word about their particular passion.

For those who compete in local circles, that often means donning two or three different team jerseys over the course of the season, finding teammates in those who were foes only days earlier.

The fact that they tackle this challenge with unabashed enthusiasm is a testament to these girls, a trio of which we recently caught up with at a game at the T.M. Davies Community Centre.

On this particular night, 13 year old Kaitlyn Chevrier is representing the Sudbury Ringette Association houseleague team, taking to the ice opposite a small handful of girls who share the same bench as her as members of the Sudbury Provincial "A" team.

A decade ago, Chevrier shared the hockey vs ringette dilemna of many young female Canadians, coming to a decision that would shape much of her formative years in sports. "I started with the timbits ringette program, which teaches you all the fundamentals, and developed a lot of friendships and stuck with it," said Chevrier.

Not blessed with natural skating ability, Chevrier worked hard to develop her game, developing a thorough grasp on the concepts that can be tricky at the outset. As she suits up for three different level teams this year, Chevrier hones her skills, particularly in the offensive zone.

"If I canít get a good shot off, Iím trying to re-set the shot clock, maybe hitting off the side post or off the goalie," noted Chevrier. "Dekes are really good Ė go front-hand, back-hand, top corner."

"Iím left-handed, but I can bring my stick to the right hand," she added. "Itís a little harder if you have someone on your back, but itís good for protecting the ring." Across the ice, Alexandra Bloomfield can lay claim to only a couple less years of experience in ringette than Chevrier, though the difference is negligeable at this point in time.

And though she struggles, at times, to find exactly the right words to convey the feelings that keep drawing her back to ringette, Bloomfield is completely at ease on the ice, her powerful stride accentuated with that ability to gather the ring at top speed, quickly moving it to a teammate, a necessity given the rules that place an emphasis on engaging a variety of participants simultaneously.

"The adrenaline, the feeling when youíre on the ice, everything about it," says Bloomfield with a smile. "Most people, when they think about ringette, think that itís a copy of hockey. Itís not just about skating up and down the ice with a ring Ė itís so much more technical than that."

"It's more similar to basketball," Bloomfield stated. "The way you work the plays, and you guard the players the same way you might in basketball." For Emily Punkari, the hockey/ringette debate might never end.

Part and parcel of growing up with cousins who are well-established names on the flip-side of this coin. Making the crossover from dance to ringette at the age of three, Punkari looks forward to testing herself against Chevrier and others this evening, with the Walden Ringette Association crew holding home ice advantage in this regional showdown.

"Itís sometimes hard, because they know how to read us and they know the plays that we use," said Punkari. "But I think itís fun. You get more ice time, and get to play with different people."

When it comes to team sports for young females, there is no denying that the social component of the experience consistently dwarfs that which the boys appear to enjoy. So while competing for the Northeast "AA" team provides a wonderfully competitive outlet for this talented trio, there are compelling reasons to return to their roots with the sport.

"I get to play with my friends," noted Chevrier. "Iíve been playing with a lot of these guys since bunnies. Some of my best friends are on this team." That, and a deeply-rooted love of the sport, will keep these girls and others coming back to ringette, year after year after year.

Orendorff and Associates