On a weekend on which a northern Ontario created sport was being celebrated at the Sudbury Invitational Ringette Tournament, there was a little bit extra to be feted.
With the Ontario Winter Games (OWG) planned for Orillia and area at the end of February (2020), this winter sees the six regional teams that will compete at the Games also attending a small handful of showcase events incorporated into tournaments across the province.
Thankfully, Sudbury would be selected for inclusion in this circuit, allowing many of the young up and coming local ringette stars to witness their athletic pastime at an elite level, right in their own backyard.
St Charles College grade 12 student Kylee Lapalme was one of three locals who cracked the Northeast team roster, which assembles a core of talent that includes a sizeable representation from the Timmins and Iroquois Falls area.
"We had a couple of camps during the summer, with sleepovers, when we did a little bit of team bonding," said Lapalme. "We try and get together at least a couple of times, during the season, just to get out on the ice and practice together."
A participant in ringette for roughly ten of her seventeen years to date, Lapalme took up the sport based largely on watching her older sister play. "It looked fun, so I wanted to join as well," she said. "The speed is so fast, you get on the ice and it's go time. You don't realize that, standing in the stands."
With the majority of the Northeast girls playing on both house-league and rep "A" teams in their own cities, over and above their commitment to the regional squad, it is imperative that there is a merging of the mindsets when they eventually all come together as one.
"We all come from separate "A" teams, so we all have our own tools, plays that we will run with our "A" teams," stated Lapalme. "When we come together, we talk among each other and we just kind of figure it out. We have a couple of set plays, where people are hanging around the back door."
"And sometimes, we will crash the net, but a lot of these teams are so strong, that play doesn't always work."
In the end, the Northeast crew proved respectably competitive, mixing in a 6-1 win over Western with close losses to Southern (5-3), Central (6-5), Eastern (6-4) and United (7-5). Avery Blanchard paced the Northeast attack with 11 points (7G-4A), followed closely by Sydney Dagenais (6G-5A) and Erika Poirier (4G-4A).
Only time will tell if Paige Kowaluk or Gracie MacKenzie ever follow in the footsteps of Lapalme and her co-horts. For now, the Walden U12 dynamic duo will have to be content with the thrill of claiming a championship banner with a 4-2 win over Iroquois Falls, in a game that had no lack of excitement and intrigue, both during a temporary halting in the play, as well as in the subsequent return to the ice.
"We were like freaking out, because we heard the fire truck and everything," explained Kowaluk, recalling the unexpected intermission as the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex was evacuated on Sunday. "When we came back in, we heard that it was a little kid that pulled the fire alarm."
The teams were tied at two, late in the first, when the drama unfolded in the two period final. "The referees thought it was overtime," said Kowaluk. "He was talking to me and the other captain and we flipped a coin. So like two minutes in, I was telling my mom (coach Krista Kowaluk) that this was overtime, so we had to try really hard - but she didn't understand."
"I was kind of expecting that it was overtime because we spent all of that time outside."
In fact, shortly thereafter, the situation was clarified, and Gracie MacKenzie joined Gia Rocca and Kienna Tremblay on the scoresheet for Walden, giving her team a 3-2 lead. "Our coach always tells us to shoot from farther away and look for the holes, and I did that and it went right in the corner," explained MacKenzie.
With a late insurance marker, the Walden U12 Ring Devils were able to bring to fruition their team goal, one which involved a great deal of pre-game hootin' and hollerin'. "We were in a circle in the dressing room and we were screaming "we've got to want to win it and we want it more"," said MacKenzie.
A member of the U14 Valley East team, Mikayla Rainville has also found a natural fit with ringette, with all of her cousins already enjoying the sport in the Hamilton region. A grade eight student at Ecole Ste-Marie in Azilda, Rainville noted that a big part of her role as a veteran of ringette is to ensure that newcomers to the game understand how it differs from that "other" ice sport that does not lack visibility in Canada.
"You have to know the rules of the game," she said. "Mostly, with hockey, you can't go across the blue-line ahead of the puck, but in ringette, you have to pass the ring over the blue-line. Most of the new girls don't get that."
As for a tournament that is staged very close to home, Rainville has somewhat mixed feelings. "I like playing here, it's easier, but it's more fun down south, because we can go around town and go shopping," she said.
In terms of other local teams enjoying some success, Noemie Cousineau netted her fourth goal of the game in the final minute of play, just 11 seconds after Sunderland had tied the game at 4-4, giving Valley East a 5-4 win over the Stingerz in the U19 Division.
Keeli Shannon rounded out the scoring for the winners, while Kat Morrissey, Elli Matzanke, Brianna Klei and Melanie Parker answered in a losing cause.
Valley East also claimed the 18+ divisional bragging rights, edging Sudbury 5-4 as Lauren Somers and Katrina Trimmer potted two goals apiece, with Melissa King adding a solo marker. Kaitlyn Chevrier (2), Jenna Dubuc and Taylor Gilchrist kept the contest close for Sudbury.