An NHL All-Star Weekend appearance in sunny California by Sudbury native and three-time Olympian Rebecca Johnston in early 2019 is paying dividends in the snow-covered regions of northern Ontario almost a full year later.
After joining fellow women's hockey stars Kendall Coyne Schofield, Renata Fast and Brianna Decker for the All-Star game festivities last January in San Jose, Johnston was awarded $25,000 from the NHL Foundation, with the monies to be used towards charities or hockey programs of her choice.
Just before Christmas, the 30 year-old graduate of Lo-ellen Park Secondary School made a cheque presentation to the Sudbury & District Girls Hockey Association in the amount of $21,000, prior to taking to the ice with several members of various Sudbury Lady Wolves' teams.
"Sudbury is obviously a big part of my life," noted Johnston, who has called Calgary home for the past several years. "It's where I grew up, where I learned to play hockey. For me, I thought it was important to give back to my roots and try and help the women's program, try and get more girls playing hockey."
Where Johnston developed at a time when only two or three Lady Wolves' teams even existed, the current complement, running from novice to intermediate, numbers 15 in all. "That was one of the main things I was missing, growing up," said Johnston.
"I had to play with guys, growing up, and even when I switched over to girls, we were still playing in a guys league. For me, growing up, that was my only option, really. Now, it's amazing to see the development of women's hockey."
And there were words of advice from the local product who has excelled at every level that she has played, including during the course of her four year NCAA career with the Cornell Big Red.
"Sometimes, athletes are afraid to fail," she said. "Everyone fails. It happens in life. It's just a matter of how you bounce back from those failures. There are so many aspects to being a good hockey player. Playing at that level is tough, a challenging goal to have."
"There are a lot of sacrifices to being on the national team and trying to get there. I didn't let anything get in the way."
And while there are certainly obstacles and challenges, the rewards can easily create memories for a lifetime, including the weekend stint in southern California for Johnston some twelve months ago.
"It was an incredible weekend, I really couldn't believe that I was there, able to attend," she said. "The NHL treated us so well - and to be able to compete in the skills competition with the men was a dream come true."
"To be on the ice with all of those amazing players, the best players in the world, the players you watch and try and learn from, was incredible. It really showcased women's hockey."
Now Johnston has gone a long way in helping showcase girls hockey, back in her own hometown.