Four girls from 100 Mile House got to share the ice with Canadian hockey legend, Hayley Wickenheiser.
“It really got them fired up and even more passionate for hockey than they already are,” said Denise Balbirnie, manager of the local girl’s bantam and peewee mixed team and mother of two of the girls who went to Wickfest, started by the aforementioned former Canadian star. “It would be really great if next year or sometime down the road we could send a whole 100 Mile team.”
A coach from Vanderhoof contacted the 100 Mile Minor Hockey Association to inquire about the possibility of borrowing four players to help fill out their roster, which attended the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, often shortened to WickFest, on Nov. 17 to 19 in Calgary.
The four girls were goalie Sarah Balbirnie, defenders Dana Quintal and Megan Balbirnie and centre Vanessa Betschart. The four were joined by players from Prince George, Houston, Smithers and Fort St. James, as only five players from Vanderhoof could make the trip. A problem not entirely unique in Northern British Columbia.
“This is pretty common practice, to contact other communities in the north looking for players,” said Balbirnie, who said last year’s 100 Mile female midget travel team had players from Clearwater to Prince Rupert.
“While there are more and more girls choosing to play hockey, it is still sometimes difficult to put a team together, so we have to be a bit inventive sometimes on how to find enough players.”
The team won silver in the bantam tier 3 tournament, notching three wins including a 9-0 victory over Jasper in a four-game round robin. They lost to Burnaby 3-2 and again in the final, 5-2.
“It was an amazing experience for the girls,” said Balbirnie. “WickFest is a really well-run, well-organized event with so much to offer for the players.”
In addition to playing hockey, the players attended hockey seminars, practice and scrimmage with four-time Olympic gold medalist Wickenheiser and the University of Alberta Dinos women’s team. The first woman skater to turn fully professional, playing in three men’s leagues, was around to offer her time for autographs and pictures.
Balbirnie described Wickenheiser as being very “humble and down to earth” and a great representative and ambassador for female hockey.