By Kelly Anne Smith
North Bay – It was an inspirational conversation, talking with some of the best young female hockey players in Ontario—all of First Nations.
The group played for Team Ontario last May and now stand tall before me as North Bay Ice Boltz AA Midgets, ready to take to the ice at Memorial Gardens.
Ray Irwin is the coach of the North Bay Ice Boltz AA Midget. He calls the players “high achievers who are good in school. They are dynamite to coach.”
Irwin points out that three players knew they had to leave home and move to North Bay to get better and get recognized to move on as a university player.
The six First Nation players aspire to inspire.
Lillian George of Nipissing First Nation who is now 15-years-old, has been skating since she was three. Now an Ice Boltz right winger, George aims to play hockey while in university. “I’d like to go far, but I’ll have to work for that.” George reasons that having friendships with other hockey players helps her focus on her goals.
“The rush of the game,” is 16 year old Melanie Young’s favorite thing about playing hockey. “When you get off the ice, you’re shaking with adrenaline.” The Right Winger calls Dokis First Nation home. Young has been hard-working on the ice and as a Grade 11 student. “I hope to get a scholarship. I’ve been working pretty hard at that. I’ve been setting short-term and long-term goals and emailing universities.”
Britney Zack is from Garden River First Nation. Zack is 16-years-old and plays defense and last played for Soo Wildcats Midget AA last year.
Nipissing First Nation goalie Cailen Hanzlik is only 14 years old playing as an underage. Hanzlik says she has been a goalie for nine years. Hanzlik say the Ice Boltz take on the Toronto Arrows in a January tournament, but Sudbury is the biggest rivalry. “We have to play them to go to provincials.”
Alicia Gilles a 17-year-old center forward from Fort Albany First Nation living in Timmins. “Varsity is obviously a goal. As I get older I see that making Team Canada might not be attainable, but as for friends and university, hockey opens up opportunities.” She is in Grade 12 deciding on her major.
Ashley played forward on Team Ontario, but now plays defense with the Ice Boltz. Living with her billet family on Nipissing First Nation may be short lived as she might be moving south. “My goal is to play in university or college while I study nursing. I’ll go where I can play hockey.” Ashley is the twin of Alicia Gilles.
“I did a co-op [nursing] and I loved it,” stated Ashley. “My Mom did that so I’ll follow in her footsteps. She is a doctor now. She started off as a nurse.”
Ashley says her favorite thing about hockey is being on the blades.
“I think skating is my thing. My sister and I have always played on the same team,” noted Ashley. “I was always the skater and she dangles through people.”
“People always tell me I’m crazy because I’m always at practice and I miss a lot of school for hockey but it’s what I love,” continued Ashley. Ashley works hard at homework to make up for the lost time. When I first got to Memorial Gardens, Ashley was up in the stands immersed in school work.
Ashley sends a message for young people who look up to her. “Never give up. Follow your dreams no matter what, even if you’re not the best. I didn’t start off the best. I got cut from my first team, but I worked really hard and now I’m playing here.”
North Bay Ice Boltz of the North Bay and District Girls Hockey Association include Makayla Blanchard, Alèxe Clavelle, Malory Dominico, Maria Dominico, Ashley Ferrante, Lillian George, Alicia Gilles, Cailen Hanzlik, Catherine Heroux, Sarah Irwin, Hannah Irwin, Heather Nakanishi, Cassie Rich, Cassie Roberge, Madie Stockfish, Melanie Young, and Britney Zack.