Women's hockey a big draw for students at Acadia

Jennifer
Jennifer Hoegg
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Axewomen hockey club offers competitive experience

Four times a week, a group of young women chase their passion – and pucks – at the Acadia arena.

For second-year forward Julia Steeves, being able to play hockey influenced her choice to come to Acadia.

“It makes my day,” said Steeves, who played Midget AAA female hockey at home in Moncton. “People come and see me and say, ‘you just step on the ice and there’s a smile on your face’.”

Dayna MacEachern, an engineering student from Truro, thought hockey was over after high school.

“When I got another chance to play, I jumped on it,” she said.

The defencemen is in her third year with the Acadia Axewomen hockey club and she shares her enthusiasm for juggling the course load and ice time with prospective students.

“It was a little tough with engineering at the start, but when you love a sport that much, you make time,” MacEachern said.

“The opportunity to continue playing competitive hockey past minor hockey is huge,” Kingston’s Jill Burton added. The team’s points leader going into the holiday break, Burton played Midget AA with Valley Wild and Midget AAA for East Hants Penguins before coming to Acadia to study kinesiology.

“It’s a weird idea to think what sports are,” Burton said. “I don’t know why I want to shoot a puck up and down the ice – it’s not what you choose, it’s what you do.”

 

On the ice

The team plays in the Nova Scotia Women’s Hockey League, the Eastern Canadian Women's Hockey League and exhibition games against Midget AAA girls’ teams.  The latter helps coach Donnie Connell with his recruiting efforts.

“We play exhibition games against those teams, so when they get to the age where they make a decision where they’re going to go, they might decide to come to Acadia,” the sixth-year coach said.

Club sports can be a factor in decision-making, said James Sanford, Acadia’s senior director of student services.

“For many students, sport has been a big part of their life,” he said. “They’re very concerned about being able to continue with those activities and what are their options for continued sport activities.”

The club started in the 1980s, thanks to former athletics director Don Wells, Sanford said. It’s one of the longest running club teams on campus and maybe one of its best-kept secrets.

 “I would like to get a little bit more exposure for the female program at Acadia. Yes, we do have a team and it is competitive,” Connell said. “We seem to be drawing a little better level of player now.”

Numbers are also up - 40 women tried out for 21 spots this season.

“If you’re a club team, it can be a little harder to attract the premiere players, because you don’t have has much to offer them other than the chance to continue playing hockey,” said Connell, who is an apple farmer when not on the ice.

“I enjoy working with this age group. They’re a great group to work with. That’s why I keep doing it every year, because it’s fun to work them.

“They want to listen and they want to learn.”

 

Finances tough

Finances are a challenge, particularly for travel, he said. Acadia provides ice time, the Acadia Students’ Union provides some money, the women pay to play and fundraise throughout the year by running minor hockey camps and other community projects.

It’s a weird idea to think what sports are. I don’t know why I want to shoot a puck up and down the ice – it’s not what you choose, it’s what you do. Jill Burton, Kingston

“We’re not as recognized (as varsity athletes),” Steeves said. “We don’t have the same privileges as them, but we still work hard.”

Like their varsity counterparts, volunteering with younger players is an important part of the Axewomen experience.

“Especially young girls, who are stuck in a group with a bunch of guys, it gives them something to look up to,” Steeves said.

This year has been particularly successful for the girls, with only one loss and “a lot of chemistry,” Connell said.

 

“Off to a good start”: Connell

“We have good balance this year – all four lines of forwards are pretty strong, goaltending is good. Defence is good as well, even with having four new players,” said Connell

MacEachern added, “It’s a great dynamic this year. Everyone just gets along so well.”

All three women prefer the ECWHL, where they play other university club teams.

“It’s where the stakes are,” Burton said. “It’s when playing for Acadia means its most. It’s more physical, too.”

“I feel like it’s representing something bigger than you,” Steeves said. “It feels awesome to be able to step on the ice or walk around in my team jacket and think, ‘I’m part of something here,’” Steeves said.

 

Community support

 

A perk for the 2013-14 team has been a newly-outfitted dressing room. When Connell went to Home Depot to price materials for storage and benches, the New Minas store’s operations manager, Shawn Rooney, told the coach to leave the project with him.

After applying to the national Home Depot Foundation for funding, Rooney did take care of the project. Store associates prepared the benches and shelving at the store.

“We had gathered six to seven store associates, who came on their time off to the university and did the work - assembling, painting - on their free time,” Rooney said.

“It was great they came in and were willing to do that for us,” Connell said.

One of Home Depot’s core values is helping the community, Rooney said.

“I thought it was a good way to reach out in a close-knit community like this,” he added.

“It was good on our side – good team building.”

And the players?

“They certainly appreciated it!” Rooney said.  

 

Clubs at Acadia

Acadia has a number of club sport opportunities, including men’s and women’s rugby, women’s hockey, men’s lacrosse, equestrian sport, field hockey, ringette, men’s and women’s curling and  synchronized skating club and discussion is underway for bringing back baseball, James Sanford said.

Clubs’ longevity of them is based on the commitment of students and of volunteer coaches, he noted.

“We take our lead from the student leaders,” Sanford said. “They have a set of objectives of things they want to accomplish and to help make it happen.” 

Acadia opens the second half of their ECWHL season by hosting the Holland College Hurricanes for two games Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. and Jan. 12 at 12:45 p.m.

Organizations: Holland College Hurricanes, Hockey League, Eastern Canadian Women Home Depot Foundation

Geographic location: Acadia, Moncton, Kingston

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