Nestled in the northern picturesque prairie land of the Peace River Region, Dawson Creek, B.C., has long been home to passionate hockey players, and ever-enthusiastic hockey fans.
Now, the small but welcoming community of just under 12,000 residents is hosting one of the biggest events in female hockey, the 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, which will showcase the top young female players from Canada’s east to west coast. The puck drops on the five-day battle for gold medal bragging rights Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the impressive, state-of-the-art EnCana Events Centre.
Quickly becoming known as a women’s hockey hub, Dawson Creek is also an important Canadian landmark. It sits near the Alberta border on the infamous Mile Zero – the very southern end of the Alaska Highway.
It was here at Mile Zero where Canada’s National Women’s Team, led by then head coach Melody Davidson, kicked off their road to gold at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, training in and around the community, including at the EnCana Events Centre, and mingling with the Dawson Creek residents who treated the squad as their extended family.
Barry Reynard, director of community services for the City of Dawson Creek, said Team Canada’s players and staff were simply blown away by the hospitality of local families, who generously gave up their own houses so they would feel right at home in the quaint but colourful community.
It’s a source of pride the town still shares in, and an experience that fuels Dawson Creek’s fiery love for Canadian female hockey. From the local diner to the pub on the corner, community members can still be heard swapping stories of hosting some of the country’s top athletes prior to Vancouver 2010, and the town’s affinity for female hockey continues to unfold as players, parents and fan roll into town three years later for the 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
A legacy was born then, and a passion for women’s hockey has been re-ignited now.
“That is a legend that will grow for years in our city,” said Reynard, who also happens to director of hockey development council for Hockey Canada. “I can tell you how excited those people were, when the Olympic team members put the gold medal around their necks, to say that those girls stayed at their houses. It will continue to be remembered by those families and their children for years to come.”
Reynard and the host committee for this year’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship intend to build upon that special Dawson Creek legacy, and believe the impact of hosting a sporting event of this calibre is undeniable, from the financial boost it will give the local economy to the lifetime of memories it will provide for fans who filter into the EnCana Events Centre.
Beynard and the city will start studying the event’s economic and cultural benefits immediately after the trophy is handed over to the national championship team Sunday, Nov. 11.
Hockey Canada, in partnership with BC Hockey and the City of Dawson Creek, will make three significant financial contributions with the profits generated from the 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Reynard said.
A portion of the funds made will be directed to the Dawson Creek Minor Hockey Association to work with the recruitment and retention of female athletes within the Peace Region, another contribution will provide additional skills camps and coaching seminars for female hockey and the final portion will support female high performance athletes from the area.
“Beyond that, what I think is even more critical, are the immeasurable dollars you see in legacy growth and the ability for females to participate in our programs,” Reynard said. “The schools program is probably one of the most measurable that we see; our athletes go into schools, share their dreams and spend time with students to motivate them and act as mentors. As a result, we’ll see some new players register, or just have them inspired by the game, and hopefully they’ll remain athletes for many years to come.”
Legacy of the inspirational sort is perhaps difficult to measure, but knowing that you could be watching and interacting with players that may one day wear the maple leaf on their jerseys at international events such as world championships and the Olympic Winter Games will certainly be unforgettable for children in local schools and Dawson Creek’s dedicated hockey fan base.
Perhaps even a young girl or two from the Peace River region will one day lace up their skates with Canada’s National Women’s Team.
As former director of community services in Kenora, Ont., Reynard has seen first-hand how hosting larger scale female camps and events can inspire the next generation of female hockey stars. Reynard points to the reunion of the 1907 Stanley Cup- winning Kenora Thistles as an example of how a special hockey event can leave a lasting impression.
“Hayley Wickenheiser actually came back and played with several NHL players in the reunion celebration,” Reynard said. “There were 24 years worth of Stanley Cup rings on the hands of the male players, but Hayley received the loudest and (biggest) standing ovation for an athlete that I had ever seen in Kenora.
Similarly, “the legacy she left when she came here to Dawson Creek for boot camp training is one that people still talk about.” And with the National Women’s Under-18 Championship now in town to spark up those women’s hockey embers once again, Reynard knows the young women taking to the ice in Dawson Creek this week will leave their own lasting mark on the community.
“I hope to see many fans come out and appreciate just how strong this women’s game has grown,” Reynard said. “I think we’re going to raise the bar and set a new standard of what should be expected from the female game.”