A major girl's hockey tournament kicks off in Winnipeg today but it's not so much about going after gold as about going after scholarships.
For Grade 10 student Leona Sim, it's her last chance of the season to show off for Hockey Canada and U.S. college scouts who will be in the stands for the 2014 Female World Sport School Challenge at the MTS Iceplex.
"[You need to] always be in your A-game, every shift, always trying, skating your fastest, just being very sharp," she said.
Winnipeg has three Hockey Canada-accredited prep programs at Balmoral Hall, St. Mary's Academy and Shaftesbury High. As a result, the city is now on the radar of many U.S. college scouts.
Sim's Balmoral Blazers face off against seven other schools from across the country at the weekend tournament, including:
- Banff Hockey Academy – Banff, AB
- Edge School for Athletes – Calgary, AB
- Pursuit of Excellence – Kelowna, BC
- Rothesay Netherwood Riverhawks – Rothesay, NB
- Shaftesbury Titans – Winnipeg, MB
- St. Francis Xavier Hockey Academy – Edmonton, AB
- St. Mary’s Academy Flames – Winnipeg, MB
The rapid growth of three prep programs in Winnipeg in less than a decade has forced the Blazers to look outside the province to recruit players. Assistant coach Anne Hedley said the team has brought in girls from B.C., Newfoundland and Sweden.
“You know, if nothing else it gives more girls the opportunity to play prep hockey which in the end is never going to be a bad thing,” she said.
St. Mary's Academy Flames player Danielle Krzyszcyk has already scored a lucrative scholarship to Harvard for next year.
“Every time I think about it I just get goosebumps. I am so excited," she said.
The full ride covers tuition, which is about $50,000 to $65,000 a year, and Krzyszcyk will be coached by Katey Stone, the head coach of the women's U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Krzyszcyk gives all the credit for her success to the prep program, for opening those doors.
Being able to go to tournaments where all the NCAA and CIS scouts are there. It's amazing seeing them come to the games and watch you,” she said.
“If I wasn't at St. Mary's I don't know if I would have had the opportunities I'd had to visit schools and choose Harvard."