Grade 12 student becomes Cape Breton hockey team's 1st female player
Grade 12 student Belle Jacobs patrolling blue-line for Sydney Academy Wildcats
Belle Jacobs is lacing up her skates this year for the Sydney Academy Wildcats, making the high school the first in Cape Breton to have a Division 1 hockey team with a female player.
Belle Jacobs, 17, started on defence when the season opened this week.
The Grade 12 student has played on no-contact AAA female teams, but said she wanted a higher calibre of play and wanted to represent her high school before graduating.
Jacobs took some hits in a scrappy home opener on Tuesday. She said she enjoys the physical play in the high school league.
"I don't want to be looked at as the female who's weaker and slower," she said. "My team already said I'm one of the boys, so I want to play like I'm one of them, too."
'I just have to keep my head up'
High school hockey is faster and more intense than female league play, but Jacobs said she adapted easily, because she grew up playing street hockey with neighbourhood boys.
"I think I just have to keep my head up, because I'm not used to playing with contact," she said. "I think I've adjusted to the pace, but it's still going to be different, for sure."
Jacobs said even during tryouts, her teammates and team officials welcomed her with open arms.
Wildcats manager Barry Martin said Jacobs skates well, plays hard and has a lot of spirit.
Jacobs earned a spot on the blue-line, he said.
"She had the qualities to make the team," Martin said.
"There was no doubt from the first time she got on the ice that she was going to be there. [We] didn't show any preferential treatment or anything. She had to work just as hard as the boys had to work to get on the team."
She'll be looked after and no doubt she's going to be in the limelight and they're going to take a run at her, but she can give it as well as take it- Wildcats manager Barry Martin
Martin said Jacobs has the toughness needed to play high school hockey, but her teammates treat her as an equal on the ice.
"There's a good camaraderie now, just since she's been here through all the practices, but I think as time goes on and games get played, it'll grow," he said.
"She'll be looked after and no doubt she's going to be in the limelight and they're going to take a run at her, but she can give it as well as take it."
Brendan Armstrong, the Wildcats' assistant captain, played street hockey with Jacobs when they were kids.
"Anyone who messes with her, messes with us," he said. "It's the same as anyone else on the team.... She fits in with the boys. The only difference is she's got hair hanging out of her helmet."
Armstrong said he hopes more girls try out for the high school league.
"It's good to have the girls be able to know that they've got a shot, too, right? It's not just a guys' sport. If you're good enough to play, it doesn't matter if you're a girl or a guy."
Hannah Marks said she's extremely proud of Jacobs, who is her best friend.
"Little girls that want to play with the boys, I think they're going to be able to look at Belle and say if she can do it, I can do it," Marks said.
Jacobs said she was nervous and excited before the home opener, but only because she didn't want to "mess up."
Her parents were a little nervous she might get hurt, but Jacobs said she's not afraid of that.
"There wasn't much hitting in tryouts, but there was a couple of hits over there," she said. "I like the physical part. You can always get hurt or you can hurt someone else, but I mean that's the fun of it, right?"
Jacobs said she is treated equally as a player on the ice, but there are boundaries, such as having her own dressing room.
She said she will miss the memories she made with girls in the dressing room, but with the guys, the team does its bonding on the ice.
"I just hope people are proud of me, but like people already are proud of me, people like my parents are proud of me, my friends are proud of me," Jacobs said.
"I just hope I do good for myself now and keep up with the boys so everyone thinks I fit in."
Jacobs said she's got her eye on university-level hockey and playing with the Wildcats will help that effort.
With files from Gary Mansfield