BY KALISHA MENDONSA
The ladies of the Central Alberta U16AA Sting Ringette team recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime European trip, where they had the opportunity to play games in Finland and Sweden.
They took part in a tournament in Helsinki, going undefeated in the round-robin and ultimately taking the silver medal place. When in Sweden, the girls played against a team that had national league players on it, and defeated them twice.
Following their exhibition games in Finland and Sweden, the girls were able to relax in London, England for a few days before returning home.
The trip was really less about competition and more about experience for the girls, and Head Coach Shawn Wagar said it was definitely a success in that regard.
“It was a mix of girls from Red Deer and Lacombe, and it was a really neat thing for them to do. We did lots of touring and team-building activities, and then had the games themselves. It was really great that out of seven games, they only lost one,” Wagar said.
He explained the trip was two years in the making, as the girls began planning when they were still in the U14 bracket.
Wagar said the local ringette association tries to arrange one of these trips for the U16 girls each year, and this is the third trip that has been organized since this idea began.
He added the preparation for the trip was long, but it was great to see the extra effort brought forth by the girls through fundraising initiatives to bring their dream to reality.
“The girls enjoyed it so much, and it was great to see them together, especially with their billets,” Wagar said.
“When they first met their billets in person, it was kind of neat to see because some of them had already been messaging back and forth.
“By the time they left, the girls all ended up becoming good friends in a short period of time. They got to know each other before we got there, but then got to spend time together during the actual visit. It was a really great experience.”
He said he was grateful for the girls’ opportunity to stay with Finnish billet families, and for their opportunity to be exposed to different cultures and lifestyles.
Typically, these trips are reserved for the U16 ladies, but Wagar said he would like to see that change one day. That way, more girls from the league would be able to gain valuable experience and develop relationships with other ringette players around the world.
“I hope down the road, maybe the younger group can go as well. It would be really cool to see our same billet group of girls come to Canada to play us – that would be the ultimate goal, but it’s up to that ringette association to take care of the fundraising and everything. It would be great to get those girls all together again,” he said happily.
Wagar said there was an excellent group of parents who tagged along for the trip, and he was very grateful for their help in organizing and carrying out the trip.
“We had a great group of parents, too, and a wonderful organizing committee who put a lot of time and effort into making this all happen. It was a lot of work from all sides to bring this together and it was really neat to see it all finally happen,” Wagar said.
With all of the games played overseas, the U16AA team had played a stunning total of 82 games this season. Wagar said things are slowly winding down before the summer, and that he hopes to see many of the girls continue their ringette careers when the season picks up again.
Overall, Wagar said it was a tremendous experience.
“We want to say a final thank you to all of the people who put in work, helping us to support the team and put together sponsorships and all of that to get us to Finland. It turned out to be a great trip for all of us.”
The U16AA Sting Ringette team had a rather impressive season, especially with their bronze medal win during National Championships earlier this month.
They had gone undefeated in their division, winning their pool and moved quickly into the quarter-finals. From there, they took out the Calgary Pacers for their bronze medals.
During Provincials, the girls had only lost a single game in the final against Calgary, finishing with a silver medal in the tournament.
All in all, Wagar said it’s been an amazing experience to work with the girls, and to be able to take them on this European tour trip.
He said it is not something they will forget in the near future, and that he is proud to have been a part of it.
“It’s been a great year. This is a fabulous bunch of girls,” Wagar had said earlier this month.
He added, “We have great coaches, a great manager and we’re all lucky to be surrounded by such talented girls.”