Fourteen-year-old hockey player Emily McLennan knows the value of hard work. After nine years of dedication to a game she loves, McLennan earned a spot on the Zone 4 female hockey squad that will compete at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games.
“It was really good, it was excitement with nervousness, just knowing all the work paid off,” said McLennan, when asked about how it felt to make the team.
McLennan found out she made the team the day after the tryouts in November. The Games will be co-hosted by Banff and Canmore from Feb. 6-9. During the Games, McLennan thinks she will mostly be playing left wing because that was the main position she played at the tryouts. So far, the Zone 4 team only has one practice scheduled before the tournament begins. McLennan said she’s not worried that the team will lack cohesion because the coaches based their picks on players who seemed to play well together.
“At the tryouts they were watching for people who can play well with people who they’re not used to playing with, so they’re kind of looking for the flexible team players,” said McLennan. “I think that everyone on the team has the capability of doing that.”
She said that around 90 skaters tried out for the Zone 4 team. During the tryout weekend in November, they were evaluated on both skill drills and game play. McLennan said the competition was stiff. Some of the skaters already had AAA hockey experience. However, McLennan came prepared—both mentally and physically— to impress the coaches with what she can do.
“You have to eat well before the tryouts and when you’re tired, you can’t just give up, so it’s a lot of work,” she said.
McLennan is no stranger to pushing herself beyond her comfort zone. At 14, she is a bantam-aged player, but this season she has been playing with the Lacoka Midget female team. Lacoka combines athletes from Lacombe and Ponoka. Competing with older and bigger athletes was a challenge, but McLennan said she has benefited from the experience.
“It was kind of a little bit overwhelming at first, but you kind of just get into the same thought process as everyone else,” she said.
Until three years ago, McLennan played for male teams in the Lacombe Minor Hockey Association. Though she said she had good experiences playing with the boys and that she sometimes misses the hitting, she prefers playing for Lacoka because it’s easier to form friendships and be a part of the team.
“I’ve had better relationships in girls hockey because you can be involved in the dressing room conversations and stuff like that.”
Part of the responsibility that comes with donning the orange Zone 4 jersey is missing a few days of school.
The Winter Games start on a Wednesday, which means McLennan will have some catching up to do when she gets back to class. Fortunately, her teachers at Father Lacombe Catholic School are very supportive of her efforts and were enthused about her earning a spot on the Winter Games team.
“My teachers and gym teacher were excited to hear that. They like to know the accomplishments that are going on in their students’ lives,” she said.
Hockey and school is something McLennan will continue to balance. Next season, she plans to try out for the Red Deer Midget AAA team. If she doesn’t make it, she’ll continue playing for the Lacoka midget team.
McLennan isn’t sure what her future holds in the long-term. After high school, she might try to get a scholarship to play hockey at the postsecondary level. McLennan knows competition for spots on college and university teams is stiff, so, for now, she is focused on enjoying experiences like the Alberta Winter Games and continuing to compete in the sport she loves.
“I’d like to keep playing hockey as long as I can.”