Building a successful program in any sport takes time — for the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association’s U16 female division, the exact answer was six years.
Though it could be deemed prosperous simply by the fact the girls program as a whole — from U9 to U20 — has grown, the U16 squad was regularly coming up short on the ice.
This season, however, has seen a marked shift from the past, as the team captured its first gold medals in a tournament in Stephenville. Then, in mid-January, the club earned its first ever banner, which now hands proudly in the Kinsmen Arena II rafters, at an invitational tournament in Springdale.
“It was nice to bring something home,” said coach Steve Fifield. “We’re not used to it.”
Fifield has been putting in the work as the team’s coach for the past three years. When he took over, he said, there was some definite talent on display, but very little teamwork.
He sought to change all that.
“There’s no individual effort here anymore,” he said. “That’s how hockey is — you don’t play as a team, you don’t win.”
Jessica Park knows that better than most.
The 14-year-old from Corner Brook has been the goaltender for this group of girls since the majority of them first took to the ice together six years ago.
“Our team didn’t have a goalie,” she said of how and why she ended up between the pipes.
“I wanted to try it out, so I did.”
She’s had to be the last line of defence against each and every defensive breakdown in front of her — and there were more than a few.
Not so much this year, though, as she says the team in front of her has gotten “a lot better.”
“We’ve been together for so long now,” she said. “We just work a lot better as a team.”
So much so, in fact, that she says “winning together as a team” is actually her favourite part of playing the game.
How does winning medals and banners compare to previous years?
“It’s a lot more fun,” Park says with a laugh.
The next chance for fun comes in March, as the girls host the U16 provincials.
Teams from places like Stephenville, Springdale, Deer Lake, Straits, and Grand Falls-Windsor may attend and Fifield said it’s amazing to see the sheer number of teams, and the variation in skill level, that the provincial female hockey program now boasts.
There was a time not too long ago, he said, the girls division provincial championship would just be one full Mega tournament, with every team on the island involved.
Now, he said, the girls teams are ranked in various separate divisions, like how it is done in the boys divisions.