Growing up in the town of Neepawa, Halli Krzyzaniak never dreamed that one day she would be standing on the sidelines of an Ohio State Buckeyes football game with 104,745 fans in the stands.
But that’s just one of the perks when you are one of the most hotly recruited female hockey players in the country.
“It was pretty amazing,” Krzyzaniak said.
The 17-year-old defenceman has made campus visits to Ohio State, Cornell and the University of North Dakota, with her last trip slated for Wisconsin next week when she makes a final decision on which NCAA school to commit to.
“I have been contacted by the majority of (the 33 NCAA Division I women’s hockey schools), I’m not even sure how many,” Krzyzaniak said. “But I had it narrowed down to about six or seven schools by last year and now I have narrowed it down to just these four … At times it can be overwhelming, but I’m definitely grateful for all the opportunities that I have been given.”
A member of Canada’s world champion under-18 team, Krzyzaniak headlines what is shaping up to be southwestern Manitoba’s most talented recruiting class of female hockey players ever. While it’s only October, seven players from this area have received multiple offers of full Division I scholarships while also garnering plenty of interest from Canadian universities.
Krzyzaniak hones her skills with the Pursuit of Excellence hockey program in Kelowna, B.C., while the other six play in the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League, which is attracting more scouts than ever before.
“Anywhere we’ve gone, people are always surprised at how good the Manitoba teams are,” said Myles Cathcart, head coach of the Yellowhead Chiefs Midget AAA female hockey team. “One scout from Maine said … it’s kind of a lost little gem in Manitoba. He was really, really impressed.”
Maine is one of the NCAA schools that has already locked up one of the area’s top talents, with defenceman Jessica Vallotton of the Westman Wildcats verbally committing to play for the Black Bears in 2013-14. Her Wildcats teammate Ashleigh Brykaliuk, a 17-year-old centre from Brandon and another member of Canada’s U-18 team, has verbally committed to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth on a full ride next year.
Over the next few weeks, five more local players are also expected to accept offers and finalize their letters of intent when the NCAA early signing period opens on Nov. 14.
So just how strong is this year’s class? Currently there are eight young women from the Westman area playing NCAA Division I hockey on full scholarships. This year’s crop could double that total.
To the best of knowledge, there are only two freshmen playing on full NCAA scholarships, one female — Brandon’s Skye Kelly at St. Cloud State — and one male — Virden’s Bryn Chyzyk at UND.
Krzyzaniak is expected to commit soon, with 17-year-old Wildcats centre Karissa Kirkup also weighing multiple offers. Kirkup just returned from a campus visit to Ohio State and has also made trips to Maine and Bemidji State University.
“I had interest from about 30 (NCAA) schools and I have had seven offers for full rides,” said Kirkup, who has also had plenty of interest from Canadian schools but is leaning toward accepting a full NCAA scholarship that can be worth up to $100,000 when you factor in tuition, books, board and room. “I’ve always wanted to get a full scholarship and go down and play in the States. I will be making a decision, a hard decision, in the next couple of weeks.”
At least three 17-year-old members of the defending national champion Pembina Valley Hawks midget girls’ team are also being hotly recruited, with goalie Brittni Mowat of Glenboro, defenceman Madison Hutchison of Manitou and Canadian U-18 teamforward Cassidy Carels of Bruxelles all receiving multiple NCAA offers. Mowat is deciding whether to accept a full scholarship from Bemidji State or stay closer to home and attend the U of Manitoba, while Hutchison has narrowed her 10 offers down to Bemidji State and Connecticut in the U.S., or staying in Canada and playing at a school like U of M.
Meanwhile, Carels just returned from a campus visit to Mercyhurst University and is also considering Bemidji State and Providence College.
“It’s definitely stressful, but it’s a real honour to be recognized as a full-ride scholarship student at all of these high-end programs,” Carels said. “It’s really exciting.”
For these Westman girls, it is shaping up to be a year to remember.