The state of Rhode Island is a long way from home, but it was the place Cassidy Carels felt most at home when she weighed her multiple NCAA offers.
In the end, it was that feeling that sealed the deal for the 17-year-old member of Canada’s under-18 women’s hockey team. The native of Bruxelles — located south of Spruce Woods Provincial Park — has verbally committed to accept a full scholarship to play Division 1 women’s hockey for the Providence College Friars in 2013-14.
"I am really excited," said Carels via telephone from Dawson Creek, B.C., where she will play for Team Manitoba at the Canadian under-18 girls hockey championship, starting today. "I know it was the right choice for me and the school is great and the coaches are great and it will just be a great experience."
Carels will officially sign her letter of intent next Wednesday when the early signing period begins, but was happy to get her decision made early.
"I knew I wanted to be signed by the early signing date for sure, just to know and for sure it takes a lot of stress off your mind, too," said Carels, who had narrowed her choices down to Bemidji State University, Mercyhurst College and Providence College, making campus visits to all three.
A member of the defending Esso Cup national champion Pembina Valley Hawks of the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League, Carels watched her Hawks teammate Madison Hutchison, a 17-year-old Manitou native, commit to Bemidji State last week. But Providence College just felt like the right fit for Carels.
"It was a tough decision because every school has great assets and things that you have to compare to each other," she said. "But after weighing all the options, I felt like Providence was the best fit for me and when I got there I knew it was the place that I wanted to be for the next four years."
It has been a year to remember for Carels, who led the Hawks to the national midget girls championship in the spring before helping Canada beat the United States in a three-game summer exhibition series in Blaine, Minn., scoring a third-period goal in Canada’s series-clinching 5-4 shootout victory in Game 3.
After firing 58 goals and racking up 93 points in 68 games last season, Carels has 18 goals and 29 points in 17 games overall this season, including eight goals and 14 points in eight league games.
In what has been a banner year for local recruits, Carels is the sixth female hockey player from southwestern Manitoba to accept a full NCAA scholarship for next season, joining Hutchison, Brandon’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk (Minnesota-Duluth), Ninette’s Jessica Vallotton (Maine) and Virden’s Karissa Kirkup (Maine) of the Westman Wildcats, as well as Neepawa’s Halli Krzyzaniak (North Dakota) of the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, B.C.
All six of those players will suit up for Team Manitoba at nationals this week, along with Hawks goaltender Brittni Mowat of Glenboro, who is also weighing scholarship offers, and forward Lauryn Keen of Manitou, who is only in Grade 11. Team Manitoba also features Yellowhead Chiefs forward Tirra Lemoine, who doesn’t turn 16 until Nov. 18, as well as MacGregor’s Courtlyn Oswald, the 16-year-old captain of the MFMHL’s Central Plains Capitals.
Manitoba opens nationals against Alberta this morning before facing Ontario Thursday and Quebec on Friday, with the playoffs on Saturday and the medal games set for Sunday.