Fresh off leading Manitoba to a silver medal at nationals on Sunday, yesterday was another dream day for six standout female hockey players from southwestern Manitoba.
Wednesday marked the start of the one-week early signing period for NCAA scholarships in Division 1 women’s hockey, with Brandon’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk (University of Minnesota-Duluth), Bruxelle’s Cassidy Carels (Providence College), Manitou’s Madison Hutchison (Bemidji State), Neepawa’s Halli Krzyzaniak (North Dakota), Ninette’s Jessica Vallotton (Maine) and Virden’s Karissa Kirkup (Maine) all expected to sign their national letters of intent.
Their commitments mark a banner year for local female hockey talent in the area in what has been the most heavily recruited class ever in Westman, led by Brykaliuk, Krzyzaniak and Carels who were all members of the Canadian under-18 team that beat the United States in a summer exhibition series.
For Brykaliuk, being able to officially sign on the dotted line was a day she had been anxiously awaiting after verbally committing to Minnesota-Duluth last month for the 2013-14 season.
"It’s finally here, so I am excited to finally get it done and make it final," said Brykaliuk, a 17-year-old centre with the Westman Wildcats midget girls hockey team who was recruited by more than 30 NCAA schools before choosing Minnesota-Duluth. "It’s pretty surreal still, but it’s pretty cool to know that it’s official ...
"It’s kind of crazy realizing all the opportunities that girls have these days. My parents told me they didn’t have these opportunities back then and knowing that hockey is getting me this far and getting my school paid for, it’s really nice."
Out west in Kelowna, B.C., where she attends the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy, Krzyzaniak could hardly wait to sign her letter of intent early in the day as she officially accepted a full-ride deal to UND in Grand Forks.
"Honestly, I can’t even describe it. It’s so exciting to know that what you have dreamed about your whole life is finally coming true and all that hard work is amounting to something," said Krzyzaniak, a 17-year-old defenceman who was also courted by more than 30 NCAA schools and made campus visits to North Dakota, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Cornell before verbally committing to UND.
"In the end, I loved all the schools that I went to and visited, but really it was just the feeling that I got at North Dakota that put it ahead of all the other places ... I remember visiting North Dakota when I was probably around 10 or 12 and just thinking that that was where I wanted to go to school and it’s amazing that’s it’s finally happening."
All six players were members of Manitoba’s team that advanced all the way to the gold-medal game at the Canadian under-18 hockey championship on Sunday in Dawson Creek, B.C., before falling 4-2 to Ontario Blue, with the silver medal Manitoba’s best showing in the 12-year history of the tournament.
"Doing something that Manitoba has never done before is a pretty great accomplishment," said Krzyzaniak, who was Manitoba’s captain and was named not only the top defenceman but also the most valuable player at nationals.
While disappointed to fall in the final, Brykaliuk said silver is something to savour.
"We were obviously all disappointed, but we have to realize that Manitoba has never done that well before and we played really well throughout the whole tournament," said Brykaliuk, who also teamed up with Krzyzaniak to help Canada win the world
under-18 women’s hockey championship in the Czech Republic in January. "It was hard at the time, but it is sinking in now, just realizing that it is something that we need to be proud of."
Another local member of that Manitoba team is also on the verge of committing to college for next season. Glenboro goalie Brittni Mowat is being recruited by schools on both sides of the border, like Bemidji State and the University of Manitoba, but had yet to commit to a school as of yesterday afternoon.