The Brandon Ringette Association crowned a provincial champion in 2016-17 but is hopeful that even bigger victories lie ahead for the sport.
While continuing to re-establish ringette in Westman, the organization placed under-12 and U14 Brandon Blizzard teams in the Winnipeg Ringette League, with the latter claiming a provincial championship a month ago. The association also ran a U10 program.
President Sara Bell said the organization had been chatting with Winnipeg for a couple of years about getting Brandon teams into the league, and everything finally fell into place this season.
"It’s a lot of travel but the improvement that the girls got from the regular games was just huge," Bell said.
She said in the past, each team would usually host two tournaments and travel to two more, but added the gaps between games hindered the development of players.
"It really was a big plus for our girls," Bell said of the more regular action.
The local organization had about 40 players on its U10, U12 and U14 programs last season, with a U16 team potentially returning next year for the first time since the early 2000s.
"That’s really exciting for us," Bell said. "That we will be adding a whole group of girls, which will be good."
The U10 team, which didn’t play in the Winnipeg league, had regular practices, hosted a tournament in November and also travelled to a tournament.
The U12 team went 5-8-3 in the six-team A3 division, with the U14 team going 7-6-3 in the six-team B division. Neither team participated in the Winnipeg league playoffs, but the U14s went to provincials.
Improbably, Brandon compiled a 4-1 record and went on to beat the Park City Wildcats 6-4 on March 19 in the final to win the Manitoba Ringette U14B championship.
Park City had won all three games during the regular season and beat Brandon 9-3 in the opening game of provincials.
"When they first came on the ice for provincials it had been a month since they played a game and they were pretty nervous," Bell said. "For them to win the provincials, it really spoke to the coaching staff that we had this year and the girls really pulled together as a team."
Brandon Ringette will discuss potentially participating in the playoffs in future seasons, with a major hitch being potential mid-week trips into Winnipeg, where all of the games are played.
When the Brandon teams do head in, they play doubleheaders on the weekends. The topic of city teams driving to the Wheat City hasn’t really been discussed in detail yet.
"We would love to have them but if that’s not a possibility, we’re happy to continue to go to Winnipeg," Bell said.
The sport has undergone a remarkable resurgence in Brandon. Ten years ago, there were a dozen active players spanning all age groups in the city. Now the association heads into next season with a provincial champion, the possibility of expanding to another age group and even a plan to freshen up its look.
"We’re really excited going into next season with the improvement the girls have shown," Bell said. "We’re looking at possibly giving Brandon Ringette an update, maybe a new logo, maybe new jerseys … so that’s something the girls are really excited about."
That’s not all.
Ringette will have a U14 division in the 2018 Manitoba Winter Games, with Westman contributing one of the six teams for the tournament, which runs from March 4 to 7.
Bell said the local association is already setting up ice time for girls who want to try out for the team
"We’re hoping that maybe with the excitement of a Westman team going up to Thompson for the games that we might get some girls back who have maybe gone away from ringette," she said. "This might be an exciting thing to bring them back to the sport. I know the girls are really excited. It’s a really unique opportunity."
It may also give the ringette association some momentum as it plans for what could be even better days ahead.
"We’re hoping to keep building and building," Bell said. "We would love to see ringette in Brandon become as popular as it is in Winnipeg or Regina or Saskatoon. Some age levels in Saskatoon have six teams. We would love to see that but we’re just kind of plugging away. It’s steadily getting a little bit bigger and bigger and we’re hoping that continues."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson