Ashleigh Brykaliuk with her gold medal ring from the world U-18 women’s championship. (FILE PHOTO)
The Westman Wildcats have their sights set on challenging the Pembina Valley Hawks for female midget hockey supremacy in Manitoba.
The winners of the first Esso Cup as Canadian midget female champions in 2009, the Hartney-based Wildcats have had to look up in the standings to find the Hawks since joining the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League the following season.
The Hawks have won the MFMHL in each of the league’s four seasons of existence, capping that run by winning an Esso Cup of their own this past spring.
Blessed with experience, new Wildcats head coach Kary Kirkup said the team is aiming for the top in the upcoming season, which begins on Friday.
"We’ve taken our lumps the last couple of years for sure," said Kirkup, who took over the head-coaching job from Stephen Vandenberghe after serving as an assistant the past two seasons. "We only lost one graduating player last year. We have eight last-year (of eligibility) players now, so we’ll compete with a couple others for the province this year."
Joining the likes of veterans Amanda Coey, Samantha Dyck, Karissa Haney, Karissa Kirkup, Teagan Pringle, Jessica Vallotton and Kaitlyn Whaley, who are all in their final year of midget hockey, the Wildcats scored a major coup with the addition of national under-18 team member Ashleigh Brykaliuk of Brandon. Brykaliuk has returned home to finish off high school and her midget hockey career after two seasons with the Balmoral Hall prep school program in Winnipeg.
"It’s great to have her," said Kirkup, whose team is taking part in the Central Plains Capitals Pre-season Showcase in Portage la Prairie this weekend after starting their exhibition schedule by winning a tournament in Swift Current, Sask., and competing against some top American competition in St. Cloud, Minn., the following week. "She’s had a great start to the year and she’s fit in nicely as far as the team goes. And we’ve seen her ability when we need a goal here, and there she can take over a game with her goal-scoring, for sure."
Brykaliuk’s arrival not only gives the team a boost this season, but Kirkup believes it could also help long-term by showing elite local players that they don’t need to travel far to pursue their dreams, particularly with two of the past four national champions competing in the provincial AAA league.
"We treat our program for the last three or four years like a prep team," he said. "We travel, and basically when you see a girl like that come back, you know what kind of an organization you’ve had. … We do have some girls at that level that could go on to the university level, so the last thing you want them to do is take off from your organization and go to a prep team for sure. When they (top players stay here) I think they’ll think twice about it. You know, stick right at home where the hockey is just as good as elsewhere, for sure."
ONE-TIMERS: Coey and Brykaliuk had a goal and an assist each as the Wildcats opened the Central Plains tournament with a 3-0 victory over the Eastman Selects Friday at Portage. Kjierstan Wallace also scored for Westman. Haney scored Westman’s only goal in its 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Avros in their evening game.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 29, 2012