DAWSON CREEK, BC – For defenseman Alexa Ranahan (Salmon Arm, BC) and forward Hannah Miller (North Vancouver, BC), there was truly something magical about putting on this maple leaf jersey for the very first time, while playing for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team against the United States last summer.
And after beating their American rivals 2-1 in the annual three-game series, Ranahan and Miller made sure to bring that magic back to BC, share it with their provincial teammates and impress local Championship fans. Canada’s National Women’s Under-18. Championship in Dawson Creek, BC.
Traditionally an “underdog” team at the national championships, British Columbia set a specific goal for this year’s five-day tournament and walked away from the elite women’s hockey event at the EnCana Events Center with every right to brag about having achieved this goal.
“Our goal as a team was to get to the semi-finals,” Miller said of what is a big step forward for the province’s best under-18 players.
“Our goal was to be able to win a medal, which means winning a quarter-final to advance to the semi-finals,” explained Bruce Tuck, women’s high performance coordinator for BC Hockey, before the national championship of This year. “So the first four.”
It was that exact goal, as British Columbia finished fifth at the 2011 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Saguenay, Que., and went one better only once, winning the bronze medal in the first national championship in January 2005.
That is, until now.
British Columbia beat Quebec 4-2 and edged highly competitive Alberta 2-1 to earn a spot in the semifinals and ultimately play for bronze at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship years of this year. The West Coast “outsiders” played with a lot of bite, showing skill and speed in front of home fans who cheered them on until the final buzzer.
In the end, BC only lost 3-0 to the still impressive seven-time defending champions Ontario Red, earning a very respectable fourth place finish at the 2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship – as promised.
“They’re the best BC team I’ve played with so far,” said Miller, who traveled to Saguenay for the national championship last season and also represented his province at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. as a team, all the lines are pulling and we do all the little things well.
Ranahan added that this year’s British Columbia contingent was “a very tight group of knights.”
“We’re pretty strong this year,” said Ranahan, who also played alongside Miller at the National Under-18 Championships last year. “We have a lot of depth…and a lot of different styles of play.”
Tuck agreed that “depth” is key to BC’s continued development within the women’s game, both nationally and internationally. “It will definitely support us down the road.”
British Columbia becoming a hotbed for hosting women’s hockey events, including the National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Salmon Arm in January and November 2005, as well as November 2009 in Surrey, will also help grow the women’s game across the province, he said.
“There’s quite a bit of publicity generated, so locally, always with small communities, you hope it has a direct impact,” he said. “We hope that with this type of exposure, there will be more and more interest in the general population for women’s hockey.”
Having players like Miller and Ranahan, and 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship gold medalist Jordan Krause (Kelowna, B.C.), pave the way for young up-and-coming players in the west coast is also critical to ensuring BC’s future success on the ice.
“They saw the competition at the next level,” Tuck said. “They really have a good understanding, so when they’re under pressure they certainly know how to handle the situation better, and only the exposure and the experience they’ve had helps.”
And of course, there’s also the joy of sharing that special feeling of wearing that jersey on the ice while representing your province – or your country.
“The way we did it made it so special,” Ranahan said as he lifted that Team Canada jersey over his head and then his gear in unison with the other 21 members of the Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in Calgary, Alberta this past. August – including Miller.
“Seeing all the girls in the room, putting it on at once, was probably the coolest moment of my 16th birthday,” Ranahan said. “It was amazing, and it was really rewarding to finally be in that shirt.”
Miller’s memory of that whimsical hockey magic mirrors that of his fellow British Columbian.
“The first game of this series, we all sat down and got dressed, put on our shoulder pads and nobody put on their shirts right away,” she recalled. “We all put on our shirts together, as a team.”
The female hockey spotlight will return to British Columbia next April for the 2013 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, in Burnaby. So what advice do Miller and Ranahan have for the top female midget teams in the country, who will be representing their regions and provinces, including host team the Fraser Valley Phantom of the BC Hockey Female Midget AAA League?
“When you have the opportunity to show off at nationals or a big tournament when people are watching, you really have to… capitalize on that,” Miller said. “Make the most of every minute you spend on the ice.”
The puck falls in Burnaby, British Columbia on .