Ste. Anne hat trick

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Somebody check the water in Ste. Anne, because this just doesn't make any sense.

What, pray tell, are the odds of three hockey players from a Manitoba town of some 1,500 people making it all the way to the NCAA's Frozen Four, with three different teams, all at the same time?

That's what 18-year-old Bailey Bram, 20-year-old Jocelyne Larocque and Melanie Gagnon, 22, have done.

"It's like winning the lottery," Bailey's mother, Bonnie, was saying yesterday.

"One in a million," chipped in her dad, Bill.

Their girl is having quite a freshman season with Mercyhurst College, in Erie, Pa.

The conference's rookie of the year, Bram wasn't sure her team would get to NCAA championship when it started the year 4-4. They're 30-5, now.

"It's crazy," Bram said from Boston, site of this year's Frozen Four.

Making it even crazier, the fact Larocque, her best friend from Ste. Anne, is also in Boston, with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

It became against-the-odds ridiculous when Gagnon's University of Minnesota made it, too.

"Growing up with them, we always just hung out, always were friends," Bram said. "Played against each other on the outdoor rinks and stuff. To be here on different teams is pretty cool."

The trash-texting is well underway, too. Has been all season.

"It was kind of like, 'We're ranked higher than you,' throwing it back and forth all year," Bram said.

As all three reached the Frozen Four, the messages got more to the point.

"Good luck -- but not really," is how Larocque describes a typical one these days.

If you're looking to explain this bizarre coincidence, you should probably start at the Bram house, Ste. Anne's unofficial home of hockey.

The three girls could often be found on the home rink with the older Gagnon, who lived across the street, teaching the younger ones a thing or two.

When Gagnon made Team Canada's under-22 squad a while back, the bar was set.

Soon enough, Larocque followed in her cousin's footsteps. This past week, she found out she'll try out for Canada's 2010 Olympic team.

Then it was Bram's turn -- she made Canada's under-18 squad.

"Mel first made Team Canada, so Joss wanted to follow in her shoes," Bram explained. "Then Joss made it, and I wanted to be like her. We all just kind of take after each other."

But still, for their destinies to meet in Boston this week, with a U.S. national championship on the line?

Must have been the coaching.

"To have three kids in the final, the stars are aligned," beamed Bill Bram, who coached all three "from squirts to peewee."

They played boys hockey in that time: Gagnon the captain of her peewee team; Larocque the first girl to play on the high school boys team in Lorette. Today, they're two of the top defencemen in the NCAA.

Coming at them this week, the freshman forward.

At least they should know each other's moves.

"We'll probably knock each other around out there a little bit," Bram said.

Surely, girls from Ste. Anne stick together, though, right?

"I have no friends on the ice," Larocque said.

This should get interesting, beginning Friday when Bram's Lakers take on Gagnon's Gophers in one semi-final.

If Larocque's UMD Bulldogs get past Wisconsin in their Friday semi, we'll have two Ste. Anne girls in Sunday's final. And plenty of rural Manitoba representation in the stands.

Gagnon's parents are flying to Boston, while the fathers of Larocque and Bram were finalizing plans to make the 29-hour drive.

Hey, it's not every day you get a chance to see the stars align.

Then again, maybe this isn't so much a fluke as a product of something easy to find in rural Manitoba.

"The story of our life has always been hard work," Bram said.

Leave it to the teenager to put things in perspective.


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