Taking national stage

DON WILCOX -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

When Canada's most talented young female hockey players gather on the west coast for the national under-18 championship next week, there will be a healthy dose of Eastern Ontario representation.

Five girls from the Ottawa region, as well as both Ontario team head coaches and two assistants, will be in Salmon Arm, B.C., for the week-long event which kicks off Nov. 9. Ontario sends two teams to the tournament, a Red team with the province's top-20 prospects, and a Blue team with the next group of 20.

"This sets them up and prepares the girls for the next level, which is the national under-22 program," said Dave St. Germain, the Ontario Red coach and also the bench boss of the Ottawa Intermediate AA NCCP Raiders. "The first thing this gives them is the competition. They just thrive on the competition, and the opportunity to be at a national championships."

St. Germain will be joined on his bench by assistant Angela Martin, who coaches in Kanata and is well-known as the daughter of NHL bench boss Jacques Martin. Fay McLaughlin of the Nepean AA midgets is coaching Ontario Blue, and Giles Lascelle of Cornwall will be one of her assistants.

Players heading to the competition include four 17-year-olds from the Raiders -- goalie Brittany Kirkham, and forwards Christina Julien, Carolyn Campbell and Jasmine Giles -- as well as Samantha Evelyn, a 15-year-old blueliner who will be among the youngest players ever to attend the tourney.

Giles and Julien will be members of Ontario Red, while the other three will play with Ontario Blue. Julien got her spot with the Red squad this week when another local prospect, Dominique Thibault of L'Orignal, suffered a broken elbow and had to bow out.

St. Germain said for most of the players, being selected is a "once in a lifetime opportunity." Not only do they compete at a national championships, they will also be under the eyes of dozens of NCAA scouts, and those who excel can raise their stock in the eyes of Hockey Canada, which is seeking prospects both for the under-22 team and, down the road, future world championship and Olympic teams.

For that reason, everything will be under the microscope during the tournament, from the girls' interactions with their teammates and at community events, to how they handle the stress and pressure of a major competition, to their every move on the ice.

That's a lot of pressure for anyone to handle, particularly for someone as young as Evelyn. Girls her age at nationals are "few and far between," St. Germain said.

"She's 15 years old with a lot of skills. We are trying to give her the experience of a national championships and see how she handles ... the pressures of a competition like that."

BACK ON BLUE LINE

Evelyn played competitive boys hockey right through her minor bantam season, and the 5-foot-8, 160-pounder is now adjusting to the difficult switch from being a winger to playing defence. It's something she has handled well so far.

"She is an excellent skater and she has an absolute love for the game," St. Germain said. "Sammy is a very focused, talented hockey player."

He also has high praise for his other four team members. Giles, of Kanata, will play her second season on the Red team. "Her strengths are her vision on the ice, her playmaking ability and her tenacity." She will line up at centre next week.

The move up to the Red team is a major break for Julien, a Cornwall native who is also an outstanding soccer player with the Ottawa Fury. "She has lightning speed," St. Germain said.

Also very fast on the blades is Campbell, who came up through the Orleans organization. She "has outstanding speed, determination, forechecking ability and willingness to go to the net."

Kirkham, who also came out of Nepean, was a Blue team alternate last season. St. Germain likes her "amazingly quick feet, she is very solid, very steady and is always square to the shooter." Working recently with Ottawa 67's goalie coach Tom Dempsey has improved Kirkham's already technically sound game.

The tournament runs Nov. 9-13 and features six other provincial teams in addition to the two Ontario squads. In winning gold last season, Ontario Red rolled up an unbeaten record, outscoring its opponents 31-2 and blanking Quebec 5-0 in the championship.


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