Female stars hit big time

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

In just its second season of existence, the Manitoba Women's Junior Hockey League has taken an enormous stride forward.

The five-team league, comprised of players under the age of 22, has improved greatly in terms of quality and profile, and this week its players will be showcased in Winnipeg's premier hockey venue.

The second annual MWJHL All-Star Game will be played Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., at MTS Centre. The league's inaugural all-star classic was played at Gateway Arena.

"It's a big step up," said Amber Schultz of the Winnipeg Rage, who leads the league in scoring with 15 goals and 25 points in 19 games.

"The MTS Centre is amazing. I have some buddies who are in the MMJHL, and their all-star game is in Stonewall. So it's kind of fun and special for us to be in the MTS Centre, especially for a developing women's program."

Although the league did not add any teams this year, the five existing squads expanded their rosters. That, plus a year of seasoning, has made the on-ice product much stronger.

"If you want to compare it to last year, it's about 100 steps up," said Schultz, 20. "I'm jealous I'm not five years younger, so I could have a league like this to come into that is amazing. It's a good building process, and next year it's only going to get stronger."

Chelsea Tanchuk of the Southeast Ice concurred.

"There's a big jump in the calibre of play this year, and hopefully it's going to continue to grow," she said.

Schultz said the early success of the league is music to the ears of young female hockey players.

"It's a great league for situations like myself," she said. "I had opportunities to go to the States for hockey, but I didn't want to go away. This is very competitive, and it has a lot of interest, so it's nice. It's good for players who are in high school who can look forward to the opportunity to be in this league and not necessarily take the big step to the (U of M) Bisons or the senior women's league."


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