Hockey hopes great for London teen

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Mallory Deluce is skating in exclusive company. The 17-year-old Londoner is playing alongside the likes of Jen Botterill, Kelly Bechard, Cheryl Pounder. Those names should sound familiar. They've been skating for Canada's national women's hockey team for a number of years.

They are also Deluce's teammates with the Mississauga Aeros in the elite National Women's Hockey League.

But the youngster is doing more than just filling a sweater. Deluce is tied with Sommer West and Bechard in goal scoring for the Aeros with 11.

The former Bluewater Hawk is without question on the radar screen as one of the young female hockey players to watch.

Things are moving quickly for Deluce. Her first NWHL season is proving a success. She'll likely play for the Ontario and Canadian under-18 teams.

Her big move is south of the border. Deluce has committed to the University of Wisconsin next year on a full scholarship. She was contacted by every NCAA Division 1 school that has a women's hockey program. Wisconsin is the defending NCAA champion.

"I looked everywhere," Deluce said. "I went on visits to Colgate. When I was playing with the Bluewater Hawks, I travelled to universities for tournaments. I didn't want to leave anyone out. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice. I can't wait for that. I want to learn a lot from Mark Johnson."

The Central secondary school student will have a good teacher. Johnson is the coach at Wisconsin where he led the school to their first NCAA women's title. He's a former National Hockey League player and member of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice team at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. His dad was Bob Johnson, a legend in U.S. hockey circles.

"For some players, there are always adjustment times moving up to another level but we expect her to adjust very quickly," Johnson said from the university. "She is one of the top players available in this recruiting class. All you have to do is watch her play. She stands out. Her upside is huge. And as she gets more experienced, she is only going to get stronger."

Deluce won a scoring title with the Hawks in the Provincial Women's Hockey League. She recognized that even at 17, it was time for her to move on. She made the jump to the Aeros of the NWHL.

"It's a league where the Olympians and national team players play," said Deluce, who is a year younger than any player on her team. "I really like it because it's fast. I found it was a pretty big jump from the (provincial women's league.) You're playing with people who all pass hard and skate hard all the time. It's really competitive.

"Practices are a lot more intense. You can't do anything wrong. You have to always be on top. You can't take time off."

Deluce is listed at five feet, seven inches.

"On paper maybe," she said with a laugh. "I'm probably five foot, six inches but everyone does it (makes themselves taller.) But size doesn't really matter much anymore. With the new rules, you can't use your stick on anyone anymore and you can't grab them with your hands."

That suits Deluce just fine.

"Mallory is a very, very skilled player. She's an excellent skater and goal scorer," Johnson said. "With the way the game is played now, whether men or women, players like Mallory will excel. She's going to be a special player."

Deluce is determined to make herself a better player. Besides three-times a week practices as well as games, Deluce has off-ice training sessions and school. She has learned how to manage her time. When she gets home from school or workouts, it's homework first before anything else.

Deluce doesn't find the move to the NWHL to be more of a time commitment than it was to play in the provincial league. But she's very happy she made the move.

"I wanted to move up before I went to university because I'd been playing in (that) league for three years," Deluce said. "It was a challenge, something I needed to do and I'm very satisfied."

Johnson said it was the right thing for her to do.

"It's important that she's challenged and just as important that she move out of her comfort zone," he said.

Deluce is representative of where the women's game is going . . . lots of skill, competitiveness and profile in large part because more girls and women are playing and more attention than ever is being paid to developing the women's game.

"You can really tell in my age group," Deluce said. "Players are getting much better and a lot of girls are playing."

Every once in a while though, someone with a little something more comes along.

"She has a lot of tools in the toolbox," Johnson said.

Those tools will allow her to play at a top level for many years to come.

"My main goal was to get a scholarship, free school," Deluce said. "I also want to make under-18 Team Ontario, and they have a new under-18 Team Canada which I would like to make. My goal is to get a tryout for that, see how it goes. I just want to go as far as I can."

Then there's the brass ring, prize that for someone as young as Deluce, seems far enough away that she didn't mention it until it was pointed out to her.

"The national team," Deluce said. "Maybe one day."


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