Hometown pride on display

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

Kim Ezzard was visibly excited yesterday afternoon when she got to the end of the autograph line at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

There, waiting for her with Sharpie in hand, was her hockey hero, Hayley Wickenheiser.

"Talking to Hayley I literally felt like a little kid," Ezzard, 34, said moments later. "My heart was beating, I was sweating, I was so excited."

Wickenheiser and the rest of the Canadian women's hockey team drew a massive crowd to the Convention Centre, where they signed autographs at Fan Fest, a two-day interactive extravaganza that served as a pre-party for the World Women's Hockey Championship.

The tournament begins tomorrow at MTS Centre and in Selkirk, and it looks like the province has a serious case of women's hockey fever.

Hundreds of autograph seekers -- young and old, male and female -- formed a line that snaked throughout the convention room and out into the hall yesterday.

Organizers eventually had to turn people away because the national team had a date with Premier Gary Doer at the Legislature.

Ezzard, who brought her son, Justin MacKinnon, with her, said the women on the national team are an inspiration for all females.

She's especially fond of Wickenheiser after watching her bring her son on the ice for post-game celebrations.

"That was so powerful, because so many women sacrifice so many things so that they can play sports," Ezzard said. "And it's kind of been unequal for women and men. Men sort of are able to go to a hockey tournament and go here and go there.

"And women have to get a babysitter and go play hockey. I've taken Justin on a hockey trip for two days with my hockey bag and a car seat. There's so many sacrifices women make."

Eight-year-old Emily Riesz, who plays girls' hockey in St. Boniface, spent part of her spring break putting together a binder that contained a page on every Canadian player.

She got the players to autograph their respective pages yesterday.

"This is awesome for the kids," Emily's mom Sandra said. "They're role models for them, especially girls. It's nice that they have somebody to look up to and they actually get to meet them and they're made accessible to the fans.

"The girls are all just in awe of it."

The awe was a two-way street yesterday, as the hockey players themselves were amazed at the turnout.

"You come to an event like this, and the line in nonstop," Canada forward Danielle Goyette said. "We've been signing at least for an hour, if not more, and we're not done!

"People are so excited to see us, and as a hockey player you can't ask for a better welcome."

Canada forward and Winnipeg native Jennifer Botterill had an extra sense of pride yesterday.

"I've always been so proud of this community," she said. "And for the whole team to sort of get a taste of the excitement and how supportive everybody is, it's a real nice boost going into the tournament."


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