Five young Winnipeg hockey players will make history next week when they compete on the youngest version of a Canadian national female hockey team ever created.
It was announced earlier this month that local products goaltender Delayne Brian, defenceman Rebecca Hewett and forwards Breanne Frykas, Bailey Bram and Chelsea Karpenko had cracked the 22-player roster for the first ever under-18 women's national team.
Canada will play its American counterparts in a three-game series next weekend in Ottawa.
While the men's national programs are fairly developed down to the age of 16, this newly created national program allows female players in Canada to compete for their country before they are finished high school.
"I was definitely excited," Karpenko said about when she found out she was named to the team that will feature players born in 1990 or later.
"It's the start of the program, so you kind of get a chance to be part of history here."
In the past, young players would have had to wait until their early 20s to throw on the Canadian jersey. That isn't the case anymore.
"This is obviously what I want with my hockey career, so it's a start to bigger things," Karpenko said.
With Canada's female national hockey teams being close to reaching almost two decades of existence, the players that will take on the U.S.A. next week have been submerged in it since they were just learning to skate and have made heroes out of the women who were pioneers in the sport.
"I really like Janya Hefford. She's an unreal player," said Karpenko, who also looks up to men's players such as Joe Sakic and Jerome Iginla.
"There's a lot of good leaders and role models within that program."
With the level of competition higher in other provinces, Karpenko and Brian spend their winters on rinks outside of Manitoba. Karpenko plays for the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Female AAA Midget Hockey, while Brian toils in Alberta.
"A big part of it was playing away from home and getting away from what you are used to," said Karpenko, who plays approximately 40 games in a season with the Hounds.
"There's definitely a lot of talent out there and it's good competitive hockey. The opportunity came along and it was a good time to go."
Even though there is no body checking allowed in female hockey, it still can be a physical game. That plays into Karpenko's style.
"I'd say I'm a grinder with talent," the feisty forward said. "I like to get in the corners. I like to get around the net, but I think I am a two-way player and can play both ends of the ice."