Return to her ringette roots

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

For Danielle Hobday, it's like going back to her roots.

The three-time Canadian national ringette team member and 2002 World Championship all-star has signed up to play for the Eastman Flames in the National Ringette League's newly-formed Central Division which begins play next week.

The Central Division will consist of the Landmark-based Flames and the APFG Sixers, Bonivital Angels, the Moose and Hix with Stix from Winnipeg. The five teams will include members from the Manitoba Stealth and Interlake Ice, which played in the NRL's Western Division last year.

The Central Division joins the already-established Western, Ontario and Quebec Divisions and brings the total number of teams to 19 for the NRL's second season.

"It's exciting for me to get back to playing where I've been playing for the last 10 years or so," said Hobday, who finished fourth in the NRL in scoring last season with 40 goals and 31 assists as a member of the Stealth. "It's back to my roots.

"I'm excited because I think there'll be more exposure in Manitoba having five teams as compared to two. It will make life on us a little easier without having to travel as much."

Last year, the two Manitoba teams played exclusively in Western Division tournaments in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Teams in the Central Division will play 20-game schedules with each team also playing a minimum of one tournament. The teams will also play a series of exhibition games against Manitoba Belle (ages 16 to 18) AA teams.

The Central Division champion will play the top team in the Western Division for a best-of-three semifinal series with the winner advancing to the inaugural NRL Championship in April in Montreal.

Hobday, for one, welcomes the reduction in travel.

"This will definitely be more cost-conscious and a little bit easier on our schedules," said Hobday, a 28-year-old from Oakbank who led Canada to the gold medal at the 2002 World Championships and silver medals in 2004 and 2000. "I think they realized that they had to do something because we all work or go to school. It is hard to commit to going away every couple of weeks (for tournaments)."

Fellow Stealth and World Championship veteran Shelly Hruska will play for the Sixers as will goaltender Elisa Proutt, who played for the bronze medallist United States at last year's World Championships.

"In Manitoba and specifically in Winnipeg, there has been an Open AA league for many years so the transition of that league into the NRL Central Division is a fairly logical progression," said Alayne Martell-Crocker, Ringette Canada Media and Public Relations Coordinator.

The recent success of Manitoba teams at the Canadian ringette championships and the Canada Games bodes well for the success of the new teams.

The overall goal of the NRL is to give national team members the opportunity to stay in game fitness in between World Championships, which are now being held every three years.


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