For Katelyn Atchison, not much has changed upon returning home to Lake Cowichan — she’s still the only girl her age lacing up the skates.
Playing hockey for the Sherwood Park Steele in the Alberta Junior Female Hockey League, Atchison found her beginnings in Lake Cowichan as a Laker.
Following her grade eight year, however, there was no more girl’s hockey team and Atchison was forced to either play with the boys or travel across the Island to compete with other females. From Duncan, to Nanaimo and Victoria, Atchison was all over the place during her minor hockey days.
To say that Atchison was just dedicated is a gross understatement — this was a lifestyle.
“We had 6 a.m. practices in Victoria on the naval base so I’d have to be up at 4:30 and would hit the ice then go back to school,” she said.
From a time when just a select few girls played hockey across Canada, now thousands upon thousands are suiting up for the sport.
“I wish we could have had a girl’s team here and one that was more competitive. It was sad to see the girl’s program fall apart, especially for the girl’s that didn’t go on and keep playing,” said Atchison.
Nearly a decade after her minor hockey heydays, girl’s hockey is beginning to bloom once again in Lake Cowichan, in large part to the efforts of Lake Cowichan Minor Hockey and pee wee Lakers coach Greg Clayton. Clayton began coordinating female development camps this season, which aim to engage more girls in the sport. Atchison’s younger sister Isabelle, who plays for the Novice Lakers, is one of Clayton’s students.
“There’s a lot more opportunities. It’s good. It’s cool to see all the girl’s programs now. When my mom sent me the picture of them as a group I thought that was amazing that they are trying to restart a girl’s program,” said Atchison.
Although Atchison has played with the boys for a significant portion of her career, she’s happy her sister gets the opportunity to play with girls.
“As a girl, you can play on guys teams but it’s nice to be more involved in terms of having girls in the dressing room to be friends with and just be girls together. You take pride in that,” said Atchison.
Atchison said it’s all about getting over that hump.
“I think it’s really important for girls to get into it and not be intimidated. I feel that some girls are intimidated and that’s how I felt at first. But once you’re into it, it’s one of those things you can’t get enough of.”
Atchison is also fresh off a trip to Europe this past summer. Competing in Prague, in the Czech Republic with the Northern Alberta All-Stars, the 19-year-old wore the captain’s crest for her team.
Atchison was able to witness a crop of international talent and despite only winning one game at the tournament, the young hockey player walked away with a momentous learning experience. She also got to see first-hand the grittier style of play European teams are sometimes known for.
“We played a Russian team and they were so unreal, except for one of the girl’s grabbed her stick and whacked one of her player’s two-handed. I’ve never seen anything like that. In Europe they play a lot more physical style game than here,” she said.
The Heritage Sports Wall of Fame, which now sits in the lobby of the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena was erected in 2011 and is a new town program. After being informed of the Wall of Fame, Atchison has set her sights on becoming a future inductee. She thinks the it’s a great motivator.
“It’s really appreciative and coming from a small town, you can come from here and still be a great athlete.”
Atchison cited Haley Wickenheiser and her father as the driving inspirational forces which have helped her succeed on and off the ice.
Atchison’s father, Clark has been overly impressed with his daughter’s progress in a sport that not so long ago was played exclusively by males.
“When she was little she said she was going to play in the Olympics and it took off from there,” said Clark.
Atchison may not be in the Olympics yet, but one thing’s for sure: she’s accomplished more in her respective sport than most of the boys she grew up playing hockey around.
“She has a real passion for it. When she started she couldn’t even skate out there but she never gave up and now she skates better than most people,” he added.
Atchison has returned to Edmonton and will play her first game of 2012 with the Steele against the Fort Saskatchewan Fury on Jan. 18.