The NWT Canada Winter Games (CWG) women’s hockey team destroyed the competition at the Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival last week in its first-ever competitive event playing together as a group.
The team went undefeated in the lower of the tournament’s two midget divisions, winning one exhibition game and five tournament rounds before besting the Edmonton Shock with a score of 4-0 to take home the gold.
“The final game was a lot closer than the score indicated,” said Allison Kincaid, the team’s head coach. “It was 1-0 for most of the game and Edmonton just kept coming at us. Our goalie Ayesha Barlas played very well. She faced a tonne of very difficult shots on her way to earning the shutout,” her second of the tournament.
Neither Barlas nor the team’s other goalie Emily Paddock let in a goal over the course of the tournament, held in Calgary the weekend of Nov. 30.
“The whole team played well; that’s why they didn’t score,” Kincaid said. “We didn’t allow a lot of open chances. There were not a lot of great goal-scoring chances for the other teams and those that we did allow, the goalies managed to make those saves.”
Following their championship round, the women received a locker room visit from Canadian Olympic women’s hockey superstar Hayley Wickenheiser, the tournament’s namesake.
“She came right in our locker room and spoke to the girls and took selfies and signed autographs and spent a good 20 minutes in there with our team,” Kincaid said.
“The players were absolutely overjoyed to get to hear from Hayley herself,” said Jessica Cox, the team’s assistant coach. “She is by far the most recognizable name and face in female hockey and the girls truly idolize her. For our team, this experience was quite unforgettable and will likely be one they tell their friends about for a very long time.”
Around 80 teams from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico came together for the annual tournament, from novice level divisions up to midget. In addition to hosting women from across the continent for some high-level competition, Wickfest is also championed as an opportunity to promote women in sport.
“She’s a great ambassador for females in the game,” Kincaid said. “It was great to see how committed she is to growing the girls’ game. She really wants to give back to the sport and that’s part of what this event is all about.”
Looking ahead to the Canada Winter Games
The team will get together in Yellowknife for several training camps and one tournament before playing in the Canada Winter Games in February. The players and coaches will be flying in from Fort Smith, Aklavik, Inuvik and Hay River for the rare opportunity to practice together.
Kincaid is excited about her team’s prospects and says she will be happy with them as long as they compete to the best of their abilities.
“Keep in mind we’re going to be playing against the best players in the country, so we want to have realistic expectations going into the games. We’re not in the same category as team Ontario or Quebec or anything like that. They’ve got 40,000 girls to pick from and we’ve got 40, so it’s a little different,” Kincaid said.
“We want to manage our expectations so we don’t feel like just because we won this tournament we’re going to go in there and take the gold at the Canada Games,” she said. “That’s not a realistic expectation for us and I think the girls understand that. Certainly we think we can have success; it’s just a matter of determining what success looks like for us.”