The Siksika Winterhawks U11 Female hockey team won the gold medal in the recent Alberta Native Hockey Provincial Championship, earning an impressive 8-2 win in the championship match to take home the trophy.
A gold medal win is impressive enough on its own merit, but this one holds extra significance as it's just the first year this team has existed. On top of that, Winterhawks assistant coach and trainer Ariel Waterchief explained they were also playing in the boys' division but still came out on top.
"It was the highlight of the season, especially considering that they're playing within the boys' division. So they were so ecstatic, it was amazing. There was one other girls' team and that other girls' team played in a separate tiering and then we ended up meeting in the finals and the rest is history," she said.
Given that this is the first year the Winterhawks team has hit the ice, Waterchief said there were some growing pains at the start as this was the first time several of their players played hockey. Through dedication and a great team dynamic, Waterchief said watching the team grow so quickly was special.
"It was magical, a couple of the girls have been playing and some were first year, and you can see the veteran players really take the younger ones under their wing and you can really, really see the development."
One particular standout player is eight-year-old goalie Ava White Man, who perfectly captures the spirit of the team and their ability to grow and excel. Waterchief explained White Man made the jump from U9 half-ice, and even though she had to face older players with more experience she more than held her own.
"We brought her in and we started teaching her things and it only took her about a month and she was gone, she is amazing. She also got All-Star goalie within our division. She is definitely one of our youngest players, one of our smallest players, but has the biggest heart and really helped the team out a lot."
Waterchief hopes the Winterhawks girls' team programs expand from this season to try and "develop it so that we can get as many girls' teams as we do boys' teams." In the past, Siksika Nation also had a U15 and U18 program, and Waterchief would like to see that return.
"(We're trying to) create those opportunities for young Indigenous youth, women, young girls, to be able to access sport and hockey in a different way that they weren't able to before in a different capacity and also a different environment for them and their own comfort levels."
As for the immediate future, Waterchief said the team plans on keeping busy, with plans to join a ball hockey tournament in the Alberta Indigenous Games in August, among several other plans.
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