The St. Albert Mission have home-ice advantage as the host team for the Ringette Alberta belle U19AA championship.
The five-team, 13-game tournament draw starts Friday morning.
“To be able to play in our home town is great,” said co-captain Marie-Eve Gautier. “The support we’ll have from the city with people coming out to watch our games will really help us.”
The pressure to perform in front of family and friends is not a daunting task for the Mission players.
“We’ll just have to perform like we do anywhere else,” Gautier said.
All five teams advance to nationals, March 25 to April 4 at Fort McMurray, but the winner will be designated as Team Alberta.
Siobhan Scantland, a defenceman and co-captain, is happy every team will experience nationals.
“It’s good because ringette is not a very big sport. Yes, the competition is a little watered down in some ways but you need to grow the sport and the more people that get exposed to it the better. I’ve been to nationals a couple of times and it’s so fun. It’s an awesome experience and the more girls that get to experience that the better because then more girls will want to play and right now it’s all about growing it rather than straight cut-throat competition,” Scantland said.
Last year the Mission placed third at provincials and at nationals in Regina they finished 14th out of 18 teams as the lowest of the four Alberta belles in the tournament. The Edmonton Elite were awarded silver, Team Alberta (Calgary) won bronze and Zone 5 Grit was ninth.
It was also the first season for belle AA in St. Albert.
“I played AA before and a couple of other girls had but a lot of girls had not played AA so they didn’t really know what to expect but now that we’ve been to nationals and to provincials we know what we’re up against and what to do now,” said Scantland, 19.
Every player on the Mission roster has AA national experience from last year’s belle or junior U16 championships.
“We’re stronger than last year. We’re a tighter group and we work better together than we did last year,” Gautier said.
The team’s overall record was a sparkling 22-8-1 before Monday’s exhibition against the Relit open A team. The score was unavailable at press time.
“We play really well as a team together. We’re pretty close knit this year compared to other years and we just seem to move together really well. Our passing is strong too,” said Scantland, a Paul Kane High School graduate and political science student at the French campus of the University of Alberta.
The last tournament for the 2014 Edmonton Wood champions was in Ottawa earlier in the month. The Mission knocked off the Nepean Ravens, ranked No. 2 in Ontario, 3-2 despite being outshot 44-15. The team finished 4-1 as the tournament semifinalists and 5-1 overall, including two shutouts, on the trip. Four of the five victories were against Quebec teams.
“The trip to Ottawa was very helpful. We got to play teams from the east that will be at nationals and it was a higher level of ringette too. We competed very well in Ottawa and it helped our confidence for provincials,” said Gautier, 18,
The high-scoring centre was recently honoured as the recipient of the Tony Amerongen Award, presented to the referee who exhibits dedication and commitment to officiating in the sport on and off the ice. She has been officiating for seven years and the highest levels she works are the junior A and open divisions.
“As a referee it does help me as a player, especially when it comes to seeing the ice more,” said the Ecole Secondaire Saint Marguerite d’Youville graduate and nursing student at the French campus of the University of Alberta.
ICE CHIPS: The Mission’s first game at provincials is noon Friday at Kinex Arena against Calgary, the defending champion who won the Ottawa tournament.
Visit www.ringettealberta.com or www.stalbertringette.com for the schedule and results.