Former St. Albert Ringette Association players are making their mark on the world’s top league.
Two months into National Ringette League (NRL) play, Kate Henderson, Lauren Henderson, Vail Ketsa, and RJ Smith of the Edmonton WAM! have been stacking up wins while achieving individual milestones.
The NRL, which had its inaugural season in 2004, features 13 elite teams from across the country and is widely regarded as the sport's highest level of competition. Currently, WAM! sits in second place with a 5-1 record, trailing only the Montreal Mission.
As is the case for hockey and a wide range of other winter sports, St. Albert has a history of churning out top-tier prospects from it’s youth ringette system, and some of those alumnae are now among the game’s most promising athletes.
Twin bond offers synergy on ice
With over two decades of experience as teammates, twin sisters Lauren and Kate Henderson maintain a close relationship on and off the ice, sharing a unique understanding and chemistry that has allowed the pair to become a key factor in WAM’s early success.
“Being my twin sister and best friend, we have a lot of chemistry that translates on the ice,” said Kate, who has two goals and eight assists this season. “On the ice, I feel as though we both always know where the other is and where they are going to be, which really helps with setting up offensive plays. We know each other’s tendencies, so we can anticipate what one is going to do and react accordingly.”
Throughout their childhood in the St. Albert Ringette Association, as linemates representing Team Alberta at the Canada Winter Games in 2015, and now in the NRL, the two have been by each others side at every juncture of their athletic development.
“Ringette has always been a huge part of our lives, and it has been the source of many amazing memories that we will always share,” added Lauren, lauding the ethic and capability of the entire roster. “Our team has great depth, and everyone has been contributing with one unified goal: a national championship.”
Ketsa re-focuses after world championships
Vail Ketsa, a St. Albert native who represented Alberta at the 2019 Winter Games and Canada at the 2022 World Ringette Championships, is another testament to the strength of the city’s ringette culture.
“I played 11 years in the St. Albert Ringette Association; they were some of the best years of my life and made me the player I am today,” said Ketsa.
She cites the Hendersons as an inspiration for her decision to pursue her career at the next level. “When I was in U14, I remember watching players like Lauren and Kate and being amazed at how easy they made the game look. We definitely looked up to the older girls in our program as role models and wanted to shape our game to be like them.”
Having returned from Finland after lacing up in red and white, Ketsa looks to make her third year on WAM! a golden one.
“Coming into the season, I had a big focus on WAM! as well as competing with Junior Team Canada at the World Championships. Balancing both was challenging, but living out that dream was an unbelievable experience. Now that my focus can be completely dedicated to WAM!, I am personally working on getting myself mentally and physically ready to be the best for my teammates these next couple months as we prepare for Nationals in April.”
Rookie Smith gains valuable experience
RJ Smith, a WAM! first-year player, set her sights on a roster spot because of the mentorship she enjoyed during her decade of minor ringette play in St. Albert.
“WAM! became the goal when my old goalie coach (Anj Grewal-Grant) started to play for the team,” reflected Smith. “She was always a role model to me, and watching her play at that level was so exciting to see as a younger player.”
“I really wanted to just get on the ice and play some games,” said Smith.
She said the team’s camaraderie and resilience has been crucial in getting accustomed to the competitive environment. “I think that our team has an incredibly tough mental game that allows for great communication amongst teammates on and off the ice. Even when we’re down in a game, the energy on the bench is still up, and no one ever gives up.”
The WAM! have back-to-back games on Jan. 21 versus the Manitoba Herd and the BC Thunder, before facing off against their hometown rival Edmonton Black Gold Rush on Jan. 22.
The complete WAM! Schedule, along with league standings and player statistics, can be found on the NRL’s website.