North Island Midget Eagles’ Emma Mitchell and Randi Ward have been close friends since preschool.
“We’ve always been in school together, always played sports together,” said Mitchell. “We really did grow up together playing sports.”
Ward was the first of the two to pick up a hockey stick and start playing.
“I played in peanuts and then took a year off in novice,” Ward said, adding she first learned to skate through the Canskate program with Elizabeth Kines.
Ward’s family were the ones who really wanted her to give hockey a try.
“Hockey’s always been a thing in our family, and I found out early on I really liked it,” she said, adding her Uncle and Grandpa both played as well.
Mitchell also learned to skate through Kines’ Canskate program, and she started playing hockey in second year novice. “I’ve played every year since then.”
Growing up, they both played together in the house league until second year bantam.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Ward. “House league was so much fun and we made lots of friends throughout it.”
Mitchell stated the house league program “really made us a lot more confident in our skills.”
When their second year of bantam hockey came around, both girls made the decision they wanted to try out for the Bantam rep team.
“Sometimes there’s not enough kids in the house program, and we wanted more competitiveness,” Ward said.
Both girls made the Bantam rep team that year, and they really felt it was the turning point where they started to gain a lot more of the skills required for them to be competitive on the ice.
Mitchell went on to play first year midget rep for the Eagles, while Ward ended up playing AAA female hockey down island with the Vancouver Island Hurricanes, who were based out of Campbell River.
“It was a team of girls from all over the island getting to play all over BC,” said Ward, adding out of the six teams in the league, the Hurricanes ended up placing third.
Mitchell felt it was strange not getting to play alongside Ward that year. “I wasn’t the only girl on the team – our backup goalie was a girl as well so I wasn’t totally alone, but it was definitely weird without her there.”
For her second year of midget (2015-2016), Ward rejoined the Eagles and the two were reunited on the ice once again.
The Eagles went on to win the tier 3 league banner that season, which stands out for both of them as one of their proudest achievements.
“We didn’t even get to hold the banner, though!” Ward laughed as she reminisced on the ceremony where the team was actually handed the banner before a game.
This season, the Eagles played tier 2 hockey, which the girls felt was definitely a much tougher challenge than tier 3.
“We played more teams closer to our skill level in tier 2,” said Mitchell. “The level of competition was so much closer.”
Their coach this season was Chad Mackenzie, who had nothing but positive things to say about their work ethic and discipline.
“I have coached a few other girls on other rep teams,” said Mackenzie, when asked to comment. “These two in particular were great at putting the team first. They were very unselfish and their sportsmanship was excellent.”
Mackenzie added the girls “competed hard, and for the most part were just regular team members, which is a great accomplishment at the midget tier 2 level.”
When asked what they like about playing rep hockey specifically, Ward replied she just likes “being challenged by playing with the boys. It’s fun when you’re able to compete with people twice your size.”
Ward added the only time she ever got hurt was when she separated her shoulder due to a hit in the corner. “There’s been a lot of bruises, but it was worth it,” she said with a smile. “We both got so much better.”
One of the only issues they found with playing rep hockey was sometimes they wouldn’t get a dressing room.
“We had to get dressed in places like a first aid closet many times,” laughed Mitchell, who added showers were also sometimes hard to come by. “There’s been times where we didn’t get to shower and then had a five hour drive home from Victoria.”
Other than that, both girls found everyone to be really accepting of them.
“It’s nice we have each other, but everyone on the team already knew each other so it was easy to fit in,” said Ward.
Mitchell said they were already friends with their teammates due to going to school together, and the boys “definitely have been really good in making us feel welcome.”
“Every single one of them made us feel like we belonged,” said Ward.
Girls playing midget level rep hockey is apparently an odd sight for some spectators, and Mitchell and Ward haven’t played against another girl on the ice since they left the bantam rep program.
“I played in a Port Alberni tournament in first year midget and we ended up playing a team from California,” said Mitchell. “They got on the ice and asked Kenton Browne (Midget Eagles’ Captain), ‘are you allowed to talk to her?’ Because apparently when they’re on trips they’re not allowed to talk to girls, and they just thought it was the weirdest thing ever that I was playing.”
They both love seeing peoples faces when they walk into the arena and get ready to go on the ice and play.
“They’re all usually like ‘what, that’s a girl,’ laughed Ward.
On the subject of favourite moments on the ice, Ward told a great body checking story from when she was in second year bantam.
“I was just getting into body checking, and I had never really hit anyone before. Everyone kept telling me ‘you have to hit, you have to hit.’ This guy had the puck and he got rid of it, and I didn’t notice – so I hit him, and it was the biggest hit ever. His feet went up in the air and he fell over. Everyone was so proud of me.”
Ward added it was “the only penalty I ever really got.”
Mitchell’s favourite moment was when she racked up a five point game last year. “It was the game after Halloween and everyone thought we were going to lose, and we won. I got two goals and three assists, which is pretty good for me.”
The girls mentioned a few people who have consistently supported them playing hockey each and every year since they were kids.
“My grandparents are really supportive,” said Ward. “They take me to every game and have been there for everything.”
Mitchell said her father is her biggest fan. “He coached this year and has always wanted me to do the best I can at sports.”
Regarding advice they might have for girls looking to start playing hockey, Ward wants them to know they should never feel like they’re not supposed to be on the ice, “because you are supposed to be there,” she said.
“You belong on the ice just as much as the boys do,” said Mitchell.
Now that their minor hockey career is over, both girls emphatically stated they want to keep playing. “Whether it’s competitively in school or recreationally, I’ll never stop playing,” Ward said.
Mitchell agreed. “I don’t care whether it’s competitive or not, I just know I definitely want to keep playing.”