Prince George team sends seven players to U18 provincial team tryouts in Port Moody
In all his years as head coach of the Capitales du Nord, Mario Desjardins has never seen one of his players play on the provincial women’s under-18 hockey team.
For some reason, this has never happened in the history of the team, which dates back to 2009 when the BC Midget Triple-A Women’s Hockey League was formed.
Perhaps the most glaring omission occurred in 2015, when Prince George hosted the Canada Winter Games. That year, the Prince George team, then known as the Cougars, was the best triple A team in the province. Backed by goaltender Kelsey Roberts, they dominated the league with a 25-3-2 record and made it through the playoffs for their first straight league championship and a Mac’s tournament title the following season. But when the Canada Games tournament began, not a single Cougar was on the team, it was made up almost exclusively of players from private hockey academies.
Roberts, a native of Kitimat, graduated from the midget ranks and went to the University of Calgary, where she was named Canada West 2020 Player of the Year in her fourth season with the Dinos and went on to continued to play for Team Canada. Roberts and Cougar forwards Hunter Mosher and Sage Desjardins both won scholarships from CIS in 2015, but neither made the final selection for Team BC.
This time around, with seven Capitals players invited to the provincial team’s try-out camp scheduled for this weekend in Port Moody, there’s a good chance the shutout streak will come to an end. The seven Capitals who will be on this trip are just too talented not to be seriously considered by the coaches of Team BC.
This group of seven includes forwards Hailey Armstrong of Dawson Creek, Avery Bautista of Quesnel, Brooklyn Hutchings and Nancy Moore of Prince George; and defenseman Kasey Ditner of Baldonnel (near Fort St. John), Ella Boon of Vanderhoof and Keagan Goulet of Fort St. John. All are back in the Capitals except Bautista and Ditner, 16, who played last year at the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
“All of these girls going to the U-18s certainly deserve it and I really believe they have a great opportunity to break into this lineup and represent the North,” said Mario Desjardins, about to start his seventh season as Cougars / Capitals head coach.
Thirty-one players attended the Capitals’ squad tryouts over the weekend at Kin 2 and all three scrums – in front of an audience of mostly friends and family for the first time as well year – they wowed the crowd with a display of top-level skills that supported their coach’s claim that they will be one of the teams to watch this year in the six-team league.
“It’s exciting to see this group, for sure,” said Desjardins. “The caliber of hockey that we see is incredible considering that there was no game last year. There are young talents who are going to fill a few available places and they will integrate well with our systems and the quality of the players that we have there.
For the first time since 2013, the Capitals will have four forwards this season. They will also have six players on defense, all capable of leading offensive rushes.
“We have a solid six, probably the best defensive body we’ve ever had on the team,” said Desjardins, who has former Capital forward Jordan Shanks returning for a second season as an assistant. “Really, our attack starts from the back. Hopefully our offense spreads, but we’re really relying on players like Hailey Armstrong, Avery Bautista, and Brooklyn Hutchings to really take on a lot of that workload. We also need to make sure we balance our four lines so that everyone continues to play. “
Houston’s Karsyn Niven and Tumbler Ridge’s Sierra Eagles, both in their final U-18 seasons, are the Caps goaltenders.
Armstrong joined the Caps at 14 and is entering his third season.
“I’m pretty excited, we’ve got a solid defensive lineup, good goalies and interesting forwards and I think we’ll be pretty good by the end of the year,” Armstrong said. “I think we’ll be pretty much like last year’s squad, we have a lot of new girls with good potential that have been here and I think we’re all going to bond really well and form a good team. “
The Northern Capitals will be in Calgary for the Firestarter tournament, September 16-19. The 650-player event is heavily spotted by U Sports and NCAA teams. The Caps will play in the open league September 25-26 at Kin 1 against the Vancouver Comets. The league has moved to two-game weekends compared to its old three-game sets, which means more travel but fewer breaks in the schedule.
They only played 11 games last year before the season was canceled in November due to the pandemic and at the time they looked like contenders for the provincial championship. Coach Desjardins believes they will be there again when the league’s 32-game schedule ends in February.
“I hope we reach the top at the right time,” said Desjardins. “Even last year, a COVID year, we stuck with our game plan all year, like we would with a normal season, and we hit a peak at the end of the year, like we we were heading for the playoffs.
“We’ve had strong teams in the past, and last year was a strong team, but this year we’ve got a lot of depth.”