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Sports This Week - Sask. netminder on new TO Six

When the National Women’s Hockey League gets going for a new season, recently the start of the new season was pushed to January 2021, a new team will be hitting the ice.

When the National Women’s Hockey League gets going for a new season, recently the start of the new season was pushed to January 2021, a new team will be hitting the ice.

The Toronto Six are the newest member of the pro women’s league, and when the team plays its first game there is a good chance a goaltender from Saskatchewan will guard the twine.

Samantha Ridgewell from Outlook is among those inked to deals to play with the Six in their first season, and I had a chance to chat with the netminder recently about the new team, and the NWHL.

Like many in Canada, Ridgewell started playing hockey at a young age and recalls being one “of three or four” players who initially rotated as netminders.

“I guess I was not too bad at it,” she said, and soon she was the regular puck stopper, initially on mixed teams in her early years of minor hockey, and then on a girls’ team by Bantam age, and for provincial play.

Ridgewell only got better as a netminder, good enough to head to Merrimack College in Massachusetts, where she would spend four years, the first also being the first year (2013-14) of the women’s program.

“It was a good school, good hockey,” said Ridgewell, adding a number of Canadians played on the team over her four-year run. “... It made Canadian Thanksgiving a lot better.”

Ridgewell said that is something for Canadian girls to think about as they play hockey, that there are many opportunities to play college stateside.

Once college was over Ridgewell admitted “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” but added she knew she was ready to “postpone the future life” and play some more hockey, noting “I didn’t want to grow up too fast.”

The desire to play hockey at a high level took her to a 10-team pro league in Sweden.

“It was a great year over there,” she said, adding the league was competitive and drawing up to 2000 fans for some clubs.

It didn’t hurt the team she played for was based in Stockholm.

“It was like nothing I’d experienced before. It was awesome,” she said of the city.

But, after the year overseas Ridgewell said the opportunity to sign with the new Toronto franchise came along, and she jumped at it, seeing it as a chance to play in her native land, something she has not done in several years.

So of course the question of the team name came up, the Six being, if nothing else unique. But, does Ridgewell like it?

“I do actually,” she said, although added initially it was not an immediate sort of thing. However, some research into its significance and the name Six grew on her.

Ridgewell noted six municipalities made up Metropolitan Toronto prior to 1998, and Drake made the Six famous as the title of his fourth studio album. According to Drake himself in a 2016 Tonight Show interview, it’s a nickname for Toronto inspired by both the local phone area codes 416 and 647.

In terms of hockey of course there are six players on the ice, and Toronto is the sixth team in the NWHL: First came the Founding Four; Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, Metropolitan Riveters and Connecticut Whale, and then the Minnesota Whitecaps joined to make five.

The Six might be the first NWHL team in Canada, but Ridgewell thinks more can follow.

“I think it’s good starting with one team (in Canada), especially with what’s happening this year with COVID,” she said, then added “the league could expand further.”

That is all good news for the women’s game.

“I think it’s huge,” said Ridgewell, adding it provides girls with a goal as players. She said like boys girl players dream of going pro one day, and the NWHL and the TO Six make that dream more reasonable to achieve.

“It’s a huge step for women’s hockey,” she noted.

But amid all the hockey already on television, NHL, college, AHL, Junior, why would someone give the Six a look in January?

“I think if you know the game you will know the men’s and women’s games are very different,” said Ridgewell.

The gals aren’t allowed to check like men are, “so the female game is very skilled,” she said. “... You can’t take the body as openly as you can in the men’s game. You have to use different skills to stop players without being too physical.”

The word might be there is greater finesse to the game.

“It’s a lot better hockey than people might think,” said Ridgewell.