OUTLOOK - A sizable turnout of guests packed the Outlook Civic Centre on Saturday, January 27 and helped ensure the success of the banquet & casino night fundraiser being hosted by the Mainline Ice Hawks team.
Add in a trio of gold medal-winning athletes with messages of empowerment and moving society toward acceptance of females playing all manner of sports, and for many in the room, it may have turned a fun and intimate evening into an unforgettable one.
With a night that included a live auction and games from Blue Chip Casino Rentals, those gathered enjoyed a roast beef supper before hearing from the three welcomed guests, consisting of retired speed skating legend and two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Catriona Le May Doan; retired hockey player (goaltender) and Olympic gold medal winner, Sami Jo Small; and retired hockey player (defense) and three-time Olympic gold medal winner, Colleen Sostorics.
It wasn't just inside the Civic Centre where the decorated athletes made a difference, as Sostorics joined the Mainline Ice Hawks for a practice that afternoon on the outdoor rink behind the Rec Plex.
"I had a great time out there on the ice with them," Colleen told the crowd. "In a small town, the heartbeat is whatever's going down at the rink. This is what it's about!"
Sostorics' journey into the sport began in the early 1980's, asking if she could join a local team in her hometown of Kennedy, SK and defying the expectations of girls at the time. If she had to fight some naysayers in order to join the team and contribute, well, then that's what she did.
The journey that started for Colleen in 1984 before the age of five saw her wind up being named the captain of the boys team at the bantam level in 1996. During that time, Sostorics played for Team Saskatchewan at the 1995 Canada Winter Games, and also played in the National Under-18 Championship in 1998. In 2002, she was named to Canada's team for the 2002 Winter Olympics, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she contributed two assists as Canada took the gold medal. Repeat appearances at the 2006 Olympics in Turin and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver saw her team win another two gold medals. Sostorics retired from playing the sport in September 2010.
The tenacity and attitude that Colleen had when she was starting out in hockey was something that she felt she needed back then, and she feels that things have advanced so far in female sports that there are no limits for anyone today.
"In 1984, that's what I needed to do to solidify my beginning," she said. "Today, we're giving little girls more dreams and more chances, and I think that's wonderful."
Sami, whose hometown is Winnipeg, started her foray into professional hockey at a young age, as she played for Team Manitoba at the 1991 Canada Winter Games when she was just 14 years old. A few years later at Stanford University, she then played on the Cardinal men's club hockey team. It was in 2002 at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City where Jo Small won a gold medal as part of Team Canada. In recent years, Sami has published an autobiography, 'The Role I Played: Canada’s Greatest Olympic Hockey Team', which was released in September 2020, and in February 2021, she started broadcasting 'Sami Jo’s Podcast: Building a Stronger Team'. Sami retired from playing hockey in 2018.
In talking about starting that journey into the sport where the future may be a mystery, Small told the crowd that everyone on a team plays a part.
"It didn't matter what role you played; we can ALL make a difference!" she said.
Sami commended those responsible for creating the new female hockey league, noting the advancement of girls on the ice.
"We're here celebrating the inaugural season of these girls," she said. "It's always great to see communities celebrate women's sports and show that it means just as much as anyone else."
Coming from a background where girls didn't play hockey, Sami says that her parents' blind ignorance toward sports in general accidentally worked for her, and it was the smile on her face that pushed her parents into pledging their support for her in whatever she wanted to do on the ice.
"They're the real heroes of this story," she said. "I remember my mom just looked at me and said, 'As long as you love it, your dad and I will support you no matter what!'"
Speaking on the distance that females have reached in all sports, Le May Doan shared a quote from legendary martial artist and actor, the late Bruce Lee, that set the tone for the message being sent out at this event on that night.
"If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."
Catriona, from Saskatoon, has amassed an incredible career in speed skating that has helped make her a household name for many across the country. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she was the 500m gold medal winner, a feat that she actually repeated four years later at the 2002 event in Salt Lake City, becoming the first Canadian to defend their gold medal at the Olympics. This feat gave rise to Le May Doan being called "the fastest woman on ice".
Catriona was excited to be present and celebrating the female Ice Hawks team.
"To be back in my home province and to be part of celebrating sport - this is what we're excited about," she said. "I know this is the first year and the first big event, but this is also just the beginning."
Le May Doan told the players that the events of that night were really just the start of their journey, highlighting that there's an empty road in front of them and it'll be up to them to ensure that they all come through that journey healthy and positive, no matter the highs and lows along the way.
"It's interesting when you talk about where people begin and where they end because for all the players who started on this team - this is not just building hockey players and not just building community; we're building our next generation of leaders," she said. "That's what I want to make sure that they all remember as we celebrate this evening. We know what sport gives us; we know the values about sport. But these young women will go on to be our next generation of leaders. It's not just celebrating the successes that people have in their careers, it's also celebrating how you can give back to the community."
Catriona noted that while the story of the female Ice Hawks is in the beginning stages, there were things that she hoped players would remember along the way, one of them being the events of this night.
"When we look at this team and we look at this league and we look at this season, this is just the start," she said. "It's exciting because while we're in a wonderful place, look at where we're going to get to in the future. This is the beginning of an incredible journey and that's what we need to celebrate; the journey that this is going to take us on. It's an honour, but all three of us can tell you that it's also a responsibility when you put on that jersey, and that's what we're here to celebrate tonight."
The Mainline Ice Hawks are in the midst of their first season out on the ice, having been created after the formation of the Saskatchewan Junior Female Hockey League last year. Coached by GM/head coach Josh Houseman, assistant coach Nikki Stewart, and trained by Catherine Trew, the Mainline Ice Hawks are comprised of Kallie Colwell, Larissa Bohlken, Jayda Braun, Morgan Snell, Nicole Hackl, Jenna Dueck, Jaden Woulfe, Chloe Babiy, McKenna Nameth, Mary McKay, Sydney Wood, Ali Orvold, Chloe Coates, Keeley Martens, Hailey Spence, Meikka Ehlert, Tyrell Schroeder, Brooklynne Francon, Teanna Crossman, Jazlyn Irving, Sydney Martin, Taylor Enns, and Keegan Tipewan.
The team plays host to the Regina Junior Rebels this coming Sunday, February 4 at the Jim Kook Rec Plex with a game time of 3:00 pm.