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Estevan girl leads U of R hockey team

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By Doyle Fox

For the Mercury

Although the season didn't go the way she wanted, Estevan's own Paige Wheeler enjoyed her best year statistically with the University of Regina Cougars women's hockey team.

The Cougars finished fifth in the Canada West Conference with a 9-13-1-1 record, which wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. The Cougars started the season strong with a 4-1-0-1 record that included a split with Hayley Wickenheiser's Calgary Dinos.

However, the team slumped in midseason and couldn't scrape their way back into playoff contention. Despite their rollercoaster season, the Cougars got a consistent stream of offence from Wheeler, who led the team in scoring with 10 goals and 26 points.

"The team worked really hard in practice and did all the right things, but we couldn't get the right points on the scoreboard," she said. "This season, I felt like my skill level increased and I wanted to try harder in practice and focus more and bear down this season."

Wheeler started her playing days in Estevan and played here until midget when she made the jump to the Weyburn Gold Wings of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. After graduating from high school, she joined the Cougars and noticed a change in the hockey immediately.

"It's a different hockey skill level - more competitiveness, and everything is at a higher level."

Cougars head coach Sarah Hodges recognized Wheeler's potential as soon as she started her first season with the team.

"Right from the start I knew she was a really smart hockey player. She sees the ice really well and is a good team player," Hodges said. "She makes good decisions with the puck all the time, which is a hard quality to teach, so she naturally came in and was able to contribute because of that."

Wheeler said making the adjustment to CIS hockey was made easier because she was joined by her Gold Wings linemate Rianne Wight. Hodges said the pair were counted on to carry the offensive load and was impressed with how they rose to the challenge.

"We had really good chemistry and we know where each other would be all the time and it really helped with points on the ice because we know where to pass it and we know where to go. This year we really stepped it up," Wheeler added.

Wheeler is a firm believer that practice makes perfect and she credits her success in the statistic column this season with how she conducted herself in practice.

As a third year veteran, Wheeler said she tries to set a good example for some of the younger players, but being a leader is something that she expects from all the players on the team.

"I think I could be a good leader. I think everyone has the potential to be leaders, it's just about whether or not they step up to the plate," she said. "Even if you don't have a letter on your jersey, you can still be that person who everyone looks up to and goes to for information and stuff like that."

"She is a player that everyone both respects and likes and that is important," said Hodges. "As she's gotten older, she's started to show more responsibility for the team and she is not afraid to address issues when they come up and those are the things that we call on them to do as they get older."

Wheeler said she has come a long way since she was a rookie with Cougars, both off the ice and on. She said it was difficult making the commitment to both university and hockey because she didn't know what to expect. However, she quickly learned to prioritize her time and make the necessary adjustments.

In her first year, Wheeler was enrolled in kinesiology, but she is transferring into education because she wants to be a high school teacher.

"It's hard because you are on road trips and sometimes you can't study on the bus because all your friends are there and you don't want to study, but you mature and realize that school comes before hockey and that is why you are there."

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