Ashton Bell grew up playing hockey in Deloraine. Now, at 22, Bell helped Team Canada win the gold medal in Beijing, in the final against the United States. This week when she got back to Manitoba, one of her first celebrations in Deloraine was on the ice with the Breakfast Club kids and her former coach Bob Caldwell.
Following their win, Bell and Team Canada stayed in Beijing to take in the whole Olympic experience. “We got to stay for four more days for the closing ceremonies. It was a pretty cool experience for sure.”
Bell describes the gold medal game where Canada’s earliest goal was offside and didn’t make the scoreboard. She said, “We kind of responded right away after that one.” Team Canada scored the first goal of the game. and got two more goals. As the third period opened Canada was leading 3-0.
In the third, the US scored a short-handed goal to get on the scoreboard. It was 3-1, in the closing minutes of play when the US scored again. Bell explains, “We took a penalty, and it was six on four” when the US pulled their goalie. “There was only 12 seconds left when they scored."
For the Americans, it was too little too late and Team Canada kept the lead to finish 3-2 in the gold medal game. Bell wasn’t on the ice when the buzzer ended the game, but the excitement was extreme. “I was screaming and jumping on the bench.”
Bell said Team Canada went into the Olympics with an important win at the Women's World Championship in Calgary, which set the tone for the Olympics. “I think winning World’s in August with the same group, we were very confident heading into the Olympics. There was a lot of belief in our group. We were going to win the gold medal and bring it home."
Ashton is the daughter of Tony and Teresa Bell, a hockey loving Deloraine family. Just home for a day and still a little jet-lagged, on Wednesday the family was on their way to a Brandon Wheat Kings game where Bell was honoured in a pre-game ceremony.
Reflecting on her daughter's achievement, Teresa, Ashton’s mother was quoted in Global News saying, “You just think wow … this is our daughter, from small-town Deloraine…”(Deloraine’s Ashton Bell bringing home Olympic gold)
Aspects of small-town living, including the breakfast club, have been strategic for Bell's unfolding hockey success and it's natural she'd head for Deloraine rink on arriving back home.
Bob Caldwell, originally from Hamiota, was a Deloraine school teacher and coach who has figured largely in hockey in southwest Manitoba. He has watched Ashton grow into the hockey player she is today. He said, “She started coming to Breakfast Club when she was seven years old and kept coming until she was about 16 or 17.” Each week her mum, Teresa Bell, provided the breakfast after the skates came off and before they headed to school for the day, and she still does.
Caldwell feels strongly about the opportunities that rural living has afforded Bell and all young hockey players.
“In our town, Deloraine, the Breakfast Club runs on donated ice time and the coaches donate their time. A lot of the cities have opportunities available, but it costs a lot of money. Our goal here is to provide the same opportunities… anybody who wants to come, can come. It doesn’t cost a nickel. We feed them breakfast and send them to school.
"I think in Virden, in Deloraine … just getting extra ice… doing lots of fundamentals like skating and stick handling, builds that base. As they get older, they’ve got opportunities. And then you’ve got the exceptional one like Ashton who takes all she’s been given and sacrifices to make the most of it.”
Ashton playing defense, was one of just two Manitobans on Team Canada.
“It takes a special person, the drive, mental toughness, athletic ability the skill development - well I guess that’s why it’s so rare,” says Caldwell. “There’s only 20 people on the Olympic team. We’re proud that she’s from here and did it. I think, you know, she’s an exceptional girl and then just took advantage of all the opportunities she had.”
Bell didn't waste any time in showing her former coach and the Breakfast Club skaters her medal, and she said as it turned out she got in on their final early morning skills and drills session for this season.
It's not yet clear what doors may open since her Team Canada gold medal, but for now, Ashton Bell's future plans include finishing a major in biology through the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Caldwell says that while men’s hockey affords professional play for those with the ability, there are no pro teams for women like Bell. It's something that he hopes will change.