A strong local contingent of talented young hockey players is competing for the U15 AAA Yellowhead Chiefs female team this season.
The regional squad includes Elkhorn’s Karlee Bird, Lenore’s Presley Hodson, Mya McAuley of McAuley. Khloe Brown from Miniota, and the Virden duo of Kenna Bryant and Casey George. The team is coached by Virden’s Tori Eilers with Elkhorn’s Kali Frederick and Kyle Cochrane of Oak Lake serving as assistant coaches. Elkhorn’s Janice Heritage is the manager.
“What has impressed me so far about this group is their ability to gel as a team so quick into the season,” Eilers said. “I feel like we selected a team that is going to build a family dynamic, making the chemistry on ice a second nature. We are not short of talent, and work ethic on this team, with a good mix of first and second-year players. I look forward to seeing the tight knit bond go to work for these girls and show the benefit of being an 18-person team, instead of three to five all-stars.”
Eilers said that Bird is “the definition of resilience.” Last season Bird did not make the team as a skater. Instead of being discouraged, when the opportunity to be one of the team’s goalies was presented “she pounced on the chance to a part of this program,” Eilers said.
“I first got to meet Little Bird as her goaltender coach last year, and in that first skate, I knew she has something special in her,” the first-year head coach said “This kid is a natural goaltender, that moves fluently and flawlessly with little effort. She's extremely athletic, and has the aggression and drive, that I could only hope half goalies have. She is one of, if not the hardest working person on the team. She puts the work in, off and on the ice week in, and week out. Her improvement from last fall, to this year is astronomical. She has become a strong, reliable, and extremely talented goaltender in less time than anyone I've ever seen.”
Bird has a 3-0-0-1 record. She has posted a 2.00 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
“‘Little Bird’ is going to be a key performer for us this year, already showing her capability to carry the team on her shoulders through tight games,” Eilers said. “I can trust this kid to shut the door in tense moments and know that she won't be scored on the same way twice. Karlee inspires me as a coach, and a person. She is the reason I fell in love with coaching, to see someone who wants it so bad, and is willing to put in the thankless hours it takes to be the best is truly an inspiration. I am so proud to be her goalie coach, and now also her head coach.”
Brown, a rookie, tried out for the team as a defenceman but was chosen to the roster as a forward.
“This was a new role for Khloe, and something foreign,” Eilers said. “To say she has naturally stepped into this position would be an understatement. Khloe is really molding into a great forward, working the puck well up the wall, and looking for breakout options. She is a smart player that sees the ice well. Her dedication to the game is unmatched. This kid lives and breathes hockey. She inspires me to be a better coach, because kids like her deserve a coach as dedicated as she is to her game.”
Through seven games, Brown has collected a goal. She is part of a line with McAuley that Eilers said, “never fails to get the bench up in big games.”
Blue liner Bryant is a newcomer to the squad. Eilers said she cracked the roster because of her “brilliant hockey mind.”
“Kenna sees the ice well and can read the play with ease,” the coach said. “It is very rare you'll see Kenna make the wrong decision defensively. She is a strong, aggressive D-man that holds the line offensively, and cleans up house in our own zone. Bryant is one of our silent leaders, that puts the work in day in and day out. She is consistent, and I can count on her to do her job for us every time she hits the ice. I am proud to see Kenna in the blue and yellow this year.”
Through seven games, Bryant has collected two assists.
George is a rookie forward. Through seven games, she has tallied an assist.
“Casey George is a selfless player, that is consistent in her positioning on the ice. She has great spacial awareness and is able recognize her position on the ice as either the high support, or a pass option on the breakout. Casey is a pleasure in the dressing room and keeps the spirits high. George is the definition of a kid that wants to be here, her commitment to this program within the first month has shown her dedication and drive. I look forward to the season with her.
Hodson has been “an absolute powerhouse on the ice for us,” Eilers said. As of Sunday, Hodson led the Chiefs with eight goals in seven games and was second with nine points. She has had this tremendous success while moving to centre from the wing.
“She has stepped into this new role with flying colours,” Eilers said. “She is physically one of our strongest players, and when she turns the jets on - not many defenders in this league can stop her. Hodson holds a key role in our offence this year, putting up at least a point almost every game. Not only is she strong offensively, she is a great support down low, winning the battles on the boards for us to break out.”
Hodson helps lead the Chiefs as an assistant captain.
“(She) is a natural born leader both on and off the ice,” Eilers said. “She never fails to lead by example, her work ethic is second to none, and our squad is blessed to have such a special person and player with us. It is a pleasure to be her coach.”
A second-year forward, McAuley is excelling as a shutdown centre.
“This kid is relentless on the forecheck, and I never have to question her drive,” Eilers said. “McAuley is a force on the ice, frequently forcing turnovers by the opposing team. She is a nitty gritty player, that really brings some strength and depth to her line.”
She is often used with Brown and Chloe Ashcroft. Eilers call it the “Hype Line” “because it never fails when those three are on the ice, they get the bench up with their efforts on the ice.”
The head coach refers to McAuley as of her most trusted forwards. She has a goal and an assist through seven games. The veteran is “a natural leader on the ice. She inspires our girls to put that second effort in, following up one of her shifts.”