The U13 Western Prairie Thunder’s perfect 20-0-0 record this year in Sask FHL league play was a nice feat, but the real story is how they have been able to keep it going.
They had a small slip up in provincials before making their run for the banner, and then they haven’t lost in league since. Other competition for the team honestly doesn’t need a win/loss designation beside it, because of the girls tendency to play up in skill and get invited to higher calibre tournaments throughout the year, that included a game versus a Saskatoon team and several games against boy’s teams.
Assistant Coach Amber Rennie has enjoyed every minute of coaching the girl’s team that sees players from Kindersley, Kerrobert, Dodsland, Eatonia, Eston, and Leader.
“It’s hard to be in the provincial final, or the league final; but for a team to be able to be playing for both, and excelling? It’s pretty crazy, and a once in a lifetime opportunity that not many people get to do. It’s pretty awesome for the girls.”
Rennie believes the team has gone this far thanks to their amazing depth, evidenced by six different goal scorers in last Sunday’s big provincial finals win. They aren’t a team that relied on just a few players to score this season, rather running rampant with a very dependent group of skaters.
“With our team it’s hard to single out just a few girls. We have so many that have stepped up and scored the goals when we need it. We aren’t just relying on two or three forwards to be our goal scorers,” said Rennie, “That’s the kind of depth we have on this team. It really makes it easy when you are looking for a goal, and you can rely on all three lines and not just a couple of top players.”
Aided by the success seen this year, Western Prairie Female Hockey was awarded a AA team.
“We got the bid for the Western Prairie Thunder AA team next year, so we will be competing against some of the bigger cities,” said Rennie, “Which will only continue to grow girls U13 hockey in west central. We are pretty excited about that getting going here.”
Again their performance this year proved their ability to step up in league, and a big reason for that has to be the excellent coaching staff that carries a ton of games played in their past. Rennie is in her first full season as a coach after she played four years of NCAA Women’s Hockey at Robert Morris University, while the other coaches are now experienced parent volunteers in Blaine Hilbig, John Calkins, and Tyson Wuttunee.
Everyone watching the team this year can see their dominance, but according to Rennie, the team is as humble as can be despite their amazing run.
“I don’t even think they recognize how dominating they actually are. Just their work ethic, and want to get better in practice. I think that comes from the coaching staff as well, and the other coaches that I worked with did a great job on keeping the girls focused and determined.”
Sure they won a few hockey games, but still wanting to get better and moving their game to the next level is something that really helps the U13 team keep their compete level up throughout the season. This age is where the competitiveness really begins to come out in young athletes, and the coaching staff is doing everything they can keep the girls fired up, but also having fun.
A fake champagne celebration was already mentioned after their provincial win, and then Rennie had a smile in mentioning how the girls very much enjoyed leaving school early, and sleeping in the next day after a long trek to Lafleche to play Game 1 of the league finals back on Tuesday.
“They were pretty excited to get out of school, and then we only got back a little after 1 am so a few of the girls got to sleep in. It’s always fun when you get to miss school to play hockey.”
The current series against the Wood River Ice Cats sees the Thunder lacing up against their provincial final counterparts once again. The coaches want their players to treat each game like it’s the most important one, and they try not to focus too much on the situation at hand. It’s been a fun experience for Rennie.
“This being my first year coaching, because we only got four games in last year, being able to step into this role with the other coaching helping me out and showing me the way, it has really helped me as well as the girls with all of the experience on this team. That’s what you always like to see.”
Her view as a coach is a little different thanks to not being a parent volunteer, but it no doubt brings a very interesting angle into the story as this level of girl’s only hockey in the area never even existed as Rennie was growing up. The area has always produced some top end female talent that includes Rennie, and her former Robert Morris teammate Jaycee Gebhard, along with many other alumni with the West Central Wheat Kings program. Some options existed in the area, but Rennie either found herself playing with the boys, or in Saskatoon.
“Back then we all played in the boys league for the most part, and then we would put together a team from Dodsland for a provincial run a couple years in a row. We won a couple of times, but for league play it was always with the boys,” recalled Rennie, who is now in deep with the Western Prairie program and likely eager to see how far it goes, “West central has always had a pretty strong area for female hockey, and it’s only continuing to grow.”
The incoming AA team, community donations, and nice gestures like G-Mac’s buying the team supper on the way home the other night are all things that will help keep the program not only afloat; but growing. Some 700 fans at the game last weekend to watch the girls win provincials isn’t bad either.
Rennie is hoping for a similar crowd for tomorrow’s game beginning at 4 pm. The extra fanfare helped get the girls going last Sunday, and you can view full information for the weekend through the poster below: