CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Hockey players are regular folk. They get older, move through different levels and like us take a few memories with them.
That’s the skinny for five players graduating this year from the Sweetheart female hockey tournament, hosted by the North River Minor Hockey Association.
And for some, like Makayla Larsen of Clyde River, the best Sweetheart recollections are on and off-ice.
“The hospitality rooms. I remember I made a grilled cheese (sandwich) in Crapaud,” said Larson, a left-winger with the Mid-Isle Wildcats AAA squad. “(The Sweetheart) is cool because you get to play different teams. Our league only has four so it’s a different variety.”
Larsen joins Bianna O’Conner of Cornwall, Sydney Wheatley of Warren Grove, Tait Tierney of Meadowbank and Hannah Sentner of New Dominion, all 17, at the annual graduating ceremony held by tourney organizers.
Four of the five started at the Sweetheart nine years ago in the atom division. O’Connor started two years later.
This year’s Sweetheart runs Thursday through Sunday. Games are spread out in rinks in Crapaud, Borden-Carleton, Pownal, North Rustico, Bedeque, Cornwall and Simmons and Cody Banks arenas in Charlottetown. Ninety-three teams from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. vie for titles in nine divisions from novice to midget AAA.
For Wheatley, a fan of the opening ceremonies, playing on home ice often against teams she’s never faced is a huge part of the allure.
“Yeah, I get a little nervous. As tournament host you want win. The crowds push you to play better,” said Wheatley, a centre with North River midget A Team Two. “You’re playing against teams you’ve never played before so you have to look for (their) weaknesses (quickly).”
Tierney, a right-winger and teammate of Larson, agrees with Wheatley that players must make adjustments on the fly particularly against strong off-Island entries.
“Sometimes you can sneak a peek at during warmup and get a good glimpse of what they have, how they’re passing, and you know they’re going to be good. So you have to step up,” Tierney said.
Stepping up and improving is a portion of any tournament and the Sweetheart is no different.
That’s the story for O’Connor, a forward with North River midget A Team One. Starting two years behind the others gave her steep learning curve, but she said it’s an angle made less abrupt by the Sweetheart and other tourneys.
“I think when I started I wasn’t as good as everyone else. At first I was little overwhelmed, but I adjusted and got better over the years” said O’Connor, who’s also played goalie and defence. “This is my last Sweetheart tournament and I want to remember it as best as I can.”
Sentner is an old hand at the Sweetheart. She’s helped out at the event even before she played in it thanks to her father Kevin, a long-time volunteer and one of three tournament co-chairs this year.
And she’s proud of what the weekend does for female hockey.
“The Sweetheart tournament brings teams together (in) kind of a community. It puts girls hockey more out there. It’s not always about boys hockey,” she said.
The other co-chairs are Caley McDonald and Trevor Lank.