Hockey’s field of dreams
Have you heard the joke about the successful farmer? They said he was out standing in his field.
Okay, okay, have you heard the one about all the successful North Shore hockey players? They, too, are outstanding in their field.
That’s no joke. You see, they aren’t ice hockey players. They play field hockey.
Since 2005, over 70 North Shore girls – and up to 100 if you go back to 1996 – have graduated from high school and gone on to play university field hockey at CIS schools across Canada and in the NCAA throughout the U.S. Those are astounding numbers. No other sport can come close to those totals.
Most have received full-ride or partial scholarships or some other form of financial aid. A significant number have taken on the role of team captain, achieved accolades ranging from rookie-of-the-year to conference all-star to All-Canadian or All-American, and won national championships.
Official B.C. high school championships began in 1964 but no North Shore team won either a AAA or AA title until 1997 when Collingwood won their first of three consecutive AA crowns.
However, in the last four years North Shore schools have taken a stranglehold on every meaningful tournament in site during the fall season. That includes the season-opening UBC Invitational, Victoria’s historic Bridgman Cup and the B.C. championships where West Van and Carson Graham in AAA and Collingwood in AA have combined for five titles and those schools plus Handsworth, Argyle and Sentinel also have three seconds, one third and 11 other finishes from fourth to seventh.
Then from March to June, many of the same girls play for teams in the West Van Field Hockey Club which provides some very high-profile competition.
Oddly enough though, for many the critical time of the whole year is right now. Two reasons. First, it’s when Grade 12 field hockey players receive official scholarship offers from NCAA schools and must return signed commitments. (Canadian universities have a less-structured time frame.)
Secondly, it’s the week of the mammoth 5th annual ESPN Wide World of Sports Field Hockey Showcase near Orlando. Each year the WVFHC’s Adanacs program has taken three teams there (in addition to teams to the U.S. National Festival in Florida or California each November since 2004).
This week one Under-18 and two Under-16 teams comprising 44 girls in Grades 8-11 (along with an entourage of six coaches and about 25 parents) are part of the 144 teams playing from Feb. 8 to 13 on 13 fields surrounding Champion Stadium, the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.
This is where the girls get to be seen by as many as 100 coaches and scouts from U.S. colleges. (Canadian universities do their scouting at B.C. high school championships and provincial select-team tournaments.)
Next winter, some of this year’s Grade 11s will have the tough task of deciding where to play university field hockey in the fall of 2012. Do they want to explore the big world out there, leave home and go east or south? Or should they play close to home where everything is more familiar? What’s the quality of the education they’ll get? How much will school cost beyond any scholarship money? What does it cost to fly home at Christmas? Do they want to play for five years (the Canadian system) or four (in the U.S.)? The options for those good enough are wide-ranging. But there are so many variables, so many decisions.
Kristen took her stick east
Kristen Shier went east and loved every minute of it.
She and Handsworth teammate Sam Smith (who played five years at UBC where she was co-captain her last season) had wanted to go somewhere together to play but it didn’t work out
“I looked at the rankings the year I graduated from high school,” recalls Kri over the phone from Toronto, “and the University of Toronto was the best field hockey school in the east. I also looked at it academically and it stands up pretty well. So it was a good choice. It was definitely an adventure going by myself.
“The coaching staff, I would say, is the best in Canada, hands down... absolutely.
“Our group of girls was such a tight-knit group coming in in my first year and I left that way [graduating in 2010 in Urban Studies] just feeling like the girls were my family. I was never homesick, never really felt separated from Vancouver. It never bothered me.”
By going east when there were no others from here playing field hockey at U of T, Kri found herself an accidental recruiter. “A lot of times parents are not secure about their kids going all the way across the country. So knowing there was another girl there helped.”
Then, as one of the captains, she soon found herself actively recruiting. This school year, when the Blues were Canadian champs, there were 10 girls from B.C., eight of them from the North Shore.
“Once we can get someone [to Toronto] on a recruiting trip,” she declares confidently, “they’ll definitely come to the school.”
She’s now taking a one-year, postgraduate course in sport and event marketing at George Brown College in Toronto.
Emily went south of the border
Emily Kozniuk experienced a whole different level of athletics going from Argyle to Boston College in 2007.
“I had offers from quite a few schools,” Emily explains on the phone from Boston. “I took three official visits and had offers from numerous other schools but decided on Boston College because their business program was ranked one of the top in the country and that’s what I wanted to go into. The combination of field hockey and the business school really drew me here.”
“The best thing about Boston College?” she ponders, repeating my question. “I don’t want to say the importance of athletics, but how strongly and seriously it’s taken. It’s very different from back home.
“It was an eye-opener when I came down here to see how big football is, for instance. The entire campus shuts down the day before a game and then the tailgating is just out of control. And everybody knows everything about all of the athletes. It’s a totally different world.
“The best thing about the field hockey is my team. I’ve met so many people from around the world. My teammates are from Argentina, New Zealand, England, Germany and I had the opportunity to play with some very talented girls. So that’s one thing I’ll leave Boston College with is the great people.”
Emily graduates in May.
Kristyn found a home at home
Kristyn Harrington went to West Van, the school both her parents attended, and had interest from post-secondary schools in the U.S. and Victoria, but opted for UBC.
“I think part of it (choosing UBC),” she notes now, “was talking to those who had played with me or who coached me, getting their vibes on how much they had enjoyed it there.
“I felt I would mesh better with that team and coaching staff, not to mention they had a great reputation in terms of national titles.”
In fact UBC won the McCrae Cup – emblematic of the CIS championship – for the 11th and 12th times while she was there, overtaking the 11 that UVic and now Toronto has won.
“The best thing was getting to know the girls as well as you do. Coming to university, you instantly have 15 friends.
“Being in a city that I was somewhat familiar with, that was kind of nice. I was very comfortable. There were a lot of great people in the Human Kinetics program I was in. It was really kind of tight-knit and the right program for me. So I really enjoyed what I was learning and the people around me.”
Kristyn plans to be back at UBC in September to take the physiotherapy program.
So there you have it.
Kri, Emily and Kristyn also revealed they made their decisions on which institution to attend while taking official campus recruiting trips. In some cases it was the negative experiences that had them looking elsewhere.
But each obviously made the right decision, for them, and came away with a solid university education, a playing experience that was second to none and friends for life.
What more can you ask for from a field of dreams?
Next week: They run swiftly and carry a big stick: the 100 North Shore girls who have been playing university field hockey in Canada and the U.S. in the past dozen years.
This is episode 409 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories - the great events and the quirky - that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.