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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

Women’s hockey league holds tryouts for inaugural season

By Justin Prince

A new women’s hockey league has come to Windsor to recruit players for its inaugural season.

More than 10 female hockey players from across Michigan and Ontario participated in the final training camp of the National Women’s Hockey League’s Canada Tour July 9 with more than 30 local hockey fans in attendance to watch the festivities at the WFCU Centre’s AM800 Community Rink.

The tryouts, led by Windsor Jr. Spitfires Minor Midget head coach Doug Pickersgill and Windsor Minor Hockey Association board member and director of coaching Barrie MacDonald, were held to find talent for the league’s four teams – the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, New York Riveters and the Connecticut Whale – to fill its 72 roster spots. Players also had the chance to be invited to the league’s international camp in Boston, taking place July 23-27.

“You know, women peak athletically when they’re 27 years old and a lot careers end when they’re done with college at 21 or 22 years old, so there’s all those missed opportunities to the game that we all grew up loving," said NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan. "Just getting to continue their playing careers at the highest level is such an awesome opportunity.”

The league previously held camps in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, assessing 50 players combined, before coming to the city and also held similar tryouts in the U.S. which attracted hundreds of players in May, as well as its first rookie draft in June. The NWHL was founded in April and will be the first professional women’s hockey league to pay its players and has already signed players such as two-time silver medalist and goalie Brianne McLaughlin and Boston University’s Kaleigh Fratkin, who played for Team Canada at the 2015 Nations Cup.

Rylan, who played NCAA Division I hockey for the Northeastern University Huskies, said the league held the camps because they wanted to “give an equal opportunity” to everyone and to find the best players possible. She thought Windsor’s workouts had the best skill per player out of the four tryouts. The decision to come to the city goes back to her past.

“I actually went to a hockey camp in Windsor when I was younger and it really stood out as a hockey market for me,” said Rylan. “We can also tap into Michigan and it rounded off the tour nicely.”

The camp attracted players from both the U.S. and Canada. Players came from as far as Plainville, Conn. to compete in the tryouts. Some of the players involved included goaltender Kassandra Paone and forward Candice Chevalier, who both played for the University of Windsor Lancers. Overall, four players born in Windsor-Essex County competed in the tryouts.

One of those players was 25-year-old Lauren Fontaine, who first started playing hockey when she was four years old. She said her goal was to make it to the NHL, Olympics or play Division I hockey. Since finishing her collegiate career at Sacred Heart University, she has been playing in recreational leagues and pick-up hockey games while working as a certified nurse in Detroit. She found out about the NWHL’s camps through a Facebook message from her cousin and immediately signed up.

“A lot of girls had a lot of talent out there and I was a little discouraged by how young some of them were.” said Fontaine. “I feel a little bit out of my prime, but it was a good skate.”

She said a lot of her success in hockey is because of her family. Like many other hockey families, her family used to take her to practices at 6 a.m. and to games in Ottawa and other cities. Her father, Michael Fontaine, followed his daughter’s team wherever they went during the first two years of her collegiate career. He used to brag to his coworkers about her play.

“It’s always the parents that have to get them out of their room when they’re little. Before you know it, they’re driving on their own and you still want to watch them skate and see what’s going on,” said Michael. “Every time you went in the arena, it’s always exciting watching your children. Their parents are their biggest fans, and of course if she scored, I yelled out something.”

Lauren said though that she may have a tough call if she gets an offer. Although she loves the game of hockey, she also has a good career going on as a nurse. But, that doesn’t mean she won’t try to make it work.

For those who wanted to further their careers in hockey, there is still time. The free agency signing deadline is Aug. 17. Puck drops on the inaugural NWHL season on Oct. 17.

Note: This story has had edits since original publication.

UPDATE: Since the completion of this story, local hockey players Lauren Fontaine and Candace Chevalier have been invited to the league's international training camp in Boston on July 23-27. Other players invited from this camp included Petrolia, Ont.’s Kendra Broad and Birmingham, Mich. native Madison Packer.

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