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Wild Time: Valley girls Atom A team has shot at Vancouver trip

The Valley Wild Atom As are back, from left: Head coach Kevin Bennett, Emily Reid, Tessa Hattie, Ella Marshall, Anna Henneberg, Emily Hart, Emma Greenslade, Brooke Alcoe, coach Ilse Van Oostrum, and coach Todd McDonald. Centre, from left: Rylee Bennett, Raina Saunders, Nevaeh McDonald, Josephine Hoegg-Chapman, Isabelle Brittain, Renae Barteaux and Tenaya Sparks.  Front: Skye McDonald.
The Valley Wild Atom As are back, from left: Head coach Kevin Bennett, Emily Reid, Tessa Hattie, Ella Marshall, Anna Henneberg, Emily Hart, Emma Greenslade, Brooke Alcoe, coach Ilse Van Oostrum, and coach Todd McDonald. Centre, from left: Rylee Bennett, Raina Saunders, Nevaeh McDonald, Josephine Hoegg-Chapman, Isabelle Brittain, Renae Barteaux and Tenaya Sparks. Front: Skye McDonald.

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY - If Disney ever wants a movie script, Kevin Bennett could probably write one that might just rival the Mighty Ducks.

While he had coached hockey for almost a decade, he’d never coached girls.

“I was approached and agreed that this year I would enter into the female hockey side of coaching,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect in September when things got started. All I knew was I was prepared and excited for a new opportunity.”

But that opportunity almost evaporated when the Valley Wild Atom ‘A’ franchise didn’t even have enough talent to form a squad.

“In September we didn’t even have enough for a team,” Bennett recalls. “We had eight girls and required 10 to at least ice a team. Of the girls we had we had girls new to hockey, girls two years younger than the level they were being asked to play.

“I had no expectations and no idea what to expect.”

While he had coached hockey for almost a decade, he’d never coached girls.

“I was approached and agreed that this year I would enter into the female hockey side of coaching,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect in September when things got started. All I knew was I was prepared and excited for a new opportunity.”

But that opportunity almost evaporated when the Valley Wild Atom ‘A’ franchise didn’t even have enough talent to form a squad.

“In September we didn’t even have enough for a team,” Bennett recalls. “We had eight girls and required 10 to at least ice a team. Of the girls we had we had girls new to hockey, girls two years younger than the level they were being asked to play.

“I had no expectations and no idea what to expect.”

But he remembers the first time they entered the dressing room as a group in late September.

“To get there we did a lot of recruiting, begging, and selling girls hockey to many families to just get the 13 we ended up with,” he said.

“When we got together as a group you could see a unique relationship right away with the girls, some very young, some new to hockey but you just noticed right away that all of them were there for each other. All of them were there to have fun and do their best. For the girls that were stronger, they focused on helping out and encouraging the others.”

Megan Saunders, a team manager along with Nichole Hart, gets to spend a lot of time with the girls – in the dressing room more than on the ice.

“With this team we didn't need to spend much time on team building because they gelled right away,” Saunders said. “They are an energetic and loud bunch of girls as a whole. They are so kind to one another on and off the ice - they celebrate so loudly when their teammates score - even more than when they score their own goals.”

Along with coaches Ilse Van Oostrum and Todd McDonald, Bennett and the girls were embarking on a season none of them will soon forget.

Ella Marshall, left, Raina Saunders, centre, and Renae Barteaux are three of the Annapolis County members of the Valley Wild Atom A team. Missing: Isabelle Brittain.

Tremendous Focus

The Valley Wild Atom ‘A’ squad had all the right qualities to prove that teamwork is key – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The young crew that was cobbled together in the fall, started to amaze all involved.

“They didn’t stop there,” said Bennett in reference to the initial bonding that set the tone for the team. “With tremendous focus, determination and a work ethic many would admire, they went through their regular season without losing a single game in league play -- 27-0-5. For a team that might never have happened it’s a testament to their will.”

The girls hardly had a chance to dull their skates before they were involved in what would be remembered as a defining moment for the girls as a powerhouse on and off the ice. They entered a national competition that could land them in Vancouver in a few short weeks.

“These girls have done many things,” said the coach. “The Rogers Hometown Hockey is something we decided as a group that we would give it a go. And if anything, use it as a way to promote female hockey.”

In Valley Wild style, the girls entered the competition and let their voices be heard Nov. 29 when the Rogers Cheer Like Never Before competition came to Wolfville. And they won over four other teams selected (based on previous video submissions) to make their cheers in public that day.

Greenwood’s Nevaeh McDonald, left, Skye McDonald, centre, and Tessa Hattie are three members of the Valley Wild Atom A team competing in the Rogers Hometown Hockey Cheer Like Never Before competition. Online voting begins March 27.

“We didn’t expect to win that portion of the cheer but they killed it and really it was hard to not vote for them,” Bennett said. “Like the cheer, they have done many other things this year outside of on ice and every time they do something they do it with a spirit and energy that people just gravitate to. ‘Love those girls’ is something we hear a lot.”

“When head coach Kevin brought us the idea of the Cheer Like Never Before contest, it was a perfect fit for this team,” said Saunders. “They learned the cheer quickly and practiced it a lot in the dressing room. ‘Deep in the heart of the valley jungle, you can hear the WILD rumble - OOH AHH VALLEY WILD' on repeat, over and over again -- getting louder and louder.”

 

Representing Nova Scotia

Now they’re representing Wolfville and Nova Scotia in the Rogers Hometown Hockey competition in an online race against 23 other minor hockey teams from across the country trying to score a trip to Vancouver April 9 to see the Canucks host the Edmonton Oilers.

Emma Greenslade, left, Emily Hart, centre, and Tenaya Sparks represent Hants County on the Valley Wild Atom A team.

Valley Wild female hockey draws players from the Acadia, West Hants, and Western Valley minor hockey organizations. Members of Bennett’s Atom ‘A’ team hail from Stanley, Hants County, to Bridgetown, Annapolis County.

“Because of their spirit, energy, and just overall desire to do their best we feel confident they will do great things with the national competition,” Bennett said. “And we ask everyone to get behind these girls, show the rest of Canada we can send a team of girls to Vancouver to experience something they may never get another chance to achieve. Trust me. Nobody would appreciate the opportunity more than this group of girls.”

While the team has had a lot of successes off the ice, Saunders said winning has not been the main Bennett goal.

“He has focused on the skills that the girls have learned on and off the ice that help them develop into good citizens and successful and active young women,” she said. “We were all very proud of them for getting up on the stage and preforming their cheer live in front of a crowd and TV cameras; skills and opportunities that they will carry with them as they move into their adolescents.”

She said travelling to Vancouver and preforming their cheer live at an NHL game would be another amazing opportunity for these young women.

Voting Details

While the girls have done all the heavy lifting, the Valley Wild Atom ‘A’s are asking for Nova Scotians’ support in winning their way to Vancouver by voting every day from their computers, tablets, and phones during the voting period from March 27 to April 1.

Vote each day from 10 p.m. March 27 to April 1 at 11:59 PST (early April 2 in Atlantic Canada) at http://www.hometownhockey.com/contest.
You can meet the Valley Wild Atom ‘A’ girls at https://www.facebook.com/Rogers-Hometown-Hockey-Valley-Wild-Atom-A-547078442121935/

Learn more about Valley Wild hockey at http://valleywildhockey.ca/

Valley Wild Atom A’s Kings County players include: back, from left: Rylee Bennett, Anna Henneberg and Brooke Alcoe; centre, from left: Josephine Hoegg-Chapman and Tessa Hattie; front, from left: Nevaeh McDonald, Skye McDonald and Emily Reid.

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