Expectations are high for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Female Prep team this season.
The squad is led by three national team players in Olivia Knowles and Sophie Shirley (Canada) and goaltender Alex Gulstene (U.S.). There is also Saskatoon’s Nara Elia, a transfer from Notre Dame who attended a Hockey Canada camp over the summer.
“I think with the players we have coming, new and the veterans, I expect us to be very competitive this year,” said coach Jim Fetter, whose program left the Junior Women’s Hockey League to join the Canadian Sport School Hockey League this season. “I expect us to push somewhere near the top, be competitive in every game.”
With Shirley, also a Notre Dame recruit, Fetter said she brings leadership will contribute offensively. The five-foot-eight, 120-pound forward will be counted on to score, but she will also elevate practices.
“Just the intensity, the battle and compete level,” said Fetter. “To play at her level is going to help our team immensely.”
After playing a set of exhibition games in Trail last weekend, the team heads to Hamilton, Ont., this weekend to play in a tournament in Stoney Creek which is expected to attract more than 150 college and university scouts. Fetter said this is big for players looking to play at those levels.
The OHA doesn’t play at home until February, when they host a CSSHL showcase tournament, which will be similar to what they played in at the JWHL.
In July, Fetter was in Finland for five days for an International Ice Hockey Federation project that has Canadian and U.S. coaches be mentors for players and coaches from other countries. The goal is to pass on knowledge to close the gap between other nations and Canada and U.S.
Fetter worked with two assistant coaches from Finland and Switzerland and showed the people involved some of the things that makes Canada successful from what they do in practice to game preparation so they could take it back home and use.
“It was awesome,” said Fetter. “It was an experience that if I get the opportunity again I would definitely jump on it.”
Fetter worked with players from Japan and China who didn’t speak English.
“Just trying to communicate with them. It was amazing how you don’t speak the same language, yet you are still able to communicate, get your point across (using diagrams) to them,” he said. “It was a great learning experience. I probably learnt more as a mentor.”
The project had top players from 16 countries participate in the 10-day event.