The following is an excerpt off a feature on the 2014-15 Canada West Sports Annual. For the complete article, please click here.
By Mark Janzen
Starting this fall, it’ll be a new day for Canada West women’s hockey.
And it’s going to be players like Hannah Olenyk of the Alberta Pandas leading the way home.
The 18-year-old Olenyk grew up in Cochrane, Alta. and it didn’t take her long to stand out on the ice. By the time she was 15 years old, she was already a few rungs up the hockey ladder and attending Calgary’s Edge School for Athletes. The following year, she took her game to the minor hockey mecca that is Wilcox, Sask. to play for Notre Dame. And for her final year of minor hockey, she returned a little closer to home to play for the Highwood Raiders in the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League (AMMFHL).
In years past, her next step would be fairly obvious: the NCAA.
After all, that’s where the best players from Canada go. Spurning the CIS and Canada West, typically the top women’s hockey players in Canada – those who spent years developing in this northern hockey factory – head south.
At the end of the day, the NCAA has had the best competition and, to be blunt, the most money.
Olenyk chose a different route.
Instead of the well-manicured path that guides Canadian stars to the NCAA, the 5-foot-5 forward decided to stay in Canada and play for the Pandas.
“I was considering going to the States and spoke to several NCAA schools,” Olenyk says. “My decision came after weighing the pros and cons of moving away. I didn’t want my decision to be based on things such as fan attendance and the facilities, but rather on coaching and overall development (as well as) a high quality education and staying close to home.”
For Olenyk, it may not have been about the money, but she’s exactly the type of player who Canada West and the CIS can now target. She’s the type of player who Canadian institutions can finally go after thanks to the women’s hockey pilot project aimed at keeping Canada’s best in Canada.
With the advent of the pilot project, which was announced in the fall of 2013, the game has changed.
Women’s hockey can now, essentially, offer full-ride scholarships.