More than 150 top-level female hockey players from hockey schools in Canada and the U.S. are playing in a tournament this weekend at MTS Iceplex.
St. Mary's Academy is hosting the fifth annual Female World Sport School Challenge, which showcases some of the best female hockey at the high school level.
"Prep hockey is the highest level you can play, AAA hockey is the highest level you can play, so this is the highest level girls can play," said Larry Bumstead, head coach of the host team from St. Mary's Academy.
Bumstead said organizers are expecting a dozen scouts from U.S. colleges, Canadian universities and national hockey programs. The eight-team-tournament is a chance for players who are still looking to earn a post-secondary scholarship to showcase their skills.
Kaitlyn Chatyrbok is one of those players looking to earn a scholarship. Chatyrbok still has another full year at St. Mary's before graduating but she already has her sights set on post-secondary hockey, either in the NCAA, the U.S. college system, or with a Canadian university.
"It's been my lifelong goal to go on to play hockey somewhere else. It would mean the world to me," Chatyrbok added.
"I've played [hockey] since I was six years old. It's always been a part of my life and I don't really know what I would do without it."
Chatyrbok said knowing what the organizers and volunteers put in behind the scenes to make the tournament a success, and the extra scouts in the stands, both add to the pressure of trying to perform on the ice.
"You look up from the stands and you see different coaches, writing different things on a clipboard and you always see them and have that in the back of your mind so it's a lot of pressure," said Chatyrbok.
Chatyrbok said she tries to focus on what's happening on the ice and she doesn't have to look far to see what determination and hard work can lead to. Her team's captain is already realizing one of her hockey dreams.
K.K. Thiessen has earned a full scholarship to play defence at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Penn.
"It's awesome. It's nice to know that all the hard work, both academically and with hockey has paid off," said Thiessen.
Thiessen started playing hockey with boys, she was also playing up a full year with older kids and said it got more difficult when hitting came into the game.
"Once hitting came there was always the challenge of keeping up with the boys and sometimes guys targeted me, being the only girl," said Thiessen.
She switched to girls hockey at 14 when she joined the team at St. Mary's Academy.
Thiessen said she has an interest in business and is on the track to getting a degree in the U.S. She hopes there will be life in hockey after her four years in the NCAA but for now said she feels lucky to be getting the opportunity to continue her schooling.
"Without a scholarship, it's pretty expensive down there. Most Canadian people don't go down to the States without having scholarships, so I'm really fortunate to have mine," said Thiessen.
For other players this weekend's tournament is a measuring stick. The Shattuck-St.Mary's team drove eight hours to Winnipeg from Faribault, Minn. even though head coach Gordon Stafford said most of his players have scholarships already.
Forward Brette Pettet is one of those players. Pettet, who is originally from Nova Scotia, went to Shattuck-St. Mary's — the same school as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews — in Grade 8.
Pettet has plans to take biomedical engineering and will be off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall. She said it was always her No. 1 school and she now has a full scholarship. She said this weekend's tournament is a good chance for her team to compete against other elite teams.
"Every time we come here, it's a good tournament and we're challenged by different teams so it's just a chance for our team to develop and continue to get better, especially going into nationals," she said.
Three-time Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Botterill will also be speaking to players at a banquet on Saturday night.
Organizers said the tournament is well-timed at the end of the season for most teams and that they would like to see the tournament grow from eight teams to 12 to allow for three brackets of four teams.