The Okanagan Hockey Academy female prep team will take on Kazakhstan’s national women’s squad.
The first game between the teams is scheduled for Sept. 26 at 4:30 p.m. in the South Okanagan Events Centre and Sept. 28 in Summerland at 1:15 p.m.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty neat experience for all of our girls,” said OHA coach Rebecca Russell. “I don’t know how strong they are going to be this year. It’s still pretty neat when you get to play a national team from a different country like Kazakhstan. It’s going to be fun.”
The big thing for the OHA is they are playing a home game. They don’t play a lot in the SOEC’s OHA Training Centre during the Junior Women’s Hockey League season. In the JWHL, the OHA is in the Major Junior North division with teams such as Notre Dame (Wilcox,SK), Halmoral Hall School (Winnipeg), Calgary’s Edge School, Warner Hockey School in Warner and Vancouver’s Pacific Steelers. The Major Junior South division features teams in Boston, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. They went to Stoney Creek, Ont. for a tournament and went 3-1-2.
“To be able to host Kazakhstan in our rink, it’s extra games at home,” said Russell, who also coaches Team B.C.’s female under-18 team. “Kind of neat for our girls. We didn’t have a whole lot of games coming up before we head to Boston for a JWHL weekend. These will be great games for us to hone in on our system.”
“It’s just a fantastic opportunity for these Kazakhstan players to learn what it is that we do, right,” said Nancy Wilson, the first female inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame last July and is Kazakhstan’s mentorship coach. “Maybe mimic or adopt some of the things that we do just in terms of preparation, training and skill development. It’s a great opportunity for coaches as well.”
Wilson, who coached Canada’s under-22 women’s team to gold in the Air Canada Cup in 2007, said the Kazakhstan team, which ranges in age from 17 to 35, is growing their game at the grassroots. They qualified for the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and finished eighth. Since then, they have lost some of their positioning in the world rankings (now 14th) due to players retiring. Kazakhstan still has a chance to qualify for the Sochi Olympics depending on their play in qualification tournaments. Wilson said the sports federation in Kazakhstan is doing a good job of trying to get it into schools and identifies hockey as a sport good for young girls.
The OHA is able to play Kazakhstan as the connection was made between Wilson and Russell, who will coach Team B.C. under-18 team against Kazakhstan this week at UBC. Kazakhstan is part of the Mentor Ambassador Program that will end following the Sochi Olympics. It started during the Vancouver Olympics.
“What it means is that players and coaches from the top ranked teams, Canada, United States, Finland and Sweden, have donated their time to help those teams around the world that are ranked a little bit lower,” said Wilson, adding that it’s a great initiative. “It’s been a great experience.”
The two games are free to attend.