ROBERT WILLIAMS | Telegraph-Journal | February 15, 2019
ROTHESAY • A New Brunswick prep hockey powerhouse is sending 13 players to the Canada Winter Games.
Rothesay Netherwood School, a co-ed prep school, will have representatives from all four Atlantic provinces in Red Deer, Alta. this week competing for gold in the women's hockey division.
The team's coach, Kayla Blackmore, is also headed west as the head coach of Team New Brunswick. Once upon a time, she played for the New Brunswick team, and has also served as an assistant coach. This will mark her first time as the head coach in the tournament.
The RNS girls' prep team plays in the North American Prep Hockey Association, and plays in tournaments across Canada and the northeastern U.S.
Its roster boasts exclusive Atlantic Canadian talent, something Blackmore said the school prides itself on - developing its own.
"I'm very much a believer of if you work hard, good things will happen," she said. "That's really the foundation that our men's and women's program are built on. And I think we've had some great success on players coming in and buying into that process."
Through the years, that's proven itself in CIS and NCAA scholarships, and placements on provincial teams. This year's 13 players marks the highest in the school's history.
Another seven athletes from the school will also head to Reed Deer to compete in various winter sports.
Sittingin the coach's dressing room with Tiah Scichilone, 17, Izzy Weist, 17, Mallory Thornhill, 16, and Heidi Lauwerijssen, 16, it's the calm before the storm.
Each player will represent a different Atlantic Canadian province in the Games, and will soon become competitors battling it out for a national championship.
Scichilone is the lone New Brunswicker in the group, and said it was always a goal of hers to come to the school. She grew up in neighbouring Saint John.
"I knew this school really valued education before hockey, but hockey was also an important part of RNS life," she said.
Next year, Scichilone will suit up for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers.
For each of the other girls, their path to RNS took slightly different routes, but all hinted at the same origins - wanting to become elite student-athletes at the university level.
And the prep route has quickly become one of the best methods of producing those types of players, giving the athletes a simulated university experience during high school.
Outside of the group of local area players, a large contingent of the team lives on campus in the dorms. They eat their meals together, go to classes together and spend their free time in each other's rooms. It's all the closeness of a university in a high school setting.
And for a group of teenagers, that also means forming a family dynamic during a very impressionable time in their life.
"I think it adds a closeness, but it also adds a bratty-sisterly attachment where when something happens we go at each other," said Thornhill. "And when it's over, you're tighter than you've ever been."
Now, that knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses will come in handy as they face off against each other in Red Deer.
Bragging rights are on the table, but Blackmore admits that she would be happy to see any of the Atlantic provinces do well.
Ontario has generally been the powerhouse in the sport, but anything is possible in a tournament-style format.
"I'm a little biased," she laughs. "But my money's on New Brunswick."