Two weeks of sports excellence and cultural celebrations wrapped up on Sat. Mar. 2. with the Closing Ceremony of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Ab.
Since Feb. 15, over 3,600 participants, 5,000 volunteers and 20,000 visitors enjoyed 19 sports and 10 nights of cultural entertainment as part of Canada’s largest multi-sport and cultural event for youth.
Alberta, in particular, surpassed the all-time medal count for the province as they took home 100 medals, including a record 36 gold.
They finished in third place behind Quebec and Ontario.
Alberta also claimed the Centennial Cup for showing greatest improvement, and the Jack Pelech Award for the best combination of good sportsmanship, fair play, cooperation and competitive performance.
Three East Central Alberta athletes helped lead their hockey teams to victory.
The ladies grabbed the gold medal in hockey after a game against Quebec which led to a 2 – 1 point finish.
Goalie Bella McKee of Irma, Ab. and Payton Laumbach of Wainwright, Ab. were on the first place team which acts as an Under 18 (U18) team.
Their youngest player was 15-years-old.
Although they made it look easy, the team was an underdog coming into the final.
“It was an amazing experience,” began McKee. “We had a little bit of a rough go in round robin and only won one game but then once we hit quarter-finals we had to win the next three games if we wanted to win the gold medal and that’s exactly what we did.”
All players that made it onto the provincial team went through a rigorous combination of camps and shortlisting before making it onto the team.
First, the top 80 athletes in the province attend their first camp, afterwards this selection is narrowed down to 47.
From there, another camp takes place in the summer which determines the top 29.
Then coaches and other team members choose the final team they want on their roster.
Both McKee and Laumbach attend the Kitscoty High School as they attend the well-known hockey but for McKee, it was a true pleasure to represent her small village as well as the academy.
“That was a huge honour. I mean Irma is where I grew up so it’s a small town where everybody knows each other so I took a lot of pride in that and also to be able to represent Kitscoty High School. That meant a lot to me. They have been a home for me over the past three years. They mean a lot so to be able to represent them on a national scale was pretty special,” said McKee.
The female hockey teams were part of a week two schedule meaning they were not apart of the opening ceremonies but they did attend the closing ceremonies.
“Honestly, we were a pretty tired group,” laughed McKee. “We were kind of coming off of our high [of winning] a little bit for the first and I’d say we were ready to get out of there honestly.
It had been a long 11 days so it was a long haul but it was so cool like there were a lot of athletes, a lot of fans packed into the centrium so it was a pretty cool experience.”
An outpouring of support was felt from both Red Deer and Kitscoty for the team.
“You’d be surprised how many people watch and how many people are cheering you on – how many people you are actually representing and are proud of you,” said McKee.
McKee has found role modelling for youth to be an important aspect of her participation at the games.
She used to coach a few teams in Lloydminster which has pushed her to continue performing her best.
“I mean to be able to see all the young hockey players, especially the young female hockey players that are there supporting us and all the signs. We are acting as their heroes even though they don’t know us on a personal level or anything like that.
“They want to play for Team Alberta someday and we as a team and as a whole, we represent ourselves in a very appropriate, mature manner to be a role model.”
The male hockey team placed third, crushing Saskatchewan after a 12 – 0 point game.
Among the players was 16-year-old Drew Sim of Tees, Ab. who acted as goalie for his team.
“It was good,” began Sim. “It was a good group to hang around with and we ended up playing pretty good.”
A few different tactics were employed to make sure the newly formed team was game ready.
“We stretched the team a lot every day before games and watched a lot of videos and we spent a lot of time together so that really helped us bond and become close faster which helped us succeed in the end,” said Sim.
The male hockey teams participated in the opening ceremonies which were a ‘super cool, super fun’ experience as well as meeting new people from across the country.
“The opening ceremonies were super cool, super fun and a couple of times when we had an early game we’d go after the game and we hung out at the village to meet other athletes and stuff.”
Representing Tees was also an honour for the athlete.
“It was cool and honour for sure to be from such a small town just showing kids that it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you do like anything is possible if you work hard,” said Sim.