Leaside Wildcats get the provincial nod

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL: Leaside director of player development, John Hebert, and Junior AA coach Annie Fahlenbock, are set for the first season of Wildcats hockey at the PWHL level.

Girls rep league thrilled to earn PWHL junior AA intermediate franchise

The final piece of Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association’s development puzzle has been put in place.

League president Jennifer Smith announced Feb. 7 that the girls association was afforded a junior AA team in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League for the 2012-13 season along with Kingston Ice Wolves.

It couldn’t happen at a better time, Smith said, as it allows players to develop from atom and novice levels right up to pre-university hockey.

“The piece that was missing for us was the top level of competitive female hockey, which is intermediate AA,” Smith told the Town Crier. “Our most competitive players would get to the midget AA level, which represents your final three years of high school, grades 10–12.

“If they wanted to play intermediate, which is a step above that, representing the same age level but a higher level of play, they had to leave our association because we couldn’t offer a team at that level.”

Joining fellow Hogtown teams Toronto Aeros and Etobicoke Dolphins in the 20-team league will allow Leaside’s athletes to stay close to home.

That sense of community was important to executive members, especially Smith and director of player development, John Hebert, who was the champion of Toronto Leaside’s application to the PWHL.

“Certainly players on the existing midget AA team have an opportunity to play intermediate hockey,” Smith said. “But even our younger hockey players, they can look up and see a path in front of them that would allow them to stay at Leaside for their whole hockey career.”

The Wildcats have dipped into the local well for coach Annie Fahlenbock who was told in December if the team was given the okay, she would be offered the job.

The 32-year-old has a long record of success with the bantam and midget AA team, and even played in the league before leaving for University of New Hampshire on a full hockey scholarship.

“It’s going to really strengthen Leaside’s AA program, which will strengthen Leaside in general,” she said. “If Leaside does a good job with this, it’s going to push the other organizations to do things better.

“It’s just healthy competition and the benefit is for the girls and girl’s hockey.”

Smith said she is happy with the bench-boss decision.

“(Fahlenbock) represents exactly what hockey can be for our players,” she said. “It speaks very clearly to our association’s mission, which in part is the development of female leaders in hockey and the elevation of female leaders into hockey roles into our organization.”

“We know — and our peers around our hockey league would echo this — when you can do it there’s something really exceptional about having a female head coach who’s got this level of experience and can be a role model to these girls in a way that a male coach can’t, which isn’t taking away,” Smith added.

“We have tons of amazing male coaches, but you can appreciate that a young woman doesn’t necessarily see herself reflected in that coach.”

That sense of leadership, and progressing girls hockey in Toronto is paying off, especially with the changing demographic in the city.

“You only need to pick up a newspaper and see boys hockey in Toronto has suffered or has declined in numbers because the changing demographic has introduced many families for whom this isn’t the first sport of choice,” Smith said.

“Maybe those organizations didn’t get in front of this soon enough to reach out to the communities that were growing in their areas.”

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