Ava Boutilier was a puckstopper even before becoming a goalie.
During her first season of novice, the Charlottetown native was a defenceman, who led her team in blocked shots.
"Coach knew I was a goalie at heart," Boutilier recalled Tuesday. "I would be playing heels at the top of the crease, trying to block shots."
When the team's lone goalie was sick, the coaches went around the dressing room asking to see if anyone was interested in going to the crease.
Boutilier accepted the challenge, "absolutely fell in love" and hasn't looked back.
The 16-year-old Colonel Gray student verbally committed Saturday to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) for the 2017-18 season. She can't officially sign a letter of intent until November 2016 because of her age, but she said announcing her intention was a huge relief.
She toured four universities this fall before making her decision.
"I walked on the UNH campus and just felt like I was at home and where I was meant to be," said Boutilier, who noted having good interactions with the team's players and coaching staff. "I felt like the staff there would really work with me on achieving that ultimate goal of playing for the national team someday."
Boutilier has grown up playing on boys teams during the seasons. She has played on girls teams from time to time, including at the Canada Games in February in Prince George, B.C., with Team P.E.I. at the Atlantic Challenge Cup on the Thanksgiving weekend and Team Atlantic at the national under-18 championship in November in Huntsville, Ont.
She was one of six goalies to attend Hockey Canada's under-18 tryout in August, but did not make the roster. She still has a year of eligibility and hopes to be invited to the strength and conditioning camp in May.
Boutilier is in her second season playing with the Charlottetown Brighton Construction Abbies in the Prince Edward Island Midget AAA Hockey League.
"She's very technically sound," said coach Kevin Ramsay. "She competes very hard, is in great shape and is well prepared for . . . every game, no matter if she's starting or not."
He said she is constantly striving to improve her game.
"When she steps on the ice, she's very focused," Ramsay said.
Boutilier said she doesn't play a specific style and is more of a hybrid, who will do whatever is necessary to stop pucks.
She long thought about playing south of the border and is a step closer to having the dream become a reality.
"To play NCAA Division 1 hockey for women," she said, "it's kind of like playing in the NHL for us."
Who - A 16-year-old goalie from Charlottetown.
The latest - Verbally committed to play hockey at the University of New Hampshire in 2017-18.
Canada Games - Boutilier saw 39 or more shots in three of her four starts at the Canada Games in Prince George, B.C. She finished with a 3.70 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage while playing Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Goalie she looks up to - National team goalie Shannon Szabados.
Current team - Charlottetown Brighton Construction Abbies in the Prince Edward Island Midget AAA Hockey League.
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