Island Women's Hockey League gearing up for playoff tournament

Mitch MacDonald
Published on March 9, 2016

Nadine Wood was too old for minor hockey, but hadn't outgrown her passion for playing the sport.

The now 24-year-old goaltender took some time off after her final year of midget, which for many often becomes the end of their time in the sport.

It wasn't long before the itch to play came back, unfortunately, options were limited after minor hockey.

"There was just nowhere for girls my age to play but I knew there was a lot of people my age looking for a place to play," said Wood. "So we started our own team the very next year."

In 2011, Wood and several others formed the SouthSide Lynx team in the Island Women's Hockey League (IWHL).

The team, which is coached by Kevin Walsh and Brendan Phillips, is one of six squads in the highly competitive league, which is free for spectators.

Only a few points separated the top four teams during much of the season's race to this weekend's playoff tournament at Cody Banks Arena.

 "At first, there were a lot of older players. Now the league has shifted, it's a lot faster and more competitive," said Wood. "But when it's more competitive, I find you get more of that team feeling."

Dawn Moase, who was a member of the league's founding group along with Susan Dalziel, Al MacKay and Keith Lambe, said the goal was to provide a competitive outlet for P.E.I.'s women hockey players.

While a separate women's rec league also exists in P.E.I., it is more laidback than the fast-paced action in the IWHL.

"The IWHL has developed into a junior league almost," said Moase. "The age bracket has gone down considerable, which is great to see because now we have a rec league for the senior players that just want to play once or twice a week, and then the IWHL can be more competitive."

MacKay, who remained involved as head of the league until last spring, said the IWHL isn't just for Charlottetown players either.

"We tried to make it Island-wide," he said, noting the league's history has seen teams from across the province.

Moase also hopes someday the league will not only cover the Island, but also interact with other provinces.

"You just have to keep growing the numbers and get teams and players involved that are still wanting to compete at that level," she said.

Wood also said many players hope to eventually play teams from other provinces.

"We want too. We've been looking at it but haven't found another league quite like ours," she said, encouraging other Island players, who may be hesitant, to give the league a shot. "It's a great league, everyone on our team really enjoys it. . . The only players who left our team stopped playing altogether because of work or school.

"When we first started we were awful and a lot of our games were blowouts and now we're almost in first place. It took a couple of years but as our team grew together and we got better."


Out of the ashes

The top league for P.E.I.'s senior women hockey players was born out of the demise of a national circuit featuring some of Canada's best.

The Esso Women's Nationals tournament officially ran from 1982 to 2008 with players across the country competing for the Abby Hoffman Cup.

"P.E.I. always sent a women's team to the Esso nationals so we used to play the top teams in other provinces," said Dawn Moase, one of the founders of the Island Women's Hockey League. "We would have been playing against the Hayley Wickenheisers and Cassie Campbells."

P.E.I. even hosted the final tournament in 2008 in Charlottetown, with Summerside having hosted three times previous in 1985, 1995 and 2001.

The tournament eventually dissolved, partially due to Hockey Canada discontinuing the series in favour of the female midget AAA Esso Cup championship.

"If they could get good midget players, they could work towards growing an elite program and eventually going to the Olympics," said Moase. "That's kind of what evolved under the female program with Hockey Canada. They decided to go with a younger age bracket and build from the bottom up."

However, it left a void for players after leaving midget.

Al MacKay, one of the other league's founders and former chairman, said the IWHL was created to provide a higher calibre of hockey than a rec league.

"At the time, female hockey was growing and kids were playing a pretty high level. Then they'd leave minor hockey or university careers and had nowhere to continue playing," he said.

Moase said while organizers originally tried to build an Atlantic-wide league, it eventually became only Island teams.

"We just couldn't get them to buy in but we continued to play in our own province," she said. "Whether we can bring back an Atlantic seniors program, or build something after the midget program, it's still something we like to talk about and work towards."