It’s a long way from the hockey rinks in Sault Ste. Marie to those in Karlstad, Sweden.
But Brianne Veale made more than a few stops along the way before packing her bags 10 days ago to travel to the Scandinavian country to teach hockey to women looking to raise the profile and improve the quality of female hockey in their country.
Female hockey is not very popular in Sweden, where some female teams travel three or four hours just to suit up against other women’s teams.
“The majority of girls play boys hockey,” Veale says.
“It’s pretty much the exact same as how the Sault used to be, how all the girls played boys hockey,” said Veale, who played in the boys league growing up here until she was about 11 and joined the Wildcats hockey program in the Sault Female Hockey Association.
Veale remained with the Wildcats program throughout her years at St. Basil Secondary School, until she received a partial athletic/academic scholarship to play hockey for Brock University, in St. Catharines, Ont.
She begins her fourth year with the Brock Badgers women’s hockey team in a few weeks.
Veale, Badgers head coach Jim Denham and fifth-year player Hailey Webb were in Karlstad, Sweden last weekend to conduct the Farjestad BK Hockey Alliance Girl Power Camp, for females aged seven to 28.
Between 20 to 30 players originally signed up for the four-day camp, but once Swedish women learned Canadians would be providing the leadership and training, that number more than doubled.
“It went to almost 70. They really appreciate our help, that’s for sure,” said the 21-year-old Sault woman.
Although the trip last week was the first time Veale travelled overseas to help out at a female hockey camp, she has participated at several camps in the Niagara region.
“We do hockey camps every August. I’m going back (to St. Catharines) next week to start doing them,” she said.
She said the hockey camp in Sweden was not much different than those she has helped out at in southern Ontario.
“We pretty much did the same thing when we were over there in Sweden. But they just have fewer girls.”
The main reason Veale and the Brock team put on the training camp was to boost the profile of female hockey in Sweden and show that there are opportunities for girls to play hockey at a higher level.
“Their biggest thing is they want to come to Canada to play hockey, because Sweden, for girls, doesn’t have anything,” Veale said.
Many of the young female players have potential, and hope to one day play university hockey in Canada. Veale admitted the training camp turned into a bit of a recruitment trip.
“We talked to a lot of girls my coach thought would fit in our system.”
Brock coaches will keep an eye “on a bunch of them now and for the next couple years … We were very surprised. It ended up being a business trip.”
The Swedish players were broken up into two groups at the camp, beginners and advanced. Beginners were taught skating, shooting and passing techniques, while players in the advanced group focused on systems work and drills during the all-day sessions that ran from Thursday to Sunday.
Denham was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) coach of the year in 2010, and because of that he was asked to lead the female camp in Sweden, Veale said.
Denham asked members of the Brock Badgers women’s team to help him out by applying as guest instructors.
“Myself and another assistant (Webb) were the ones who best fit the job this time around. We were very fortunate to go,” Veale said.
One of the best things about the European trip was stirring up hope in the young Swedish players that hockey can be much more than just a passing fad.
That message struck home with the Swedes when they were shown videos of university hockey games and they realized how competitive women’s hockey is in Canada.
“They really started to have hope that they can go somewhere with hockey, and it’s not just a hobby. They can actually get somewhere with it.”
Veale intends to continue concurrent studies at Brock and eventually become a physical education/English teacher.
Her competitive hockey career will end when she finishes university, she said. However, she hopes to continue to be involved with female hockey and perhaps even coach, especially if she returns to the Sault after university.
“I want to continue doing something with hockey. A lot of my strength is off the ice in organization,” said Veale, who is an assistant captain with the Badgers.
“I just hope to somehow stay involved with female hockey … We have such good players here in the Sault.”S