By Chad Ouellette
When a friend convinced her to try ringette in 2006, Emma Kelly never would have guessed that it would someday lead to her representing Ontario at the Canada Winter Games.
Thirteen years and three provincial championships later, Kelly says her biggest accomplishment in the sport will now be playing at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta.
“I’m really excited because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Kelly, who’s medalled at the ringette national championships before and also been a first-line all-star at the Ontario Winter Games, where she won gold.
“And I get to experience it with girls I’ve been playing with for many years, who I haven’t had the chance to play on the same team with before.”
Kelly’s hard work and dedication paid off when the head coach of Team Ontario noticed her while she was in challenge cups across the province.
Carrie Hartley, who was named head coach of Team Ontario for the Canada Winter Games, has been playing ringette for 27 years and has been part of the Ottawa Ice in the National Ringette League for over a decade. She’s been on the coaching staff of Team Ontario for the last three years but is in her first year as head coach.
When Hartley saw Kelly play, she couldn’t help but notice her skill on the ice. Kelly’s impressive performance led to her being asked to try out for the team. Hartley says the ring seems to be “attracted” to the 16-year-old because of the way she conducts herself on the ice.
“I think with Emma it is probably her speed,” says Hartley. “She’s a really good sort of end-to-end player, she’s got a lot of speed coming out of the zone. That makes her very flashy if you will; it’s pretty noticeable on the ice.”
‘Best friends’ on ice together
On top of the honour of playing for Team Ontario, Kelly has the added bonus of being able to play alongside her best friend, Rachael Pelisek, who she’s used to lining up opposite of.
“It’s kind of funny,” says Pelisek. “Growing up we were rivals. I play on Gloucester and she plays on Nepean. For the longest time we didn’t like each other.”
Now that they sometimes play together outside of their city teams they tend to joke about their past rivalry.
“I’m so confident with her (on the ice),” says Pelisek. “I’d say she’s one of our best centres on the team. Being able to see how she plays at home, and then taking that to Team Ontario, it’s a good thing to have.
“When we play against each other, she’s really good. Experiencing how good she is makes me even more confident when she’s playing with me,” Pelisek says.
Kelly’s parents and biggest fans, Shawna and Charlie Kelly – who’s stepping out of his typical role as “hockey dad” to their two sons, will also be travelling to Alberta to cheer Emma on.
“We’re super proud,” says Shawna Kelly. “She was just always competitive. She loves playing the game, being on the ice, practicing, and taking shots. It’s really fun to watch.”
Her parents have always been a big part of Kelly’s success. One thing they made sure to instill in their daughter is that it’s okay to lose sometimes and when it happens, to be humble.
It’s something their daughter keeps in mind today: to always keep a future goal in mind.
“It’s really nice to be exposed to everything,” says Emma. “It’s the high level of intensity. I find that I’ve always had the advantage by playing at such high levels at such a young age. You’re introduced to a bigger competition, so it kind of preps you for what you’re going to face in the upcoming years.”
Former teammates reunite
Growing up, budding ringette stars Liza Roik and Paige Miller shared the rink for the Ottawa Ice. They now have a chance to reunite and help propel Team Ontario to a gold medal at the upcoming Games.
The long-time friends bring years of experience to the talented cast of ringette players that Team Ontario has to offer. At such a high level, the comfortability of a common face can ease the tension.
Roik recalls how close they became after travelling together to tournaments and games, as well as training on the ice, which is something she says is inevitable in a sport like ringette, where there is constant travelling and competitiveness.
“Just going to this high-intensity level,” she says. “It can be quite an intimidating atmosphere. Just having somebody that you know, that you can always talk to, you’re going through the same things, is always just really comforting to have with you along the way.”
Miller had the opportunity to play with Roik when she first moved to Ottawa from Arnprior in order to move up from the AA division to AAA.
She spent her childhood playing ringette in Arnprior, where her father, Scott Miller, coached the group she was a part of.
Her father has been a big part of her success as a ringette player, helping her build her character and prepare for games.
“Constant debriefs in the car after, and strategizing,” says Miller. “It was fun for me as his daughter to be part of the coaching side of it. Just to have a say and be able to know where he’s coming from as well. I really enjoyed having him as a coach, it really helped me to progress as a player for sure.”
Both of Roik’s brothers played competitive hockey growing up and that is where she began on the ice, but after a while she wanted to differ from her brothers, so she joined ringette and hasn’t looked back since. During her 13 years in the sport she’s played for a multitude of Ottawa teams. She recently moved to southern Ontario.
Both of her brothers played competitive hockey growing up and that is where she began, but after a while she wanted to differ from her brothers, so she joined ringette and hasn’t looked back since.
Looking forward to the Games, Roik is excited to have the opportunity to play alongside everyone she has played against throughout her years on the ice.
“When I was playing throughout my childhood – So (Under)12, U14, U16 and U19 – I would play against all of these girls. So, it’s just been really enjoyable to finally get to play with them,” Roik said.
“I’ve seen them all grow with me, and we’ve always been really competitive with each other. They’ve always been on the team you’ve wanted to beat, it’s just really cool to work with them and all their different playing styles and try to win together.”
They will have the opportunity to show off their skills later this month as they embark on their next step in their continuing careers.
Fifth and final
Kanata’s Marta Matuszewski is the fifth Ottawa ringette player on Team Ontario. The All Saints High School grad now plays for the Montreal Mission in the National Ringette League.