By Charlie Pinkerton
Less than a month removed from what she considers the highlight of her hockey career, Maddi Wheeler is back to her normal routine, which for any typical 16-year-old would be anything but.
On Jan. 13 she scored the gold medal-winning goal in overtime for Canada’s U18 team against the United States at the world championship tournament held in Japan.
Speaking to the Ottawa Sportspage over the phone on the night in early February that saw much of eastern Ontario blanketed by a snowstorm, Wheeler had a rare break because her hockey practice was cancelled.
The Grade 11 student was spared the drive from her home in Erinsville (a small community just north of Napanee) to Ottawa to train with the Nepean Wildcats.
She makes the trip to Ottawa twice a week for practices and sometimes a third time for a game, unless it’s an away matchup, then she’s headed elsewhere, like to Toronto.
On days when she doesn’t travel for hockey, she works out or does skill training near her home, which she says she does every day she’s not on the road.
Asked if she’s the one taking herself all around the province, Wheeler laughs in response.
“No, I don’t have my G2 (license) yet,” she said.
Her hard work has already paid off, as she’ll be bound for the University of Wisconsin once she graduates Napanee District Secondary School to play for the Badgers’ women’s hockey team, which is currently ranked 2nd in the NCAA.
Her ascension up the Ontario hockey food chain started when she was around eight years old, as she remembers it, when she decided to try out for the Quinte Red Devils boys’ triple-A team. She not only cracked the boys’ roster that year, but played above her age group for a year, before settling in with the Red Devils triple-A squad of her age the next year.
“I think playing boys helped (me) develop a lot,” Wheeler says. “I’m not very big, so it helps with the physical side of the game and the speed.”
Just over two years ago, when she was 13 years old – around the same time that she committed to Wisconsin – Nepean offered her a spot on their Under-19 team.
“Not a lot of teams would have taken me, but they did,” Wheeler said.
She’s played for the Wildcats ever since.
Wheeler says opportunities like the Canada Winter Games or the U18 world championships, where she has the opportunity to represent her province or her country, is what keeps her motivated.
Her “big motivation” is to make Canada’s U22 team, which she hopes to do as a first-year in university.
But long before then, she’s looking forward to the “mini-Olympics” that is the Canada Games.
“I’m definitely nervous, you’re always nervous when you’re going into big events like this. I’m just trying to manage those emotions I guess,” Wheeler said.
Fellow 16-year-old Kayle Osborne will join Wheeler as the only other Ottawa-based player on Ontario’s team. Osborne is a goalie with the junior Lady Sens. In 15 games this year she’s registered 11 wins and four losses, along with five shutouts.