As she introduced herself to the players taking part in this year’s North Female Hockey Program camp, a realization hit Kaitlyn Willoughby.
Not only was the former Prince Albert Northern Bears forward teaching youngsters on the same Art Hauser Centre that she played on as a kid, but she was joined by her former teammates Jessica Vance, Brooke Hobson and her sister Morgan Willoughby in serving as a guest instructor for the week.
“It’s so cool to be in this role now and for all of us to give back to the future generations that might also be playing for the Bears one day,” Willoughby said.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever led a group of my own out on the ice and it’s been a pretty neat experience. It’s totally different from being a player as you move into the coaching aspect, but I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.”
The head instructor for the camp is two-time Olympic gold medalist Sami Jo Small, who previously came as a guest instructor two years ago.
“Some of the campers had come to my hockey school in Winnipeg and had invited me to come out and help a couple of years ago, which has led to me coming back here again this summer,” Small said. “I’m serving as the head instructor, but it’s really a group effort as there are so many great players here helping me out.
“The beautiful thing about this camp is that it’s a celebration of women’s hockey. I think having the girls here that have gone to play in NCAA, U Sports or our national teams really shows our younger players that you go on to the highest levels of hockey no matter where you are from.”
A total of 63 players came out to the three-day camp, which started Monday and concludes on Wednesday, with local participants also being joined by players from Lloydminster, Meadow Lake and Kamsack.
“I’m hoping that the players can learn something new that they can also use in their everyday life and not just when they are on the ice,” Willoughby said.
“If we can get the girls to play the game until they are 40 and still have that love for the game, it’s been a successful camp for all of us,” Small added. “It’s really important to be fit and active and make friends with everyone that’s here, in addition to the skill development that they work on.”