Article by: Taylor Stewart
Women’s hockey at the Canada Games returns to P.E.I. where it made its original debut in 1991. In the tournaments since then, numerous Canadian hockey idols have laced up and begun their glorious careers at the Canada Games.
One name people may recognize who participated in the debut of the women’s hockey tournament on P.E.I. in 1991, Hayley Wickenheiser. Wickenheiser was a member of Team Alberta in 1991, she was not only the youngest player on her team but the smallest at only five feet. She scored three goals in the tournament including the game-winner in the championship game. She went home with a gold medal around her neck and the tournament's most valuable player award.
Wickenheiser, now a pioneer for women on the business side of hockey, is currently the assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs. She finished her hockey career with four Olympic gold medals, the record holder for most goals, assists and points by a Canadian in international hockey, as well as being the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. All those accomplishments and it all started at the 1991 Canada Winter Games.
Also making their debut at the 1991 P.E.I. Canada Games was Sami Jo Small. Small, a then 14-year-old, played for Team Manitoba. A sense of nostalgia fell upon Small when she was inducted into the Canada Games Hall of Honour where it all began here on P.E.I. just before the 2023 Games kicked off.
“I got to play in the very first women’s tournament and it was the first time that I ever saw other girls play hockey. I didn’t know that there were so many girls around the country that loved the sport like me,” Small said.
She said the inclusivity shown at that first Canada Games tournament was really important to the future of the women’s game.
“It was really special and really powerful,” Small said. “It gave us a lot of confidence as women in that space to be able to push towards eventually being included in the Olympic Games. It really started with that very first Canada Games tournament in 1991.”
Small is a three-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist, a five-time World Champion, a two-time World Championship MVP and the co-founder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Just a few accomplishments from a long list for Small.
A Canadian hockey icon who was recently discussed to be in the GOAT conversation along with Wickenheiser. Born in 1991, Marie-Philip Poulin made her Canada Games debut in Whitehorse during the 2007 Games. Poulin and Quebec finished the tournament with a bronze medal.
Since the 2007 Canada Games, Poulin has gone on to win three Olympic gold medals while scoring the golden goal in all three of those victories. She has also earned 15 medals in total over her international hockey career.
Attention towards Women’s hockey has never been greater in Canada as over 70% of all Canadians watched Poulin and Team Canada take home gold at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
The list of names whose hockey careers skyrocketed after debuting at the Canada Games goes on and on. With the women’s hockey tournament beginning today, we now turn our attention to the future of the sport.
Canada’s U18 women’s national team is fresh off a dominating performance at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship in Sweden where they claimed the gold medal. Now, 22 of 23 players on that team are swapping the maple leaf for their home province's flag.
Of those 22, 13 will be representing Ontario, four for B.C., three with Quebec, one with Alberta and one with Manitoba.
A record of Poulin’s was just smashed by Ontario's Caitlin Kraemer. Kraemer recorded 10 goals at the U18 World Championship, which included four being scored in the gold medal game. Those 10 goals passed Poulin’s previous record for most goals by a Canadian in a single tournament.
“My girl Pias, she helped a lot with that, so I can’t take all the credit. It was all due to coaches and teammates, it was a great group. It could have happened to anyone, but it is a pretty surreal experience and something I won’t forget,” said Kraemer.
Ontario will be a must-watch team this week as the team’s chemistry will be strong with half their team bringing experience over with them from the World Championship.
Team B.C. will be represented at the Games this week by the first-ever female skater to be drafted in the WHL Chloe Primerano. Primerano was taken by the Vancouver Giants with the 268th pick in the 2022 draft.
Primerano is currently playing in the CSSHL’s women’s league with the Kelowna Hockey Academy. She has recorded 48 points including 20 goals in 30 games as a blueliner. Primerano played in the top U15 league in Canada during her draft year with the Burnaby Winter Club. She recorded 19 points there in 30 games.
It’s safe to say the future of Women’s hockey is in strong hands both on the player and business side. Elite-level leagues for professional women’s hockey continue to grow as attention towards the women’s side of the game gets the long-overdue respect it has deserved.
Now, 32 years after debuting at the 1991 Canada Games on Prince Edward Island, women’s hockey is back on the gentle Island and worth your attention.