Fran Rider, president of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association speaks at a press conference where is was announced the Sudbury is hosting the 2019 Esso Cup in Sudbury, Ont. on Tuesday November 7, 2017. Gino Donato/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
First time hosting national midget girls hockey championship
Deidre Debassige knew, when she and her parents committed to joining the Sudbury Lady Wolves, that they were in for a lot of travel, including regular two-hour trips from M'Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island to the Nickel City.
They may not have known just how far Debassige would go – to the 2014 Esso Cup national midget girls hockey championship in Stoney Creek, where her Lady Wolves captured bronze, then to the 2015 tournament in Red Deer, Alta., where Sudbury won gold.
"At both Esso Cups, just the experience in general was definitely the highlight of my whole hockey career," Debassige said. "Bronze in Stoney Creek was my first year and it was just phenomenal, the way we were treated at such a high-class level at an elite tournament, like we were professionals, like we were at the Olympics. That's who we really felt, from the moment we began the tournament right up until the end.
"When we won gold, the whole thing was just overwhelming. The excitement, the success of winning, it was just so much joy. Thinking back to it, I can't even put words to how much excitement there was in the whole experience."
She had no trouble voicing her approval, however, at news the 2019 Esso Cup will be hosted by the Ontario Women's Hockey Association in Sudbury.
Officials from the Sudbury and District Girls Hockey Association, OWHA and Hockey Canada made the announcement Tuesday during a press conference at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, where the national championship will run April 21-17, 2019.
"I'm glad these girls are going to get a chance to have that feeling," Debassige said. "I'm also really excited for it to be in Sudbury because of how close it is to a lot of Aboriginal communities in the surrounding area. I'm excited to give those girls a chance to come out and see this level of hockey and see this connection that the sport gives."
OWHA president Fran Rider said it's fitting the event should be hosted by the Lady Wolves, the SDGHA and the OWHA, whose teams have won three gold, three silver and three bronze since the tournament's inception in 2009.
"Events are not just events – they're going to be the best thing going and they're going to be successful, and certainly, the Esso Cup is going to be the best ever when it comes to Sudbury," Rider said. "Events have been the catalyst to growing women's hockey and growing women's sports. When we hosted the world championships, when women's hockey got into the Olympics, our partnership with the media, with the print media, the TV media, the radio, it took into everybody's houses the fact that girls and women could play hockey for excellence, both on and off the ice.
"We're absolutely thrilled to host this event in Sudbury."
Bridgewater, N.S. will host the upcoming 2018 tournament. The Esso Cup is a six-team event, featuring representatives from the Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic, along with a host entry.
"The citizens of Sudbury and the surrounding areas certainly have hometown stars to cheer for, as well as wonderful people from across Canada, as we welcome the country to Sudbury," Rider said. "The OWHA is absolutely thrilled to be partnering with the Sudbury Girls Hockey Association under the leadership of Rob Dyer, the president. It's a great organization, one of the strongest in Ontario and one of the strongest in Canada and the world, a leading organization."
Pat Murphy, a member of the local bid committee, hopes the event will bring greater awareness of female hockey to fans in Sudbury and the Northern Ontario.
"It will also be an opportunity for young girls from small Northern towns to attend the event and watch the highest level of female midget hockey in Canada," Murphy said. "Never has an Esso Cup been in such close proximity to so many small Northern communities."
Lady Wolves goalie Mireille Kingsley watched older sister, Melisa, win gold at the 2015 event and would love to follow in her footsteps.
All but two of the current midget AA team, including Kingsley, are eligible to return next season.
"I can't wait," she said. "I know how great of an experience it is, so I'm really excited and I think our whole team is, too.
"It will be a really good way to showcase girls hockey, especially in the North. It's going to be a really fun experience for everyone, the community and our team."
She's not looking past this season, however. A trip to Nova Scotia would be the perfect prelude to an Esso Cup on home ice.
"Our goal will be the same, to work really hard and make it this year, as well."