A few days before the women's hockey world championship opened in Ottawa, Brigette Lacquette got the call she'd been hoping for all her life.
The news: Lacquette, 20, had been named to the 27-woman centralization roster for the 2013-14 Team Canada senior squad. This is the group from which Hockey Canada will select the team which will battle for gold at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and four Manitobans have a good shot at making the squad: Lacquette, Winnipeg forward Jenelle Kohanchuk and world championship silver medallists Bailey Bram and Jocelyne Larocque, both from Ste. Anne.
Making the centralization roster is one step away from the ultimate dream. Still, it was a call Lacquette didn't quite expect. The 5-7 blue-liner went to the senior camp in September, but didn't make the world championship cut. So when her coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth asked if she'd gotten a phone call, she didn't know what the coach meant.
"I said 'What?' She said 'Oh, nevermind,' " Lacquette recalled. "Later that day, got a phone call from (national team coach) Dan Church. It didn't seem real at first. It was everything I worked for since I started hockey. To have this opportunity, it's going to be unreal."
Lacquette is an Ojibway woman. She grew up in tiny Mallard on the shore of Waterhen Lake. There are only 150 people in Mallard and playing hockey meant driving for hours each way just so she could skate, play and learn the game.
Now, she's a blazing defender at UMD, scoring 24 points in 34 games this past season. She could be an Olympian. And she sees the little girls who come up and ask for her autograph at tournaments, and knows what that could mean.
"Me being able to achieve this in hockey, it's not just for me, it's for all the aboriginal players," Lacquette said. "I feel now I'm a role model for aboriginal youth... Being the first (Ojibway) woman to get this far in hockey is just opening doors."
In late May, Lacquette and the other 26 on the centralization roster will head to Calgary for a fitness and orientation session. In August, they'll start training full time in Calgary, and play a number of games before the final Olympic roster is set in late December. At previous camps, Team Canada coaches gave Lacquette a mission, so she's worked on settling her defensive game, building up her strength and developing more explosive speed. For her, that could be the key to making the Olympic roster on her first shot.
To help their chances, the young Manitoban additions -- Lacquette and Kohanchuk are two of five centralization roster players who weren't on the world championship squad -- are looking forward to learning from the veterans.
Kohanchuk, who just wrapped up her senior season at Boston University, is eager to get on the ice and train with Team Canada star Jayna Hefford, among others.
"They're all fantastic hockey players, and they've been there before," said Kohanchuk, 22. "I'm just going to put my best foot forward and show them everything that I have. Hopefully they see potential there."
It'd be hard not to.
In 35 games with BU this year, Kohanchuk sniped 25 times and added 21 assists to finish second in team scoring. Now, she's ready to put her nursing education on pause to pursue her Team Canada dream. She's worn the jersey before with the under-22 team. She knows its weight.
"It's just really something I've wanted my entire life," said Kohanchuk, a Balmoral Hall alumna. "I'm speechless, and I'd be so humbled if that opportunity came."