Playing elite hockey for the past five years, Julie Desrochers credits her aboriginal heritage for helping open that door.
Desrochers, last year's aboriginal female athlete of the year and winner of the Tom Longboat Award, is playing in her fourth year on Manitoba's women's aboriginal hockey team.
An assistant captain of last year's team, she has competed in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Ottawa, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
Desrochers and Team Manitoba will compete in the 2013 NAHC in Kahnawake/Brossard, Que., from April 29 to May 3. The team, which is holding a training camp during the Christmas break, is operated and funded by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Council (MASRC).
"That has given me the chance to play at a very high level and to travel to national tournaments. It's been fun and it's made me a better player," said Desrochers. "That (playing in the NAHC) has definitely helped me be recognized throughout the hockey community. I think it helped me reach a level where I could earn a spot on other hockey teams like AAA last year with the Avros (in the Manitoba Female Midget AAA Hockey League) and (coach) Ashley van Aggelen."
Desrochers, 18, is one of just a handful of rookie players drafted this season into the Manitoba Women's Junior Hockey League. As a forward with the Prairie Blaze, she is among her team's top scorers. She's also a first-year student at the University of Manitoba, where she has applied to the engineering program.
MASRC executive director Mel Whitesell said Desrochers' success in her hockey career and as a student is a source of pride for the organization.
"We follow our athletes and we're proud to see them succeed in their future endeavours, and Julie is definitely one of those athletes," Whitesell said.
Desrochers participated in MASRC sports camps as a youngster and more recently coached in them.
"I've volunteered with the MASRC for (KidSport) equipment drives and hockey schools to help young aboriginal kids who haven't had the opportunities I've had," she said.
Desrochers has assisted at Manitoba Métis Federation/MASRC summer hockey schools in Winnipeg the last two summers.
"I want to see more girls in hockey," she said.
"Female hockey has taken a big step in the last few years and the more girls we get into the program playing, it opens up opportunities for them and increases their self-confidence."