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All-star talent shows how far league has come

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Some of the province’s most talented female hockey players put on a show at the ninth annual Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League All-Star Game on Jan. 17.

Players from each of the league’s six teams — the Blizzard, Ice, Predators, Stars, Silvertips and Blaze — gave a crowd of several hundred fans at the MTS Iceplex a first-hand look at the circuit’s quality of play.

Chantel Jubinville, a forward for the Blaze who scored the game’s opening goal in a 4-2 win for the Black All-Stars, was playing in her third all-star game.

"It’s a great opportunity to play with some of the other girls from other teams," said the Valley Gardens resident. "It’s nice to get chosen to represent my team."

Jubinville said a lot of the players in the league know each other well, and often played on the same teams growing up until being jumbled onto different clubs at the junior level. Being able to reconnect on the ice with former teammates makes the all-star game extra special, she said.

Liza Lotz, a blueliner for the Blizzard, was an all-star rookie in her third MWJHL season. She said it was an honour and a surprise to be named an all-star.

"I was pretty excited," said the North End resident. "There were lots of other defencemen to pick from. But I felt like I definitely stepped up my game this year."

Silvertips centre Rebecca McMurray, a St. James resident playing in her second all-star game, said that just like the NHL version of the exhibition, the game has a different feel.

"We definitely play a little differently than usual," she said. "The rhythm of the game is different, it’s less competitive, it’s more friendly and fun."

That said, when the score is close late in the third period — as it was this year — the natural competitive juices begin to take over, McMurray added.

"It does get more intense towards the end," she said.

Veteran players all agree that the quality of play in the MWJHL has been steadily improving with each passing year. McMurray said it’s becoming a very attractive option for players who want to stay competitive after playing AA hockey while attending university.

St. Vital resident Danica Knockaert, a centre for the Blaze in her third season in the league, said the talent level keeps getting deeper and making the all-star game is more of an honour than ever.

"The league is really growing," said the two-time all-star. "Girls’ hockey in general has come a long way. We keep recruiting great talent when the veterans move on, and we’re all having a blast."

Added Lotz: "The league is getting more known, so more good players are coming out from all different levels of hockey."

The regular season concludes on Feb. 23 — after a brief break in early February for the annual Lieutenant Governor’s Tournament — with playoffs beginning on Feb. 27.
For schedules and standings, visit www.themwjhl.ca.

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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