Danielle Krzyszczyk still remembers putting on a Team Manitoba jersey for the first time.
"I remember taking it all in, and knowing that the whole province was behind all of us when we stepped on the ice," said the 15-year-old forward from St. Vital, who for the second straight year will be part of the under-18 female provincial team.
Manitoba won a bronze medal in last year’s national championship, and will bring back 12 players from that team when this year’s event is held in Dawson Creek, B.C., from Nov. 7 to 11.
As a 14-year-old playing against girls as many as three years older than her in 2011, Krzyszczyk saw first-hand where she wanted to get to with her own game.
"It’s not comparable (to local hockey)," said Krzyszczyk, who plays for the prep team, now in its second year, at St. Mary’s Academy. "It’s so much faster, and there are no weak players."
Head coach Ashley van Aggelen called the squad, which was officially named last week, "talented, skilled and fast-paced." The final roster of 20 players includes members of nine clubs, who come from 12 hometowns.
The first wave of tryouts were held in February, followed by several other camps leading up to September, when the final 22 players managed one win, a loss and one tie in a trio of exhibition games against the University of Manitoba women’s team.
Larissa Martyniuk, a 17-year-old defenceman from St. James, believes Manitoba will show the rest of the country that its bronze medal was no fluke.
"I’m really excited to be on this team again," said the member of the Shaftesbury Titans prep team. "Knowing how we did before, I’m expecting other teams to come out hard against us because they know we’ll be really strong."
Tournament organizers didn’t do Manitoba any favours, as the team will be in a powerhouse group with Alberta, Quebec and one of the two Ontario teams. If they can finish in the top two spots after the round-robin, they’ll earn a semifinal berth.
"I figure we might as well come out hard," Martyniuk said. "We’re up against three tough teams, but I don’t think we’ll be scared. It’ll be good for us. Most of us have been there before and we know what to expect."
The prep hockey program at Shaftesbury is new this year, following closely on the footsteps of St. Mary’s. With those two teams added to the established Balmoral Hall program, Manitoba is quickly building an infrastructure for developing elite female hockey players.
"It’s definitely helping the provincial program in general," said Martyniuk, who played at Balmoral Hall in Grades 10 and 11.
Krzyszczyk said the team’s goal for this year’s tournament is clear: a spot in the gold-medal game.
"With the maturity we all bring now I think we have the potential," she said.