She was the best player in the Winnipeg Women’s High School Hockey League this season, and she was barely old enough to even be in high school.
Kayla Friesen of the A Division champion Dakota Lancers took home three awards at the league’s annual banquet last week: top scorer, Rookie of the Year, and Most Valuable Player in the division. Not bad for a 15-year-old Grade 9 student who was three years younger than many of the league’s players.
"It feels pretty awesome," said the St. Vital resident. "It’s a huge accomplishment for me. I didn’t know what to expect (from the WWHSHL) because it was my first year playing girls’ hockey."
Friesen, the daughter of a hockey-playing father, picked up the game when she was four years old. She claims she was an average player when she was younger, but the facts make that seem unlikely.
She grew up playing against boys, age advancing when she was seven and eight, and eventually making the AAA minor bantam Winnipeg Warriors last season. This year, in addition to the Lancers, she was part of a AA boys’ team.
"I’m not one of the biggest or strongest players out there," Friesen said, "but I think a lot out there and see the ice pretty well. I’m more of a playmaker."
Her league-leading 48 points included a league-high 31 goals for the Lancers in 19 regular season games.
But if you ask Friesen what the highlight of her season was, it won’t have anything to do with individual stats.
"It was the championship game, when the final buzzer went off," she said, referring to the Lancers’ clinching 4-1 win over College Louis-Riel.
Despite all her obvious talent, Friesen hadn’t been on a championship team since her earliest years of competitive hockey.
"It was a pretty good feeling," she said. "Everyone at the school was excited. Around the end of the first half of the season I knew we had a strong team and if we kept working hard we could win it all."
Like many high school players, Friesen said the different experience of playing for her school was a positive one.
"It’s different than what I was used to," she said. "You have the whole school’s support, even the teachers and everyone. It’s cool to get to see your teammates and coaches every day."
Other Lancers nominated for awards were Kelsey Bowerman in the top goaltender category, and Natasha Esquivel in the most sportsmanlike category.
Goalie Sydne Valiquette of River East Collegiate was the MVP and top goalternder of the B Division, while teammate Elise Edginton took home top scorer and best defenceman honours.
Lorissa Loeppky of Vincent Massey was the A Division’s top defenceman, Danelle Grossman of St. John’s-Ravenscourt was the top goalie and Christine Johnson of West Kildonan was the most sportsmanlike player.
Karina Durupt of College Louis-Riel and Dana Todd of Westwood Collegiate were the recipients of $750 scholarships for winning the WWHSHL leadership awards.