The Magic U14AA ringette team is entering the upcoming Western Canada Ringette Championships (WCRC) as the defending champs in the age group, but the squad isn’t considering itself the frontrunner for this year’s cup by any stretch.
The Magic finished as provincial runners-up to the Eastman Flames at the recent Manitoba Ringette Associations AA Provincials — falling 2-1 in the best-of-three series — and will occupy the host spot. As provincial champions, the Flames enter as Team Manitoba.
The Magic had plenty of trickery last year in taking last year’s WCRC title, but there are only six players returning from that squad. Head coach Kelly Sims, who also won her first provincial title in 20 years of coaching last year, said while the Magic might not be the favourites, that doesn’t mean the team should be written off, either.
"Everybody’s coming from having been the best on their teams for their entire lives, scoring the most goals, and being a team leader," Sims, who is from Silver Heights, said. "Now, they’re one of 15 other best kids on the team. It can be a challenge for them at first just getting used to not being ‘that kid’.
"It happens fairly quickly because they spend so much time together and they love the game."
The team, which features players from River East, Assiniboia, Interlake, Macdonald, Transcona, St. James, and Southdale, started training in June with a home workout plan and have been on the ice since September.
Sims said they’ve played their Saskatchewan and Alberta opponents competitively, but have not yet seen the British Columbia entries yet.
"We’re very strong defensively, but we’re really strong everywhere," she said, adding she feels the players’ conditioning is the best in the league. "We’re just a really well-rounded team."
Transcona’s Cierra Melnyk is a first-year player on the team. The forward said she settled in as the season went along, overcoming a little shyness to slot in well alongside players her own age and a year older.
"I’m glad I got to meet new people and learn how others play," said Melnyk, 12, who said her shot improved dramatically over the course of the season. "At the beginning (it was difficult), but then I started getting used to it."
Defender Mackenzie Eisbrenner is a returnee to the Magic, who is from Macdonald, and feels the team has just the right amount of respect for its opponents and its collective abilities heading into the tournament.
"This year was different last year, because last year, we were the team to beat," Eisbrenner said. "We’re definitely the underdog, so we’re not coming out as overconfident. We definitely want to win and believe we can win.
"Our biggest strength right now is we know we can do it, but we’re not being overconfident."
There are four age groups in all competing at the tournament — U14, U16, U19, and 18+ — with two Manitoba entries in each division. For more information on the championships, which take place at MTS Iceplex, visit http://www.wcrc2014.ca.