They're new to the show, but the Shaftesbury Titans female preparatory hockey team has quickly become a star attraction.
The Titans, one of three prep-school hockey programs in Winnipeg for female players, are in their first season of operation and are the only one based in a public school. The Balmoral Hall Blazers, the flagship prep program in Manitoba, is in its seventh season. The St. Mary's Academy Flames are in their second season as a prep program.
Shaftesbury has systematically picked off top prep teams wherever it has gone this season and recently skated away with the championship title at the Minnesota Thoroughbreds Tournament, one of the most prestigious showcase contests in North America.
Goaltenders Rachel Dyck and Tiana Charban combined for three shutouts in the round-robin. Then the Titans turned heads in the semifinal, beating B.C.'s Program of Excellence midget AAA team, a prep program that costs about $40,000 to attend, and beat the Westman Wildcats of the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League in the final.
"We use that as motivation, and some of our girls come from private schools, so they know the image that comes with that. So I'll say, 'You're a public school team; we're not getting a lot of respect here. Let's go out and prove something,' and we do," said Shaftesbury head coach Eugene Kaminsky, also a Shaftesbury teacher.
"We're coming out of public school and going toe to toe with some of these high-profile (out-of-province) programs that cost $40,000. The girls recognize that, and it's motivating to them."
Kaminsky said his philosophy is to play all his players.
"I have to give the credit to the girls themselves, the commitment they've made and the leadership of our captain, Rikki Meilleur," Kaminsky said.
"When we go against big teams like Shattuck-St. Mary's and Notre Dame, inevitably they shorten their bench and we never shorten our bench.
"The whole intent of the program is for these girls to grow as players and to showcase these players. I'm a big proponent that if I do my job properly in practices, then I shouldn't have to shorten my bench."
Player Michela Esposito transferred to Shaftesbury this season for her Grade 12 year after attending Balmoral Hall from grades 7 through 11.
"I wanted a different experience after having been at Balmoral for so long, so I was just excited to explore another opportunity. I already knew so many of the girls going here," said Esposito, 18, who has accepted a hockey scholarship to the University of Regina next season.
Her parents are former university athletes -- University of Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball player Sheila Picklyk and University of Manitoba Bisons football player Fabio Esposito.
"You don't have to go to a private school to get a scholarship," their daughter said. "It all has to do with your opportunities to play in tournaments and showcases. For me, this program has been great because the team and the coach are giving me so much room to develop as a player."