She's the captain of one of the visiting teams but the MTS Iceplex is still home this week for Neepawa's Halli Krzyzaniak.
Krzyzaniak, 18, led the Pursuit of Excellence team from Kelowna, B.C., to a decisive 6-0 win over the Rothesay Netherwood team from New Brunswick Thursday in its first game of the inaugural Female World Sport School Challenge. Pursuit outshot Rothesay, 61-9.
The Hockey Canada-sanctioned event, hosted by Winnipeg's own St. Mary's Academy Flames, includes eight teams from hockey academy schools across Canada.
"I think the last time I played in a hockey tournament in Manitoba, I was maybe 13 years old and playing for the Neepawa Hawks (boys team)," Krzyzaniak said on Thursday after her team's first game. "It's great for our (Pursuit) team, we're a younger team so it's great for us to get this kind of experience. For me, it's a lot of fun to be playing here at home."
Krzyzaniak, who has been attending the Pursuit of Excellence since Grade 8, said heading to the B.C. school was "the natural thing to do" for her since her older brother Kyle had also gone there.
"The fact that it's such a great mix of hockey and school has let me get the best out of myself," said Krzyzaniak, who attends classes for three hours and spends two hours on the ice each week day. The Pursuit program also includes an hour of skill development and an hour of off-ice fitness instruction each day, all of which is geared to help take players to the next level.
Krzyzaniak has already tested her skills at the national and international level. She was an alternate captain of Canada's national women's under-18 team which won the 2013 IIHF World Women's Under-18 Hockey Championship on Jan. 5 at Heinola, Finland. Last fall, she was the captain of Team Manitoba which won silver at the 2012 National Women's Under-18 Championship at Dawson Creek, B.C.
"She brings more than what she brings on the ice. As far as her play, I don't think there is a better defenceman her age out there in the world," said Pursuit head coach Scott Spencer. "The awards she's received this year prove that. She was the top defenceman at the world championship, she was top defenceman and the MVP of the Canadian national championship. The leadership she brings off the ice is phenomenal. She is a very mature kid, she's very businesslike, she comes to work. She's a pro."
Krzyzaniak's development as an elite player had humble beginnings.
"Coming from a hockey family really helped. My dad was one of the best coaches I've ever had and our cold Manitoba winters with our outdoor rink made it a lot of fun," said Krzyzaniak, who will head to Grand Forks this fall on a hockey scholarship at the University of North Dakota.
Since she's been at Pursuit, preparatory hockey programs in Winnipeg have begun at St. Mary's and Shaftesbury in addition to Balmoral Hall, which is in its seventh year, and the provincial AAA midget league added two Winnipeg teams.
"It's been so great to see. Our Manitoba team's showing at nationals this year was so great and it just shows how much we've improved as a province," said Krzyzaniak.
The tournament final will conclude Sunday with the bronze-medal game at 1:30 p.m. followed by the gold-medal game at 1:30 p.m. Hockey players aged 12 and under, wearing their team jerseys and accompanied by an adult will be given free admission.
St. Mary's Academy 5
Fort Frances 0
St. Mary's goals: Riann Richot 2, Danielle Krzyszczyk, Tess Bracken, Saige Patrick
Banff Hockey Academy 2
Shaftesbury goals: Kayla Karbonik 2, Stephanie Grossi 2, Kayla Mee, Justine Fredette
Okanagan Hockey Academy 4
Edge School 3 (SO)
Pursuit of Excellence 6
Rothesay Netherwood 0
Okanagan Hockey Academy 2
St. Mary's Academy 0
Pursuit of Excellence 9
Banff Hockey Academy 2