While former Trail Smoke Eaters were making headlines in the NCAA Frozen Four, another Trail minor hockey alumnus was quietly carving out an MVP season at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary.
Trail native Erin McLean received MVP honours earlier this month for the SAIT Trojans women’s ice-hockey team. The 20-year-old defenceman was the fourth top scorer on the team netting three goals and 11 points in 24 games for the Alberta Colleges Conference Association (ACAC) team.
“It was very exciting, and I’m very proud,” said McLean from her home in Calgary. “It feels like it has been a lot of years of hard work.”
McLean began her hockey career in Trail, then played three years for the Female AAA Wildcats before moving onto SAIT and the ACAC. She joins a long list of Wildcats alumni that went on to play college hockey, including Erin’s sister Chelsea, Kaetlyn Yuris, Desirae Barrett, Lindsey Audia, Michelle Jones, and Serina Swanson.
“With less people in the Kootenays you get more opportunities than playing in the big city,” said McLean. “Cary Fisher (Wildcats coach) was amazing growing up and he taught me so much, so definitely my time was enjoyable there, and made me want to continue with hockey.”
Joining her on this year’s team was Stephanie McAuley of Trail and Nakusp’s Kira Streliev, a strong showing from the Midget AAA Wildcats.
“I played with them when I was third year midget and they were first year, so it’s nice to play with them again,” said McLean. “It (ACAC) is definitely faster, and everyone was a bit bigger, but I found I was pretty prepared from midget so it was a good transition.”
The J. L. Crowe graduate was also happy to learn of BC Hockey’s decision to move the AAA Wildcats, now the Wild, and the Major Midget Ice teams to J. L. Crowe as part of the new High Performance Academy. McLean remembers the long nights travelling back and forth to Castlegar, Nelson, or Cranbrook for practice, yet considers herself lucky.
“I only had to travel an hour, but there were some girls traveling five-and-a-half hours each way, three times a week, so it was definitely hard,” said McLean. “I’m kind of jealous actually.”
In addition to McLean, the class of ’95 is indeed impressive with Scott Davidson and Craig Martin playing in the Frozen Four with Quinnipiac University for the NCAA Div. 1 National hockey championship earlier this month, and Jake Lucchini making in into the sweet-16 with Michigan Tech. As youngsters, they all started skating together in the Kids Rink at the Trail Memorial Centre, continued through Rossland-Trail minor hockey and Major Midget, and ultimately received college scholarships to play hockey and earn an education.
“It was awesome, and our ’95 year this year is quite successful,” said McLean. “With Scott and Craig in the Frozen Four, that’s so exciting.”
While the Trojans got bumped from the playoffs by eventual champions Red Deer College Queens, the year was a special one for McLean. As well as her MVP season, the former Wildcat completed her third year at SAIT and will graduate in June with a diploma in Business Management; but her journey doesn’t end there.
McLean will make another jump when she suits up for the Mount Royal University Cougars in September, a team that competes in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS).
“I thought I needed a few years to become stronger and become a stronger hockey player, I didn’t go CIS when I was 18 because I’d transition a bit better, so now I feel I’m more prepared.”
Erin’s sister Chelsea played for Mount Royal when it was part of the ACAC and led the underdog Cougars to within one goal of the championship in 2009, when it lost 1-0 in Game 5 of the best-of-five series to the University of Calgary Dinos.
“It’s something I’ve always looked forward to,” said Erin. “My sister played for Mount Royal when they were in the ACAC and I’ll be number-6 this coming year which is also her number. I picked it because it was hers.”
With two-years of eligibility remaining, Erin will study macro-economics at Mount Royal, play defence for the Cougars, and look for another MVP season.
“It’s a new challenge, but I’m very thankful for my years at SAIT,” said Erin. “But I guess it’s time to move on.”