The hockey path leads through a heavyweight diet

Gain weight. That’s not a frequent exhortation in our culture but for aspiring young hockey stars like Chantelle (Butch) Rivest, it’s a…

Gain weight.

That’s not a frequent exhortation in our culture but for aspiring young hockey stars like Chantelle (Butch) Rivest, it’s a goal.

“I just want to get as strong as I can and as fit as I can, and see where it goes from there,” Rivest said.

At 5-7 and a mere 135 pounds, Rivest thought she was heavy compared to fashion magazine standards, and to some of her friends — who were often under-guessing her weight.

Even though she noticed her male counterparts on the Mustangs Pee Wee AA and Mustangs Bantam AA were inching up with an age-related weight advantage, she still thought of herself as pretty big.

“For a number of years, the whole weight thing really bothered me. I thought I weighed too much.”

Last weekend changed that.

Rivest flew to Calgary for a three-day strength and conditioning camp with 65 other young female players from every province and territory save for Nunavut.

The all-expenses-paid camp was a first step for women’s national team hopefuls.

The only Yukoner and the second-youngest invited, Rivest said she was “crazy nervous” to meet the other hockey players and discover whether or not she’d fit in.

Sixty of the young women will be invited back to a Hockey Canada training camp in July.

There, they will be judged on performance and skill, and a number will be selected for the under-22 and under-18 women’s national teams.

The girls will also be evaluated in terms of personal commitment and adherence to Hockey Canada’s rigorous training and nutritional guidelines.

“Obviously, we were told to avoid junk food,” Rivest said, seated in Goldsmiths on Main Street, where her mother Cheryl works.

The first rule they were given was to eat every three hours. Next, they were told to load up on fruits and veggies.

Rivest said the girls were also told to monitor their fluid intake, keep hydrated, and to avoid foods that are difficult to digest before games and practices.

Accustomed to just having cereal with milk for breakfast, Rivest was instructed to add more protein into the mix to complement muscle-building exercises: a half slice of toast with peanut butter would do.

Even though she was told to limit greasy foods like bacon, lean meats are essential, “which is actually really good for Yukoners, because most of us hunt,” said Rivest.

In addition to keeping a food diary for the next two months, and potentially much longer, Rivest has had to undertake a self-enforced training schedule, laid out on paper by Hockey Canada, and accompanied by two DVDs.

At the conditioning camp, the girls were tested on their ability to do chin-ups. Rivest managed two, which was typical for many of the girls, she said.

One girl beat the pack by achieving six. Rivest was told that Team Canada’s expectation is a minimum of 10 full down-to-straight-arm-and-back chin-ups.

Rivest, who can bench press 70 pounds, was further humbled when she saw one of her fellow campers manage 190 pounds. She did curl ups and crunches until she became sore “where I didn’t even know I had stomach muscles!”

And, as they stood around in the gym doing bicep curls and lunges, Rivest had a revelation.

Looking at her own reflection and those of the other girls in the gym mirror, she thought that, in comparison to those bigger and older girls, she looked anorexic.

Bare-armed during the interview, the porcelain-complexioned Rivest demonstrated visible upper-arm muscle tone, a flat stomach, and a trim but strong frame.

She’s not a willow, but she’s not an oak yet either. In the hockey world, she’s just not big enough.

“It’s a very new image that just happened on the weekend.”

Rivest is taking her potential seriously, and has committed, at least for the last week, to incorporate the extra running and weight lifting and snacking into her daily routine. Though hockey season is over, she still juggles homework and school with a cashier’s job.

She’s used to an intense schedule. Rivest was the youngest player in the female division at the 2004 Arctic Winter Games. She also played in the 2006 Arctic Winter Games and split her time between girls’ and boys’ teams before committing to the Northern Avalanche in preparation for the Canada Winter Games.

Along with forward Jessica (the tank) Trotter and defence Mallory Lesage, forward Chantelle Rivest was noted as a “player to watch” during the Canada Games in a women’s hockey media guide.

That’s where Hockey Canada Women’s Program head scout Wally Kozak decided she should get on the road for the national team.

If selected from the July Camp, Rivest will have the chance to play at the World Women’s Under-18 Championship from January 7 to 13, in a Canadian city — just where is yet to be determined.

Rivest hopes she could be on the road to 2014 from there.

Her 2007 Canada Winter Games Women’s Yukon and Northern Avalanche team coach Randy Merkel is pleased that Rivest finally got the message to take nutrition and conditioning seriously.

“The whole nutrition and strength building thing, we tried to initiate that and work on it with the (Canada Games) team,” said Merkel.

“Chantelle was one of the ones that didn’t really buy in.”

Merkel characterized the forward as headstrong, inquisitive, and questioning. A difficult patient.

“She needs to learn to be a better coach’s player,” he said, after complementing her aggressive skating and competitive ice work.

“When she does, I tell you, she’s going to be on the national team,” said Merkel.

Her supportive mother, Cheryl Rivest, is happy to support her, and is glad the community has been on-board with youth hockey for so many years.

Now, she says, her daughter is at a crossroads where she can see her options and decide whether or not to jump full-tilt into a hockey life.

“At the camp, they (Hockey Canada) lay it right out on the line: these are our expectations,” said Cheryl.

“If you wish to continue on and pursue this, this is where our expectations are from a national team point of view,” she said.

The young Rivest expects to improve her shooting skills at the next camp if she’s invited back.

In that case, Rivest will also have another opportunity to pick up a supply of her real weakness, those hard-to-find cinnamon heart candies, which she last found at the Vancouver airport.

The most important outcome from another Hockey Canada camp at this stage in Rivest’s development would be the self-esteem to be gained through peer support.

“I just want to get stronger, I don’t care what weight I go to,” she said of her plans for the summer.

“But, I mean, being a girl I’ll probably be self-conscious with that weight anyways,” she said, “until I get back to this camp.”

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