They may be called the Rivermen, but that didn’t stop two young Yukon ladies from finding a place on the boys’ league team.
Wynne Anderson-Lindsay, 14, and Arnica Bulmer, 13, both tried out for the Tier 1 Bantam hockey team in the fall and made it.
Carl Burgess, the Yukon Rivermen’s head coach until mid-December, said making a hockey team now-a-days has little to do with gender and everything to do with skill.
“This is tier one competitive hockey,” Burgess said during an early December interview. “The only way to make a team is to be good enough to be in the top 19 for the roster.”
The girls, he said, performed exceptionally in all the categories needed to make the team, such as skating ability, hockey IQ, competitiveness and overall skill level.
“They made the team fair and square,” said Burgess.
Anderson-Lindsay of Whitehorse made the roster in one of the two goaltender spots. She has only been playing hockey for four years and this is her second season as a goalie.
“My (previous) coach decided that it would be a good idea for me to be a goalie because I’m tall,” she said with a chuckle.
Anderson-Lindsay played the first two years of her hockey career as a defenceman in the mixed house league, then switched to the Female Mustangs hockey team last season where she found her home between the pipes.
“I like it,” she added. “I like it more than I liked defence.”
But the women’s league wasn’t quite enough for the budding goaltender.
“I just wanted to be challenged, I guess, a little bit more,” said Anderson-Lindsay. “The Rivermen are a lot faster, there’s more checking and the guys are a lot more aggressive.”
For both the girls, the contact aspect of the boys’ league has taken some getting used to. This is especially true for Bulmer, who clinched one of the team’s defenceman positions this season.
“It’s my first time playing body contact (hockey),” said Bulmer, who’s been playing hockey since she was about five years old.
“I find it hard to get used to … and I’m still getting used to it,” she said with a shy smile.
Bulmer is originally from Dawson City, but relocated to Whitehorse with her family after joining the Yukon Rivermen for their sophomore season beginning last fall.
In Dawson, hockey was Bulmer’s life.
She would practice her shooting in her garage, or on an outdoor rink her parents built some winters. A few times a week she would also go to the “early-bird ice” at the local rink before school.
But if she had to credit her skills to one person, it would be her dad.
“My dad’s coached me, like my personal coach, all the years that I’ve played hockey,” Bulmer said.
The young Dawsonite decided to try out for the Rivermen because, like Anderson-Lindsay, she was looking to be challenged more on the ice.
“I think my favourite thing is the competitiveness of the hockey and all the travelling that we do,” Bulmer said.
On the coaching end of things, Burgess said there was a bit of a learning curve having females on the team for the first time, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
“There are 19 players on a team and everyone has a different style of learning, everyone has a different style of compete and everyone has a different motivational factor,” said Burgess.
“The females do a couple of things different,” he said. “One, they ask ‘why’ more often. And that’s new and that’s a bit of an adjustment for most coaches. And also, there is a real strong emotive element to their competitive approach.”
That’s not to say that women players are overly emotional, he added to clarify, but that the “competitive beast” within female players has more of an emotional element to it than the men’s.
But regardless of what makes each player tick, it is the team dynamic that matters most.
“It’s really refreshing to see the players on the team, aside from dressing in separate rooms and the basics on that, it’s steady you go,” he said. “We all want to win the game and work together as a team.”
“There has been almost zero adjustment on that front,” added Burgess, “and that is, I think, a really excellent sign of the times.”
The then-coach also gave high praises to the girls on the team, saying if they continue to play and grow at the pace they are going, he sees big hockey achievements in their futures.
In the Yukon, the Rivermen many be as far as these ladies can go competitively, but it’s not putting a damper on their enthusiasm for their future in the sport.
“I just want to go as far as I can go with hockey,” said Bulmer, adding that she will likely leave the Yukon to continue her passion.
And if you ask Bulmer about the possibility of the women’s Olympic hockey team?
“I mean that would be awesome,” she said with a big smile, “but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much.”
Contact Crystal Schick at firstname.lastname@example.org