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Erika Vanderveer's Blog: The art of breaking in

Before joining the CWHL, Erika Vanderveer played for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

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Before joining the CWHL, Erika Vanderveer played for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Team rivalries exist in every platform of sports, including the world of hockey. There is the great Alberta rivalry between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers or the Ontario enmity between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. But along with inherent rivalries exists the reality of trades and dispersal drafts – so what happens when you find yourself playing for a once-reviled opponent?

That happened to me this summer when I was drafted by Brampton after playing for Burlington the past two seasons.

Back in June, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League held the first ever women’s draft at the Hockey Hall of Fame, consisting of three GTA teams drawing upon current CWHL players, Olympians, NCAA and CIS graduates and any other prospective elite players from around the world. Montreal and Boston held tryouts in their respective areas. The goal of the draft was to ensure complete parity amongst the three GTA teams.

So with the draft complete, evaluation and training camps finalized, the rosters and league has a whole new makeup. Players who once batted each other find themselves sharing the same dressing room. Players who used to be captains are adjusting to the lack of the ‘C’ on the front of their jersey. And coaches who have never coached any of these players before are trying, at the very least, to learn names and get to know and understand new troops. Though former teammates will be missed and certain rolls may not yet be apparent, the mark of a fresh start gives hope. I call this The Art of Breaking In.

A few weeks ago, I finally buckled down and bought a new pair of Vaughn Velocity goal pads. But the first time I stepped on the ice with them, boy did I regret it. They were so stiff, it looked like my first time on the ice and when I attempted a butterfly, I thought I would never be able to get back up. But after a few weeks worth of practices and many restless nights of covering them up with a towel and mercilessly beating them with my goal stick – I feel human again when I put them on. Though breaking in new equipment can be painful - well, more painful for onlookers to watch - it does get better. Persevere through the tough times and the new equipment pays off, though I wished it paid off my Visa bill, too.

In the beginning, practices still felt like I was in a game, as former opponents were shooting on me. But as each practice goes by, it all begins to settle in. Someone you used to walk by and see as a foe, you now walk by and say, “Hey, how’s it going - yep we’re in Room Four!” New friendships are slowly born and the new team begins to take shape.

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Along with a new team comes a fresh set of coaches. Getting to know the coaching staff can be a struggle, especially if they’re new to the league, too, and have to learn 20 or so new faces. So when your coach turns to you and says your name, “Van-veer, right?” just nod your head, smile and say, ‘Absolutely!’ It’s not your job to correct them, or tell them how to do their job - we’re just supposed to go out on the ice, give it our all and play our hearts out for them and the rest of our teammates.

In the end, it may take a few games, perhaps the first team bus trip, but soon enough the new lineups will begin to gel just like past ones. 

Just like if you’re struggling with your newly acquired equipment, always remember: you’re not the only one, give it time and soon enough you won’t even notice the difference.

Keep bearing down, giving it everything you have in every practice and every game and your coaches will soon get to know and appreciate you. Take the time to clear the air over any past rivals and get to know your new teammates.

But in the end, stay true to your roots - remember why you continually, year after year, lace up those skates. There may not be a paycheck at the end of this tunnel, but you don’t see that slowing us down; we play this game because we love it. The CWHL is here to stay and be sure to check out a game this year, as new teams take form, new rivalries are built and a new champion raises the Clarkson Cup.

The CWHL opens its season the Oct. 23-24 weekend when my Brampton squad hosts Toronto (3 p.m. at the Cassie Campbell Community Center) and Montreal visits Burlington (1:30 p.m. at the Appleby Ice Center).

For more info and team schedules, check out the CWHL website.

Erika Vanderveer is a goaltender for Brampton in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a five-team circuit featuring many of the game’s top female players. Vanderveer also spent four years tending goal at Ohio State on a full scholarship and one year in Austria playing in the European Women’s League. Read her other blog entries HERE.

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