Though their season has wrapped up, U11 St. Albert Junior Raiders Lightning teammates Paisley Skuta and Norah Ludlow say they will always keep in mind their coach’s advice.
“Bryce always told us don’t ever give up, and it’s all about teamwork,” Ludlow said. “I think I’ll remember that.”
Ludlow, who plays centre, and Skuta, who plays defence, are the first-ever girls to play on a Junior Raiders team in St. Albert.
St. Albert Minor Hockey Association (SAMHA) added two new teams to the Junior Raiders roster this past year with the launch of its U11 program, an elite hockey option designed to keep talented players in the city.
When asked how it feels to be trailblazers on a team of all boys, Skuta and Ludlow seemed unfazed.
“It just felt like it was just a normal day at hockey,” Ludlow said.
Ludlow and Skuta have been longtime friends and teammates. Meeting in kindergarten, the two played hockey together before making the Junior Raiders team.
Skuta said playing novice alongside Ludlow in the years leading up to their stint on the Lightning is when she first started to “really love hockey.”
Ludlow said her parents had a suspicion she would take to the sport while bringing her to hockey games when she was younger.
“When the game was over, I would just hold onto the boards,” Ludlow said. “I just wanted to see more hockey.”
Bryce Classen, Lightning head coach, said he wasn't aware of the two girls' longstanding bond when he picked them for the team. It came as an added bonus. He said coaching the pair has been “fantastic.”
“Right from the start, I picked them because I wanted them on my team based on their performance,” Classen said. “After I picked them, I realized how good of kids they were. They’re great teammates, and having them on board with the team is a definite asset.”
When trying out for the team, Skuta said she had heard other hockey players speaking with confidence about making the Junior Raiders, while she wasn’t so sure.
“They were like ‘I’m definitely going to make this team,’” Skuta said. “And I was like, ‘I’m going to get Tier Three or something,’ but then I made it and I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’”
Now, with a full season of experience as Junior Raiders behind them, Skuta and Ludlow said highlights from the past year include co-hosting the Junior Raiders Spring Invitational March 18-20 with the other Junior Raiders team, as well as a U11 AA tournament in Red Deer in November.
Another highlight included the West Edmonton Mall Family Day Tournament from Feb. 19-21, though Skuta noted playing in the mall was not all it’s cracked up to be.
“That one was fun, but everything was so hot in there,” Skuta laughed. “Both the dressing rooms and the rink.”
Skuta said she appreciated all her team members throughout the season, adding that they helped contribute to what was a “very fun year.”
Similarly, Ludlow said hanging out with her teammates has been her favourite part of the season.
“We had a lot of fun,” Ludlow said.