By Darren Lum
A thunderous ovation from the standing fans in the 700-seat arena was an exclamation point to an amazing experience for former Red Hawk Julia Fedeski who played in the Dream Gap Tour a few weeks ago.
Fedeski was among the best women hockey players in the world showcasing their skills to kick off the Dream Gap Tour presented by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on Sept. 21 at the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke.
The weekend of four games was part of a series of mini-tournaments that will be held throughout North America this year. Upcoming stops will be in New Hampshire and Chicago.
Last year the Canadian Women’s Hockey League ended after 12 years.
The best players from the defunct CWHL and the other women’s league the National Women’s Hockey League chose to participate on the tour as a unified effort to promote women’s hockey with the goal to form a single viable professional women’s hockey league for North America.
Although Fedeski’s team lost the opening game to kick off the tour 4-3 the event was a win for everyone. From the smiling fans of all ages the appreciative players and the corporate sponsors there was a definite sunny feeling matched by the weather outside.
The list of players in Toronto that weekend included national women’s team members and Olympic champions Rebecca Johnston Brianne Jenner Natalie Spooner and Hilary Knight.
Fedeski was born in 1996 and is among the younger players on this tour. She wasn’t sure about her participation in the other scheduled tour dates due to work but practices regularly.
Growing up Fedeski said Cassie Campbell and Haley Wickenheiser were and remain her idols.
To think she could be included with this group some day and to inspire others is humbling.
“It’s pretty incredible to be honest. I would have never expected this growing up. Obviously the dream is to make the Olympics. It’s hard. Obviously it’s the hardest thing to do” she said.
She’s had a series of achievements from playing with the boys as part of the Highland Storm two years with the Toronto Aeros playing midget and junior four years at the University of New Hampshire to her rookie year with the Toronto Furies of the CWHL.
She’s just happy to still be playing hockey and is proud of being part of this effort.
Fedeski said this is all about giving the next generation of girls hope for something to play for besides the Olympics.
Scores will be kept but at the end of each mini-tournament the winners are all the players and those they inspire.
“We’re not playing in a league. So what we’re doing is going across North America to showcase the talent but there’s no winner at the end of it. We’re all going for one goal” she said referring to the promotion of the women’s game.
Not one to forget her roots she said the influence of the McRae family helped ignite her passion for the game.
It helps to have former NHLer Basil McRae provide pointers growing up on Boshkung Lake but she counts his daughter Abbey who played for St. Lawrence University’s division one women’s hockey team as not only her best friend but was a role model.
“That’s where I learned to love hockey. Like I would say Abbey is one of my biggest role models. She pushed me to play … yeah they definitely had a huge impact on my playing career” she said.
Her message to other girls who want to play hockey is simple: Just keep going.
Girls don’t have to be afraid to play with the boys if that’s the only option. Keep the dream alive and play she said. It doesn ’t matter if your friends are doing it or not.
In fact she remains friends with the boys she played novice hockey with.
“We can play with the boys. It’s just a matter of not giving up” she said.
Hockey is a given growing up in the Highlands.
“Growing up in Haliburton when I was younger it was the thing you do” she said.
Fedeski has always had her family’s support.
Sitting among fans in the stands were father John Fedeski and mother Michele Bromley who said they don’t miss a game and on Saturday they were in the stands watching with pride.
“She’s worked hard. It’s an honour for her to be here. There are a lot of fantastic women hockey players … the best in the world. It’s an honour” Bromley said.
“Julia was always a really nice smooth skater. Even when she was four years old. Bill Hicks our friend taught her in day care. They used to look after her once in awhile” he said referring to skating on Boshkung Lake. “She was always a smooth skater. That really encouraged her to play hockey because it was natural.”
She’s faced her share of challenges during her hockey playing.
Fedeski’s mother said they kept her focused and aware that in sports like life there is always challenge.
“Nothing’s easy so how badly do you want it and things are not going to go your way. In sports. Business. Friends. Everything. It’s resilience. If you don’t have a bit of that then you’re in trouble” she said.
Fedeski was surprised with the ceremonial puck drop to start the tour.
It included hockey luminaries Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry and Ron MacLean who was part of a group of guests such as Hockey Hall of Famer and PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford and Hockeyville’s Tara Slone.
It was great for the event to have them she said.
“I didn’t know they were going to be there so to see those guys is … I mean Don Cherry is one of the greats right? They’re leaders. They’re big followers. To see them Don Cherry it’s really big for us. It’s a really big step in the right direction” she said.
See www.pwhpa.com for more information.