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Ringette player off to world championships

Top of the world

(July 13, 2000, Gazette)

Photo by Chris Hammond

By Susen Johnson

As the cliche goes, Kimberley Stephenson carries a big stick.
Make that a big sharp stick.

The Memorial engineering student is the representative for Newfoundland on Team Canada in the World Championships for Ringette this November in Finland.

So what’s ringette, anyway?

Although Canada is home to over 9,000 ringette coaches, the sport is perhaps best known in Ontario, where it began in 1963 and quickly spread to Quebec and the prairies. Akin to hockey in appearance and basketball in rules of play, ringette is a team sport on ice in which players use a straight stick to pass, carry, and shoot a rubber ring in order to score goals. Although it is played mainly by females (traditionally excluded from hockey), ringette is growing in popularity among males: Ontario now boasts a men’s league, and MUN’s own Phys Ed Dept is beginning to teach it, too. Internationally, the game is well-established in Finland and Sweden, and growing quickly in the U.S., Netherlands, Switzerland, West Germany, and Japan. Locally, however, although Newfoundland formed a provincial association for ringette as far back as 1982, the game’s more recent exposure in the Canada Games in Corner Brook has just begun to generate interest, particularly on the west coast.

Ms. Stephenson learned ringette in her hometown of Gloucester, Ontario, and, as part of the Ontario Provincial All-Star Team, came within an overtime goal of going to the Worlds once before. However, since graduating from the University of Ottawa with her degree in Chemistry and moving to Newfoundland three years ago, she hasn’t had much opportunity to keep up with her skills.

“I’ve played as long as I can remember, but the first year I was here I was so homesick, it was awhile before I started looking for ringette,” she said. “And then there wasn’t really any here so I started playing hockey, which I hadn’t done before. Now that I play hockey, though, I meet all these girls who have moved here and they’re playing hockey, too, but they’re actually ringette players.”

In addition to playing in the local Senior Women’s League, Ms. Stephenson plays hockey with her (mostly male) classmates once a week, despite her hectic academic schedule. “I’ve played competitive sports my whole life — I can’t imagine life without it. School’s crazy and there’s always so much on my plate, so time management has become really important.”

A forward on Team Canada, Ms. Stephenson has just recently found out that she’ll be getting ice time while she’s at the Worlds — not just warming a bench. “The coaches told me it looks like I’ll be playing when we’re in Finland, so I’m really excited.”

However there’s still another challenge ahead. Each of the 20 women on the team is responsible for raising $2,000 towards the cost of attending the Worlds — not so much for the working professionals on the team, maybe, but for a full-time engineering student?

As Ms. Stephenson explains, “The cost of playing is huge, and especially ice time. During the day it’s at least $75 an hour and at night it can get up to $140.”

Although the provincial government recently announced that this fall it will start supporting players attending prestigious sports competitions, the move comes too late for Ms. Stephenson. But she is getting help from sources like Dr. Leonard Lye, who, in his role as Discipline Chair of Civil Engineering at MUN, has been shaking the bushes trying to make people aware of his student.

“Memorial University, and certainly the Faculty of Engineering, has never before had a full-time student going to a world-level competition like this. So we’re very proud and we’ll help her however we can.” he said. Ms. Stephenson is also being assisted by the regional branch of the National Sports Centre (on MUN campus), which is providing the athlete with a nutritionist and training program.

But what Ms. Stephenson would really like is someone to practice against. “Because I’m not playing regularly, there are certain skills I’d like to work on more, like timing. You have to catch the ring when it comes flying at you, so timing is everything. In hockey, if you keep your stick on the ice the puck will hit it at some time. But in ringette you have to stab it, you have to be there and get your stick in the middle of the ring.”

As Ms. Stephenson explains, the game is much harder than many people expect it to be, and even the goalie from her engineering-class hockey matches is wary now. “I asked him one time if I could shoot on him with my ringette ring,” she said, “and he thought it would be easy because the ring is so much bigger than a puck, but he couldn’t stop it. So now every time I come on the ice he watches to see what kind of stick I come out with.”

But in the months before the Worlds in November, Ms. Stephenson will be stickhandling more than the ring. As a student whose work-terms have been leading towards a career in hydrotechnical engineering — analyzing dam structures, pipelines, rivers, and water levels, Ms. Stephenson has a full academic load to carry, too.

“I just got my training program and it breaks down to what day I have to do what at the gym. So, next week I have two assignments for class due on Monday, another on Tuesday, plus a mid-term that day, and I have to be at the gym Monday night,” Ms. Stephenson explained.

“But I don’t have to meet with the nutritionist until next week!”