An 18-year-old Saskatoon university student is the reason for the recently announced Saskatoon female hockey team joining the U22 female junior hockey league.
“Saskatoon being the biggest city in the province, I thought every girl should have the right to play, and if we can be the biggest city and help all the north teams, then that was what I wanted to try to do,” said Ashley Wehrens.
The U22 female junior hockey league was announced in December 2022 with five teams: Regina, Prince Albert, North Battleford, Lumsden, Outlook/Kindersley and a team representing Swift Current and Gull Lake.
No Saskatoon team was originally announced.
Kicking off her campaign for a Saskatoon team, Wehrens contacted Hockey Saskatchewan and the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, which helped her set off on the right track with the application process.
“I did a lot of sponsorships, finding coaches, finding board members and finding players,” Wehrens said. “Once the announcement was made that there was only five teams, I was like, let’s try and make a team in Saskatoon, let’s make it six.”
Wehrens told Global News the process wasn’t easy.
“Very hard, a lot harder than I thought it would be. I knew a lot of people would want to be interested, but it was finding the right people, and I’m glad I did that,” she said.
It took Wehrens about a month to complete the application process, but it all paid off. In May, Hockey Saskatchewan announced Saskatoon will be joining the league.
The team name: the Saskatoon Prairie Blaze.
“It was really important because I wanted to play competitive hockey again, and in a sense, I did not want to go down without a fight and to at least try.”
Hockey Saskatchewan gives all credit for the team to Wehrens and says the demand for the team could be high.
“There’s a lot of girls playing. Not everybody can play USports or NCAA anymore so I think there will be a good demand because of the four-year age group,” said Kelly McClintock, general manager of Hockey Saskatchewan.
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According to Wehrens, just from her social media posts, there are already 30 prospective players planning to try out, one of them being a friend and former teammate of hers.
“I was really upset knowing that there was no Saskatoon team in the beginning, so I thought I would have to go play rec hockey but that’s not as competitive, so I wasn’t as excited for that,” said Ashlyn Bernath, who plans to try out for the Prairie Blaze. “Finding out that Saskatoon was accepted, it was really good.”
Wehrens is excited to play with friends, but also just to get back on the ice.
“I cannot wait to get back on the ice and not be in official mode, but actually get to go dig in the corners and score goals because that’s my favourite thing to do,” said Wehrens.
“The sport is honestly the best thing, knowing that people actually have all of our females and knowing that female hockey is still growing the way it needs to be and be prominent.”
The Saskatoon Prairie Blaze are holding a spring camp at the end of May, as well as a fall camp in August.
The U22 female hockey league season is set to begin in October.