Heading to the Big Leagues

Few can say they’ve competed at the Olympic level, least of all at the age of 15 and from a tiny town of less than 4,000. 

It’s a dream that many kids, even parents might not fathom. 

But it’s one that’s now a reality for Hay River youth Carter Hill. 

He will don the Team Canada jersey this coming year at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria in January.

At the first international game against Russia, Hill will stand at attention to the national anthem on foreign soil, and proudly represent Hay River.

He’s among the 17 others who have received nominations to play on the Hockey Canada team in the games.

But in order to get to this point, the youth has had to live away from family and friends, starting at the age of 13.

“When I made the Arctic Winter Games team I knew I wanted to take this further,” said Hill.

“I knew it would be hard being away from family and friends, but I didn’t really need to make a decision. I just knew I had to do it. If I didn’t move I wouldn’t be able to play on the team.”

His team won gold at the last Arctic Winter Games in Grande Prairie.

The youth was also nominated to play in the Canada Winter Games in Halifax this year and played at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in April.

The 15-year-old has been playing since he was four years old and currently plays for the Grande Prairie U16 Midget Triple ‘A’ Storm.

But Hill started like many, on his small town hockey team.

He played twice a week for the Hay River Huskies, and has always been very dedicated to the sport spending at least two hours a day in on and off-ice training.

“Our coach can be a maniac, especially if we lose a game,” he said. “Right now he’s killing us. But it helps. We definitely learn our lesson.”

For his parents John and Tracy Hill, the sacrifices were a tough but necessary ingredient to help their son to reach opportunities that lay out of reach locally.

“How do you deny them that opportunity? Not every kid gets that chance,” said Tracy.

“You want them to go, but you don’t.”

As they sat in their upstairs office at Super A Grocer surrounded by family photos, a framed Team Canada jersey, signed photos and hockey paraphernalia, there’s no denying their love for the sport.

Talking about their son’s recent successes, although modestly pointing to other up and coming home grown types, there was no hiding it—they were beaming.

“I put almost 60,000 kilometres on my car in one year,” said John.

“Eighty per cent of that was from driving to watch the kids play hockey. Sometimes we’re always on the road. But at the end of the day, he’s doing what he loves and you have to support him.”

There will be 60 countries participating in the Youth Olympics, and of the 1,200 youth from all over the world, around 34 athletes are Canadian.

This is one of the first games held of its kind for youth after the summer Youth Olympic Games held in Japan this past summer.

Hill is hoping to eventually play for the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Next summer he’ll be attending the team’s training camp in Minnesota. Reality of the recent nomination, though, is still sinking in.

“It’s still really new,” he said.

“I can’t believe I’m going. It’s going to feel pretty unbelievable. It’s something I thought I never would have done in my life.”

It’s hard to imagine what could top this experience, aside from NHL, Hill said there are always challenges no matter what level. In one wacky comparison, Hill characterized the sport as the king of the jungle.

“In hockey, you’re always looking for the next win, always waiting for the next game, waiting for the next kill,” he said.

“You always have to think that you’re going to win again.”

Hill’s parents hope that local talent will dream big and know that opportunities are within reach.

“Everyone always says follow your dreams; if you put in the time you can achieve your goals,” said John.

“You always feel like the underdogs coming from a small town, but a lot of athletes have left Hay River to follow their dream. I hope from that people will see you can achieve anything if you set out to.”