Abby Webster is determined to reach her hockey goal.
“I’m really looking into playing university hockey, Division 1 hopefully,” said the 16-year-old, referring to the top ranks of university sports in the United States.
Making it to an American university team might also mean an athletic scholarship.
It’s a lofty goal but Webster is doing everything in her power to improve as a hockey player, including leaving Hay River for more opportunities in the sport elsewhere.
Recently, she joined a Midget AAA girls’ team in British Columbia – the Kootenay Wild in Trail – after two winters in Yellowknife attending high school and playing hockey.
“It was pretty much a last-minute decision,” she said of heading to Trail.
Webster joins two players from Yellowknife – Sahara Lafferty and Emily Paddock – on the Kootenay Wild this year.
They all headed to Trail together about three weeks ago, after the season had started.
“Everybody here has been really great and really friendly and very supportive of us coming,” said Webster, who is in Grade 11.
Female Midget AAA hockey is an elite caliber of the sport.
“This is the highest level we can play,” said Webster, who mostly plays right wing.
The Female Midget AAA program consists of six teams that are spread across British Columbia. The teams play a 30-game regular season, followed by playoffs.
The league champion has the opportunity to compete for the ESSO Cup, which is Hockey Canada’s national female midget championship.
Webster is hoping playing in Trail will improve her skills.
“Just to play more intense games,” she said, adding she also hopes to learn new things about the game.
She said her new team also sometimes plays in Alberta and in exhibition games in the United States.
“It’s definitely a lot more ice time,” she said. “We do a lot of workouts too just to keep up our conditioning and strength.”
Being away from home to play hockey is nothing new for Webster.
For the last two schools years, she has lived in Yellowknife with relatives and attended St. Patrick High School.
“I left in Grade 9 to play up in Yellowknife because of the Canada Winter games team,” she said, adding it was to get more ice time and improve her hockey skills.
She said it was not easy to decide to leave Hay River for Yellowknife as a 14-year-old.
“It definitely took me a lot of time to think about it,” she said. “It helped having family there. And I still saw my mom and my family members a lot so it really was easy for me to make that switch.”
She also feels supported by the community of Hay River, especially by the Elks Club which has sponsored her with some financial assistance.
Webster said she definitely has a lot of passion for hockey.
“I’ve been playing for a while and it’s been a big part of my life,” she said, noting her father, Terry, loves hockey and always watches games.
She started skating when she was about five and was playing the game at about six or seven.
“I really like the physical game, really getting into it, and I like how it’s not an easy sport,” she said. “It’s really something you have to put lots of work into. I like how fast it is and how competitive it is.”
Webster said that, when she played on the NWT Arctic Winter Games team in 2014, she had coaches that really helped her realize she had potential as a hockey player.
“It took me a while to really realize that I have that potential to really be very good,” she said.
She also played in the Canada Winter Games in 2015.
Her mother, Kelly Webster, realized Abby was a good hockey player years ago.
“When we started going to hockey camps down south,” Kelly said. “We went to an Edmonton one probably when she was about, I think, 10 years old. She was still standing out even down south.”
She noted her daughter has good skating ability and sees the play well.
Kelly Webster said it’s a bigger step for Abby to go to B.C. than to Yellowknife, where she lived with family.
“She’s living with a billet family,” she said. “So, of course, you haven’t met them or anything before. It’s working out really well and so far so good with that.”
Plus, she noted it helps that the two girls from Yellowknife are also there.
Kelly Webster, who has never played hockey, recognizes Abby has a passion for the sport.
“She loves to play the game.”