Calgary athlete hopes to follow in cousin Brenden Morrow's Olympic footsteps

Daria7This November all eyes are on a Calgary athlete who has proven herself as a top-notch hockey player and a potential future Olympian.

Daria O'Neill, 16, born in the small town of Carlyle, Sask., is hoping to one day follow in her cousin Brenden Morrow's footsteps by putting on a Team Canada jersey and winning an Olympic gold medal for her country.

In October, she became one step closer to her goal. O'Neill, who currently plays defence at the Edge School for Athletes — an elite private sports school just outside of Calgary — was named to Team Alberta for the upcoming National Women's Under-18 Championship. The event takes place in Calgary from Nov. 6-10 at Canada Olympic Park.

"Getting to play for Team Alberta is a privilege and an honour," O'Neill said.

But, her place alongside the best young female hockey players in the province didn't come over night.

O'Neill's love for hockey began around the age of three when she started power-skating classes at her local rink.

"We put her in skates when she was really young," her father Cory Packard said. "And I started coaching the team she was on when she was four or five years old."

Back then, there was only one team in Carlyle so O'Neill played with the boys — something she would do for the majority of her hockey career.

"There was only one rink in the town I grew up in and so everybody played on the same team because there wasn't enough kids to have different tiers," O'Neill said.

Eight-year-old O'Neill and her family moved to Edmonton because of her father's job.

"When we moved to Edmonton, we definitely noticed her talent coming out," Packard said.

And last year, because of the talent and commitment O'Neill showed, the family made a major decision towards helping her achieve her goals — move the entire family of five to Cochrane so that O'Neill could play for the Edge Mountaineers.

"It's not like boys' hockey where they have all kinds of options. With girls, the talent pool drops off really quickly as they get older," Packard said.

He said it wasn't too tough of a decision for the family to move. He views it more as an in investment in O'Neill's future.

"It's equal to or more than going to university," Packard chuckled while discussing the cost for his daughter to attend the school. "But, if she gets a full ride somewhere, it pays for itself."

While O'Neill can't decide on a university until the summertime, she has drawn interest from a few schools south of the border.Daria8On most school days, O’Neill will be at school from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. for classes and hockey. Despite this busy schedule she still maintains good grades.

Photo by Ian Esplen

"It would be a dream to go to an Ivy League school because of the education you receive," she said. "University is our NHL I guess you could say."

In her first season with the Edge Mountaineers, O'Neill racked up six goals and 29 points in 41 games.

While the team doesn't formally have captains, Edge Mountaineers head coach, Scott Fukami, views O'Neill as one of the team's leaders. He also feels that she will play a similar role for Team Alberta.

"She'll be a big player for them on the ice, but I think maybe one of the biggest areas where she contributes to the team is off the ice as a leader," Fukami said.

Fukami went on to describe O'Neill as an athlete who plays a simple game and never looks like she's overworking.

"It takes a smart player to play that type of game and that's why I think she is very much like Nik Lidstrom."

Fukami also believes that while it is tough to predict the future, Canadians may get to see O'Neill at the Olympics one day.

"I think she has the right mindset and skillset to be an elite athlete."

All of Team Alberta's game will be at the Markin MacPhail Centre. For more information visit Hockey Canada.

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