Seasoned player has seen a lot of changes in the game she loves
For at least one member of the Mount Royal University women's hockey team, the game is more than a hobby — it is a passion.
Jesslyn Legasse, a fifth year student athlete, has been playing hockey since she was four, learning to skate from her father and playing with her brothers.
"When I was growing up I used to watch a lot of hockey with my dad. My older brother played hockey, it was always a family thing. I was always around the rink it was natural."
Legasse also spent time playing minor hockey in Regina, Sask., where she says her teammates were mostly boys but were ultimately accepting, and would stick up for her when it was necessary — especially when members on the opposing team were not that understanding.
As a young girl, Legasse looked up to such star players like Hayley Wickenheiser. Her influences also include assistant coach and former Olympian Carla MacLeod, she says.
"She knows so much about the game, she can say one thing and change your whole perspective on the game."
When Legasse was asked about her experiences with the Cougars as she approaches her final season, she says, "This is one of the best teams I've ever played on, there are no vets and rookies — everyone has the same level of respect for one another."
She hopes to continue to play hockey at some level after she graduates this spring, likely back in Regina.
Legasse also speaks very highly of her coaches.
"Our whole coaching staff is extremely smart and treat us all with respect."
Head coach Scott Rivett shares the same sentiments when talking about Legasse.
"She is very intelligent defenceman and she is not a flashy player and she is extremely consistent and moves the puck very well," he said. "She is a leader on our blue line."
A growing increase in girl's hockey
And it seems like Legasse is not alone.
An estimated 14 per cent of girls and women are playing hockey in Canada, an increase of six per cent throughout the last 10 years.
"I think it's great. It's grown immensely since I started. I love it — it's a great game, and a great way to get girls active," Legasse told the Calgary Journal.
Rivett has also noticed that young women are increasingly eager to get involved in this sport.
"Now there is an increased opportunity for girls in hockey. There are more opportunities to play on all girls' teams instead of girls with boys. Going forward there are more options for junior, college or university level teams," Rivett explains.
Cougar's assistant coach Carla MacLeod has a lot of experience with hockey and is fresh off of her gold medal win at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver with Canada's women's hockey team.
McLeod has been with the Cougar team for two years, and says, "It has been a lot of fun and a nice bridge for me to come from, to retire and go straight into coaching, they are a good group to work with."
She shares a lot of the same experiences as Legasse did and she's confident that hockey will continue to move forward for young women.
"It is a young sport still, but it keeps growing at all the different levels."
What's her message for her team and young women everywhere?
"Pursue hockey if you love it. If you are passionate about something, go after it."
- By Sarah Harrower