As the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team gathers in Leduc, Alberta for its autumn training camp and evaluation, one of the themes is youth. With a half dozen new faces on this year’s team, it is a remarkable window into the future of the sport in Canada.
Part of said future may be defined by Edmonton’s Alanna Mah, one of the game’s prodigious players. Despite being in her teens, Mah already possesses six solid years of experience in the sled, bringing the promise of many greater years to come. Born in 1999, Mah is already considered one of the best puck handlers on the national team, having helped the club to a silver medal in the 2014 IPC Women’s World Ice Sledge Hockey Challenge.
With momentum building towards the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games, where the sport shall enjoy demonstration status, Mah is working tirelessly to get an opportunity to continue making history. Considering that the next three years are building up towards this remarkable milestone in the sport’s expanding history, Mah is among a group of determined Canadians hoping for a golden finish.
Like so many other women that have mounted the sled, her sporting endeavors took root in another sport. Eventually bringing her competitive focus to the rink, Mah discovered that a willingness to learn would serve as an essential tool,
“I used to play soccer in the same Para Sports Association in Edmonton. I loved hockey and I found out about the availability of the sport through the same association.
It was very different at first but I caught on to the skating pretty quickly. Handling the puck was pretty difficult at first. When I first started, being around everyone and learning, I found that the team was a great support.”
With a growing number of young, promising stars hailing from Alberta, Mah may develop into one of the headliners. Having competed on the PSA Dogs, her current club team is the Edmonton Impact, where she plays alongside fellow national team member Geneva Coulter.
Both also had the opportunity to play alongside former national team member Eri Yamomoto MacDonald, who has returned to her native Japan to spearhead the WISH Project. For Mah, the chance to share her earliest years in ice sledge hockey among such fellow teammates has also resulted in strong friendships, providing a cherished aspect that has forged unbreakable bonds.
“Definitely we are friends. We all play on the same club team in Edmonton. We train in the same gym together too.”
During the nascent years of Mah’s playing career, a factor that defined such a key time was the age difference among several players. Of note, it was not uncommon to be among a small group of younger players surrounded by experienced players of an advanced age.
Despite the difference ranging from 10-20 years, Mah has embraced it, refusing to be intimidated, simultaneously approaching it as a strong network of support. “I kind of like it. The older, more experienced players are helpful and supportive.”
Youth aside, Mah has also demonstrated signs of leadership. Taking into account the vast age and skill levels that exist in the game; it is an example of how anyone can make a worthwhile contribution, finding motivation in such an act and reciprocating it. With an energy and enthusiasm that complements her age, a key example is the fact that she relishes the chance to help out in practices with her club team,
“I like helping with drills. I have playing for six years, so I like to lend help sometimes too.”
Part of a new generation of women’s ice sledge hockey players ready to build on the league of their predecessors and help advance the sport to the next level, Mah is dedicated to strengthening the status of the game in her home province, hoping to emulate the success in Ontario. Akin to Coulter, she wants to help the sport grow in Alberta, and see it one day become as competitive nationally as women’s standup hockey.
“The recognition of it is still a challenge. We are still not as advanced in the sport as the girls in Ontario. There are a lot of teams in Alberta but there is not as much funding as you would like. We have created our first provincial team. It is a mixed team but we are hoping to be able to play in a national championship next spring.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook