One of the signature programs in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey, the Alberta Pandas have forged an incredible legacy. While said legacy has comprised of many remarkable on-ice victories and prestigious titles, the fact that so many remarkable women contributed to this exceptional program while embodying the spirit of student-athletes stands as its greatest victory off the ice.
Continuing in that proud legacy is Janelle Froehler, who gained the opportunity to serve as team captain in her fifth and final season with the program. Raised in Red Deer, Alberta, where she honed her skills with the Chiefs, she became the second player in Pandas history bestowed the honor of the prestigious Marion Hilliard Award.
The Award recognizes a student-athlete in women’s ice hockey that shows outstanding achievement in three areas: hockey, academics and community involvement. Of note, each of the four conferences features their own version of the Award, subsequently becoming finalists for the version awarded by the CIS.
Recognized with such an honor, it represents an exceptional body of work for Froehler, who accepts the responsibility of being a student-athlete while finding an exceptional balance between academics, hockey and the chance to give back in the community. Despite such a remarkable milestone, Froehler remains humble, quick to recognize the efforts of others, testament to her maturity and grace
“My initial reaction to finding out I received the award was that I was very shocked and honoured. There are countless amounts of young women involved in university level hockey programs throughout Canada that make tremendous contributions to community service and volunteer involvement.
To be recognized amongst these dedicated individuals as the player who should receive the Marion Hilliard award was not only very humbling, but also an achievement that I am extremely proud of.”
Prior to Froehler, who specialized in physical education and recreation studies, the first Panda to earn the Award was Taryn Barry in 2006-07. During the season, Froehler was involved in various aspects of the community, including donating her time to the Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement along with read-in week at local elementary schools.
On the ice, Froehler was also involved in a pair of admirable efforts. In addition to volunteering with the Edmonton Girls Hockey Association, Froehler also assisted in the organizing of an empathic fundraising game for the Pandas that looked to benefit the mental health of student-athletes.
Reputed as one of the top Penalty Kill players in Canada West, it was part of Froehler’s exceptional contributions as a leader, which ensured that her final season with the Pandas was a glorious one. Of note, the squad returned to the top of the Canada West regular season standings, sporting a solid a 16-9-3 conference record.
Statistically, Froehler assemble a solid season with 13 points, finishing in the top 20 in Canada West for goals scored. She would also show disciplined play by serving only two minutes in the penalty box, while compiling a very respectable plus/minus rating of +7.
Although Froehler’s best performance of the season was a 3-point output against Regina, which included a power play goal in a 4-2 victory, another game would serve as the backdrop for her most inspiring performance. A January 30 home date at Clare Drake Arena would present Froehler with the final points in her distinguished CIS career, which included a goal and an assist against the archrival Calgary Dinos.
The significance of the game was highlighted by the fact that it represented Mental Health Awareness night, a fundraising event that Froehler helped organize. With the Pandas donned in their sharp mental health awareness jerseys, black with yellow and green trim, it was only fitting that Froehler would record the first goal of the game, scoring on Dinos goaltender Hayley Dowling as Lindsey Post logged 21 saves in the win for the Pandas. Perhaps more important was the fact that the fundraiser represented the biggest Pandas crowd of the season, truly a team effort on all accounts.
“Playing a hockey game as a fundraiser for Mental Health itself was an amazing experience. We play many games in our season and although they are all important, our charity game is the one that matters most. The girls on our team felt very strongly about supporting Mental Health initiatives as we have a teammate struggling with this. It was amazing to see the support from each individual on our team and how much we all came together as a family.
As for the goal, it was definitely an incredible feeling to score in such an emotional game, but it was the overall success of our team during that game that has really stuck with me. It was amazing to see the emotion and heart each individual on our team brought to the game and it really showed through the hard work, passion, and determination we all showed.”
While the mental health fundraiser was truly an extension of Froehler’s role as a leader with the Pandas, she has also worked tirelessly with the youth hockey community. Giving back in this way is part of what makes the members of the women’s hockey community highly admirable.
Immersed in helping to develop more than just the skills of young players, but increasing their self-esteem and developing their confidence, while incorporating fun, it is a rewarding way to pay it forward. That element of fun stirs vividly, providing Froehler with an unmistakable feeling of achievement, one destined to harbor nostalgic feelings,
“Being involved with young hockey players is probably one of the most rewarding community involvements that I have been a part of. To see these young individuals play a sport that they have so much passion for is very exciting to me. These players have so much love for the game and you can see the pure joy on their face when they’re playing hockey. To be able to be a part of this development and encourage these individuals to pursue their path to excellence is an honor.
I feel that it is important for these youth hockey players to interact with older athletes, such as myself, in order to learn the dedication, hard work, and commitment it takes to get to that next level. Seeing the impact that someone like myself can have on these individuals is quite amazing and has shown me the importance of being a positive role model they can look up to throughout their younger years of hockey. Being involved in the hockey community is a great way to promote the game and make the experience that much better for younger athletes.”
Although the reality of no longer wearing the Pandas jersey may not be fully absorbed until next season, one aspect that will remain preserved are the lifelong friendships made. During such a life-affirming time for any young athlete, the teammates from university represent the closest, tight-knit group. Comrades in arms, sharing in the experience of gracing the ice for Pandas pride, such teammates shall always have a special place.
Considering Froehler’s penchant for bringing happiness into the lives of others, her selflessness and heart of gold shall be just as missed by the Pandas’ sporting community. Setting a positive example during five fantastic seasons, Froehler represented the potential that all student-athletes have to experience the feeling of triumph off the field of play by positively shaping others with the values of teamwork, loyalty and friendship,
“There are so many things I will miss about being a Panda. It’s difficult to pick just one because this experience over the past five years has really shaped me to be the person I am today in all areas of my life. I think the one thing that will be the hardest to say goodbye to will be the family bond that I have created with my teammates. Coming into university can be very intimidating, especially walking into your first few classes that can have anywhere from 100-500 students.
The fact that you come into the Pandas program and gain 25 friends is one of the best feelings in the world. You’ll never be on a team where everyone is best friends, but I always knew that each girl in that dressing room had my back through both the good and bad times. I’ve developed some strong friendships over the past 5 years that will last a lifetime and I’ve made countless memories that I will never forget. Being a part of this amazing Panda family is definitely what I will miss the most.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Ian Kucerak, QMI Agency