From starting a landmark 2021-22 season as team captain, reaching a compelling conclusion by playing for Canada, the substance for Mckenna Van Gelder entailed qualities of commitment and leadership. Wearing the number 17 in homage to former Toronto Maple Leafs great Wendel Clark, she has already earned status as a hockey hero.
Having first skated in the Etobicoke Jr Dolphins organization at the tender age of eight, the 2012-13 season her first, the highly skilled forward already had lofty goals. Playing for head coach Marty Parker, the legend of Van Gelder sprouted quickly. Scoring 50 goals through the first 31 games, the landmark goal occurring on December 15, 2012 versus Clarington, it signified the springboard towards greatness.
Leading the way as the Dolphins climbed to the top of the Central West Division in 21-22, finished first overall in league play, also winning the Stoney Creek Showcase, another milestone followed for Van Gelder and her teammates. Defeating the Durham West Lightning on April 10 to capture the OWHA U22 Elite provincial title, an historic first for the organization, it brought the decade long run with the Dolphins full circle for Van Gelder.
Reflecting on such a revered time, including an U13 AA OWHA championship in 2017, the progression proved to be a series of positive experiences. An essential facet for Van Gelder, providing a strong sense of enjoyment involved the team culture, which represents the heartbeat of the organization. Fostering an environment of friendship, unity and mutual respect, #BleedBlue is not just a hashtag but a philosophy.
“I really enjoyed playing in such a supporting and positive environment. We really work to build a great culture to represent who we are as a program and also to ensure a safe space for each player, staff and family.
There is nothing better than going to the rink knowing you can be yourself and people accept that. It was always a place that would cheer me up no matter what.”
During such an epic season, the privilege of wearing the Jr. Dolphins colors took on a greater meaning with the privilege of the team captaincy. Also an OWHA Level 2 Certified Referee, Van Gelder brings a highly cerebral approach to each game.
Recording a 20-goal campaign, finishing as the Jr Dolphins leading scorer, Van Gelder’s greatest quality may be her humility. Placing a greater priority on winning, rather than numbers, she is quick to admirably acknowledge that leadership on the Dolphins is a collaborative effort. Undeniably, an outlook established on the combination of maturity and respect stand as testament to the team culture, which shapes the core values of the organization.
“It was a huge honour being captain in the championship season. I think that leadership in our program is throughout the entire team and not only designated by a letter to three people.
I was really proud of our growth as a team throughout the season and I am glad I was able to be a part of that to help shape the next leaders.”
Looking forward to the prospect of donning the jersey of the Ivy League’s Cornell Big Red, eager to contribute towards a revered legacy, Van Gelder shall be surrounded by familiar faces. Adding luster to the next chapter of her hockey sojourn involves calling three Dolphins as teammates.
Joining her in the Cornell colors includes Avi Adam, Sarah MacEachern and Alyssa Regalado, their friendships strengthened through the journey of winning gold together for Canada at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds. Debuting together versus Finland on June 6, their greatest game together took place during a 7-0 whitewash of Slovakia.
After a difficult start in the preliminary round, the June 10 affair versus Slovakia proved to be the turning point. Going undefeated for the remainder of the tournament, the victory saw Van Gelder record her first goal of the tournament. Serendipitously, MacEachern earned one of the assists. Coincidentally, Regalado scored the next Canadian goal, also her first. Assisted by Van Gelder, Dolphins goaltender Mari Pietersen earned the shutout.
Worth noting, Van Gelder and Regalado have enjoyed a parallel progression through the Jr. Dolphins ranks, teammates since they were eight.
Gaining the opportunity to share in this new experience with them adds to the sense of exhilaration, finding fulfillment. Taking into account the values instilled during their formative years as Jr. Dolphins, this fantastic foursome is poised to constitute an essential leadership core for the Big Red’s Class of 2026.
“It is an awesome feeling to be moving forward in my hockey career with some of my best friends. We go through so many of the same experiences that we have each other to talk to no matter what.
They are such a great support system to have on this new adventure and nothing is more fun than making memories with your best friends.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”