Willow Slobodzian is memorable from her days as a standout defenseman with her Midget AAA hockey team, the Saskatoon Stars. She joined Cornell University in the fall of 2017, and just completed her first semester of college.
But while back for the holiday break, she couldn’t pass up a reunion with her former club.
“Honestly, it feels like I never left which is a great feeling, I love being with my old teammates,” Slobodzian said during practice at Agriplace Ice Sports Centre.
Last year, she committed to the University of North Dakota, but the school cancelled it’s women’s hockey program abruptly and she was forced to make a last minute switch to Cornell.
“It’s hard to believe that I wasn’t originally going there, I feel at home there,” Slobodzian said.
The NCAA rookie admitted that the learning curve from midget hockey to university has been steep.
“Definitely the speed of the game, playing with like older girls who are stronger, have more knowledge. It’s definitely a challenge. I think it’s definitely developed my game and improved everything,” Slobodzian added.
The timing to hone her skills couldn’t be more appropriate. After being released from Canada’s U18 squad last year, she recently found out she’ll be representing the team this year in Russia at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships.
“It was very emotional, it was like a dream come true. I remember thanking the coaches for giving me this opportunity, because getting cut the first time was definitely a difficult thing to hear. But I thought that I took the news well and I grew from it and I’m glad it paid off,” Slobodzian added.
The Clavet product is young for college at 17 years of age. She will bring an exclusive brand of experience to Team Canada, as one of the only members with post-secondary game time. In ten years, Canada has never failed to make the U18 World Championship Final, but Canada hasn’t won the top prize since 2014.
“We don’t want to settle for anything but gold that’s for sure, but it’s what happens before that game to help us get there so we’ll be focusing on that,” said Slobodzian, who was the Saskatchewan Female Midget Hockey League defenseman of the year in 2016.
Joining her on the world stage in Dmitrov, Russia, is her former Saskatoon Stars teammate and fellow Clavet neighbour, Mackenna Parker.
“I couldn’t imagine going there without her honestly, she’s always been by my side. It’s hard playing in university without her because she’s a great teammate and a great friend but I’m so happy that we get to go to Russia together,” Slobodzian praised.
Team Canada will have a training camp in Toronto ahead of the IIHF U18 World Championship, which begins Jan. 6, 2018.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.