By Mark Colley
It was only six years ago that Rachel Steckly stopped playing ringette.
Now 18, Steckly was forced to bow out of her favourite sport at age 12 after suffering too many concussions. Her parents put her in other sports, like swimming and horseback riding. Steckly even tried her hand at synchronized figure skating.
“(Figure skating) was all about elegance — none of what I was used to,” Steckly recalled. “I had to put makeup on to get on the ice. I was like, what’s going on?”
Steckly lost her connection with friends and struggled to make up for the physical challenge of ringette. The sport had been her escape. She loved going to ringette practice, but she hated every time she had to go to the pool for a swimming session.
“[It] took a toll on my mental health,” Steckly said.
Finally, at 14, enough time had passed since her concussions. She returned to ringette, working her way back up through the ranks. Despite her distaste for it at the time, figure skating helped improve her skills.
Now, four years later, Steckly is headed to the Canada Winter Games from Feb. 18-Mar. 5 in Prince Edward Island. The Bell High School grad is thrilled to get to play in front of family out east for the first time. Her mom’s entire family lives in P.E.I. and many are volunteering at the Games.
In recognition of her dedication to ringette and her journey to get to the Canada Games stage, Steckly has been nominated as True Sport champion for the Ontario ringette team, which is powered by Ottawa players. A staggering 10 of the 18 members of Team Ontario hail from the nation’s capital.
“It does mean a lot to the local area,” noted Team Ontario assistant coach Jessica Crouch of Ottawa. “It just goes to show that the eastern region as a whole still has a very competitive high performance program going for them.”
The local members of Team Ontario share a long history together as teammates and rivals – most having played since age four or so.
Many team members celebrated a very happy conclusion to their interrupted 2021-2022 season with the Gloucester Devils under-19 ‘AA’ team, which enjoyed a wild ride to an Ontario title after only facing regional opponents before the provincials.
The Devils twice overcame two-goal deficits in the championship game against Waterloo to force overtime, where they played shorthanded for the first eight minutes before Julia Wilson scored the golden goal.
Danika Osborne, who has now moved on to play for the Gatineau Fusion of the National Ringette League, and team captain Taylor Forrest also scored in the big game.
Cyndii Chestnut earned defensive MVP honours with the Devils, while Laiya Evraire was among the top-3 scorers at the provincial tournament. Evraire now competes for the NRL’s Nepean Ravens along with first-year Carleton University student Brooke Wasylyshyn, a Waterloo native who was on the losing side of that championship final.
Jalena Marelic is a member of the Ravens NRL squad as well. Currently training to be a firefighter, Marelic also competed for Team Canada at last year’s World Junior Championships – about the only stage bigger than the Canada Games for the sport of ringette.
“The on-ice experience was just a different level,” detailed Marelic, Team Ontario’s oldest player at age 19. “It’s definitely a different style of play and it just helps me a lot to improve, especially playing with the best players under 21 in Canada.”
The youngest member of Team Ontario is 17-year-old Geneviève Robichaud, who enjoyed a similar comeback story with her U16 ‘AA’ Devils at last year’s provincials. She scored a goal and two assists as they overcame a 3-0 deficit to the West Ottawa Wild in the Ontario final.
Kate Babineau plays for the Wild U19 ‘AA’ team that qualified to play in the Ontario Winter Games last weekend, though she kept her focus on the national event instead of participating in back-to-back February Games.
Steckly has been an opponent of the champion Gloucester group frequently as well. Her U19 Nepean Ravens were Devils victims in the semi-final of their championship run.
“It’s not fun playing against them, because they always win, but now that we’re on the same team, we can cheer each other on,” smiled Steckly. “When you get on Team Ontario, we’re such a close-knit group now, so I’ll have these relationships forever.”
Crouch believes team unity will be a big weapon as Ontario shoots for a return to the top of the podium at the Canada Games. Ontario earned silver medals in the two most recent Games on the heels of four consecutive gold.
“What’s most special about these girls is that their bond is so close that all 18 of them are best friends,” underlined Crouch, who also coached Evraire to U16 provincial gold and national bronze with Ravens in 2018. “They’re gonna have each other’s backs throughout this whole process. Even if something goes wrong, they’re gonna be able to bounce back and support each other to get us to play in those medal round games.”
The Canada Games ringette competition runs from Feb. 19-25. Consult the full schedule here.
Visit our Ottawa at the Canada Winter Games central webpage for more coverage on our local athletes’ journeys to the PEI 2023 Games.
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