By Martin Cleary
Kaitlyn Youldon knows what that’s all about. She has experienced it in tight regular-season ringette games, playoff matches or skating for a national championship medal. Decisions and actions are made quickly to capture those memorable moments.
It’s the same off the ice, too, for the Ottawa-born player, who was raised and developed in the Nepean Ravens’ ringette system and emerged as a standout in the National Ringette League with the Gloucester Devils, the Gatineau Fusion and now the Calgary RATH.
As Youldon, 33, reflects on one of her best seasons in 2022-23, she’s not too anxious to look into the future … just at the moment.
“If I’m good enough to continue to play at that (NRL) level, I will. I’m at an age where I take it year by year. I’m not sure how many more years I have in me,” said Youldin, who started playing ringette 27 years ago and became a five-cycle Canadian team member and a four-time world championship silver medallist (2013, 2016, 2017 and 2019).
“It’s a big commitment in time and financially. But it’s so much fun and the people are always so great. I’ve competed at a high level with great people. I feel privileged to participate in a sport at a high level for so long.”
Youldon has shared her lengthy career with her equally successful sister Kelsey, NRL coach and father Paul and her mother Cheryl, a dedicated volunteer and manager. She still has no idea when the day will come to hand up her bladeless stick and ring.
“It’s hard to say. It depends on what is going on in my life and if it still fits in,” Youldon explained, adding she knows she won’t play on the national senior women’s team for a fifth world championship Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 in Calgary. “I’m at a stage of evaluating what I’ll do for next year. When I’m done, I’ll know.”
For now, Youldon, a policy advisor for Environment Canada, can sit back and enjoy the rewards of a successful 2022-23 NRL regular season and playoffs.
Youldon was one of three captains for the Calgary RATH and a driving force for the team from her position as a centre. She was the RATH’s top point scorer in the regular season and tied for seventh overall in the league with 12 goals and 36 assists for 48 points in 17 games.
During the Canadian championships for the NRL teams, she counted eight goals and added six assists for 14 points in five games, which led the RATH to the bronze medal. Overall, Youldon’s full season saw her score 23 goals and contribute 46 assists for 69 points in 25 games.
During the awards ceremony at the end of the Canadian championships, Youldon crowned her season by being named the most valuable player in the NRL for the first time in her career. She was named the top centre in 2021 and was the league’s leading scorer in the 2017-18 season with 37 goals, 63 assists and 100 points for Gatineau.
“I was quite surprised,” Youldon admitted about being selected MVP. “It was quite flattering and I was honoured to get the award. There were so many amazing athletes. It could have been any of us. It’s really cool.”
Youldon was one of four finalists for the league’s MVP award with Annie Debaji of Edmonton WAM!, Jenny Snowdon of Atlantic Attack and Laurence Larocque of Rive-Sud Revolution.
The Calgary RATH, which had one nominee in each of the seven award categories, nominated Youldon as its MVP. The NRL reviewed MVP submissions from its 13 teams, released the list of the four finalists (two from each of the East and West divisions) and announced the winner at the national championship banquet.
“Everyone nominated in the MVP category is an exceptional player,” Youldon said. “I look at my season and one thing that is notable is I had a lot of assists with a lot of different people on the team. I touched a lot of goals with all my forward teammates.
“I also was pretty consistent with my defensive play. As a centre, I play with the forwards, but I also have responsibilities at both ends of the ice.”
On the ice, Youldon loves to make a pinpoint pass as much as shooting for a goal. She is a strong decision maker on the fly, which is a key element in ringette. Youldon also is noted for her game management, leadership and energy.
One of the more challenging moments at the Canadian championship for Youldon was playing in the bronze-medal game against her sister Kelsey, a top centre with the Waterloo Wildfire. Her father Paul also was an assistant coach with Waterloo.
“It was very unfortunate,” Youldon said about having to play for a second time against Kelsey, especially knowing only one of them will win a medal this time.
“We also played against them in the round robin. It’s funny with the new national championship format that there’s potential to play a team more than once and other teams not at all.
“It was too bad. We don’t like playing against each other. We prefer playing together. I want her to be successful and she wants me to be successful. Unfortunately, the winner gets the bronze and the loser doesn’t get anything.”
Calgary defeated Waterloo 4-1 in the third-place match for the bronze medal. Kaitlyn assisted on the opening goal and had one penalty, while Kelsey was held off the scoresheet.
Whenever the day comes for Kaitlyn Youldon to skate off the ice for the last time as a player, she knows what will come next. Youldon would like to revisit coaching.
Youldon coached in the Nepean Ravens’ system, while she served as a player. She has watched her father work behind the bench for 20 to 25 years. During her academic time at Dalhousie University, she was head coach of the school team in 2012-13.
“Ringette is so interesting to play. You don’t get money for it. You play it for the love and passion. It’s so great, so fun and always a challenge,” she said enthusiastically.
“I’ll probably be involved for sure in some way, shape or form. I’d love to get into full-time coaching.”
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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