Take a survey of the 160 players competing at the 2015 National Women’s Under-18 Championship and you’d quickly discover a multitude of multi-sport
Many of the players in Huntsville, Ont., know the value of playing the sporting field. In addition to being high-performance hockey players, they’ve
excelled in track and field, basketball, soccer and lacrosse, just to name a few, at the regional, provincial and, in some cases, national level.
Then there’s Ashton Bell. For four years the Manitoba forward competed in high school rodeos.
“I started when I was in Grade 6,” she says. “I’ve always just rode horses. There were a few people I knew who competed in it, so I just thought I’d try it
She competed in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying and breakaway roping in the Manitoba High School Rodeo Association. Every weekend, spring into
early fall, she’d make her way around the southern side of the province looking for points.
Much like young hockey players cautiously making their way around the ice in the early going, Bell and her horse took an unhurried approach the first time
out. As Bell remembers it, the pair were almost as much spectators as those sitting in the stands.
“My horse and I just trotted through the events until we kind of got going,” she says, laughing at the memory. “We got faster and faster to make sure we
Bell’s best event was breakaway roping; she qualified for nationals one year but couldn’t compete at the last minute.
There’s not a whole lot of, if any, similarities between two of her chosen sports – Bell also competes in track and field, as a sprinter – but one does
serve, surprisingly, as a serene timeout to the other.
“It’s just a nice break to get away from hockey,” says Bell. “You can go out whenever and just ride. It’s very relaxing.”
Now a high school junior, Bell has started thinking ahead to her future, one that she hopes involves her hockey earning her a post-secondary education.
Rodeo competitions have had to take a backseat, but she still takes the time to do breakaway roping, and her other events, at her family’s farm in
“I try to keep riding as much as I can every night after school,” she says. “I set up barrels in the fields and pulls and just practice around those.”
It was on this same land that Bell grew up playing hockey with her brothers, Tristan, 17, and Samuel, 12. Bell and Tristan played a few times together in
Peewee and Bantam, and all three siblings played street hockey together on the family farm.
Bell’s earliest memories of hockey date back to participating in Hockey Manitoba’s Breakfast Club. She’d be on the ice in the morning, happily doing drills
in whatever weather awaited, then grab breakfast with her fellow rinks rats before heading off to school.
The program was started by Bob Caldwell, the 2015 winner of Hockey Canada’s Gordon Juckes Award for his contributions to the development of amateur hockey
in the country. Bell now regularly gets back on the ice in Deloraine, giving back to the program that helped develop her love of the game. “I try to help
out now because the age group is getting pretty young, so I just go and help out Bob if I can.”
Early mornings in Deloraine and games of road hockey on the farm with family have led Bell to a hat trick of appearances on the national scene in 2015.
In February she represented Manitoba at the Canada Winter Games, where she finished second in team scoring with five points. In August she was invited to
Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase and the selection camp for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team.
Bell is proud of both of these accomplishments – “It’s a privilege because not many other girls get to do something like that” – but has her eye on the
next national prize: the 2015 National Women’s Under-18 Championship. Her first two high-performance experiences this year have prepared her for the third.
“It’s a short-term competition so you just got to go with the mentality that you have to play strong each and every game,” she says. “If you don’t win a
game you don’t really have the time to get that one back.”
Manitoba has been making noise at the U18 nationals in recent years, with podium finishes two of the last three times the tournament has been played. Bell
wants to keep that momentum going. When asked what it would mean to win, Bell can’t help but smile when she says, “I’d really like that.”