For Sarah Verbeek, there is no such thing as the road less travelled.
Years before she was even old enough to drive, the 16-year-old Ontario Red forward would weekly cover the highways between her hometown of Timmins, Ont.,
and her home club in North Bay, not to mention the road trips to rinks throughout southern Ontario.
One week every two months, Verbeek’s parents, Willem and Shelley, would put her on the bus southbound for North Bay, where she would join her Ice Boltz
teammates for practices and dryland training. She did this for three years.
“What I remember well was how long the bus trips were – instead of four hours the bus would take six because it stopped in a lot of places,” says Verbeek.
“It didn’t take the fastest route – it went into different small towns.”
The seven weeks in between she’d practice with a boys’ team in Timmins and spend two other mornings a week on the ice before school. All the while she
never missed a game.
“We played in the Lower Lakes [Female Hockey League], so basically all of our games had to be on weekends because it was too far to travel on weekdays.
Every weekend I would either be in North Bay or elsewhere depending on where we played.” With a good number of the teams being in the Greater Toronto Area,
that often meant at least eight hours of travel – one way.
In 2012-13, Verbeek’s first season with the Ice Boltz, her time in North Bay, where she was put up by a friend of her mom’s, became more frequent. She
stayed two weeks before provincials that April. After North Bay won there, its ticket booked to the 2013 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget
Championship, Verbeek packed her bags for another two weeks away, first back in North Bay, then in Burnaby, B.C.
Verbeek was 13 and the youngest player at the Esso Cup. No matter, she had the skill and poise of players up to four years older, and one-timed a power
play goal in the game against the Edmonton Thunder.
School never suffered on these long road trips and extended periods away from home and the classroom. Verbeek had long been diligent about working ahead,
so much so that she went straight from Grade 7 to high school.
Her education is one reason why Verbeek started thinking about a change of address this season. Playing hockey at the post-secondary level is now on her
mind, and having already played a few games last year with the Cambridge Rivulettes, when the opportunity arose to join the team full time for 2015-16, she
knew she couldn’t pass it up.
Her parents, as they always have, supported her, and her decision to move nearly eight hours away.
“They really trusted me from a young age to be responsible, to travel on my own and, not really live on my own, but be away from them for periods of time
at a young age,” says Verbeek. “I wouldn’t be where I am or have had these opportunities if I didn’t have their support.”
Part of that no doubt comes from her dad once doing the same thing. Willem played basketball at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., where he was named
the team’s most valuable player four times.
“He told me it’s hard to be away from home, especially at first, but making sacrifices is part of going as far as you can go with your sport,” says
Verbeek. “Even if you’re missing your family you have to focus on school and hockey – time will go by and you’ll see everyone again soon.”
Having long learned about responsibility and maturity, and spending long hours staring out a moving window, Verbeek now has more time to enjoy the more
leisurely pursuits she enjoys, such as running and playing the piano. (The most recent song she learned? The rather appropriate “Pocket Full of Dreams.”)
While Verbeek’s time on the road is now significantly less, her time away from home is considerably more. She’s the second of six kids, ages seven to 17,
all of whom play hockey. As a child she followed older brother Joey to the ice, the two of them often competing in scrimmages on the outdoor rink.
In Cambridge, Verbeek has found a friendly adversary in her billet family’s eight-year-old son. “We have a competition of who can score the most goals in
the year,” says Verbeek. “So whenever we score we mark them down on his white board. It’s pretty funny.”
The 2015 National Women’s Under-18 Championship marks Verbeek’s return to the national stage. Having spent years working toward that goal, she has seen her
hard work pay off.
“It would be amazing to win a national championship,” she says. “The last time [Esso Cup] we came in second place and it was kind of a bittersweet ending.
It would be amazing to share that with such great teammates, even though we don’t know each other that well yet. It would be a memory and experience of a