Jessie Olfert and Jane Kish can still remember the roar of the crowd when
they stepped on the ice at the Ovintiv Events Centre. Hundreds of students
cheering on British Columbia and Saskatchewan as the teams competed at the
2012 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
“It’s the first time as a player that you’re experiencing a loud barn,”
Olfert says. “Dawson Creek definitely showed up to fill the barn and cheer
us on, which was pretty amazing.”
Eleven years later, Olfert and Kish are returning to the Peace Region—this
time as members of the Alberta coaching staff. Although more than a decade
has passed, the memories are still vivid for both ladies.
“I’m from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, originally, and then Dawson Creek had about
around the same population,” Kish says. “I remember getting there and I was
like, ‘This feels like a nice, close-knit community.’”
The quality of the hockey and the ability to connect with players from other
provinces also stand out in their memories.
“It was the fastest hockey that I had played up to that point,” Olfert says.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is so much fun. I want to find more ways that I
can continue to be involved with this type of high-level game.’”
“The connections that I built and the experience that I had—it was very neat
to be a part of,” Kish adds.
With that passion for high-level intensity hockey ignited in Dawson Creek,
both Kish and Olfert pursued playing the game in university. Kish finished
her career at the University of Regina as the all-time leader in wins (38)
and shutouts (15). Olfert played at the University of Alberta for three
years before she hung up her skates.
“I called a past coach of mine, who was a really big mentor in my life, and
I asked her, ‘After you leave your sport, what do you do with your life?’
And she said, ‘You simply find another way to get involved in it.’”
For both Kish and Olfert, coaching was an excellent way to stay connected to
the game they love in a new capacity. When Olfert made the decision not to
play a fourth year with the Pandas, her coach Howie Draper helped her find
her first coaching position to get her foot in the door.
After completing a kinesiology and education degree, Kish was thinking about
balancing substitute teaching and goalie training after university when she
was presented with the perfect job opportunity at the South Alberta Hockey
Academy in Medicine Hat.
“It was the best of both worlds,” she says. “It’s allowed me to be an
assistant coach and have my goalie stuff, but also doing all the fun
teaching stuff in school.”
For Kish and Olfert, becoming a coach has been one of the best things that
has helped the transition into life after playing high-level hockey.
“Ending the playing career, sometimes an athlete might get lost a little
bit,” Olfert says. “It feels like a part of your life has kind of ended,
which it has. So, harnessing all that energy into something else, that can
be incredibly rewarding.”
“I love it because I’m learning every day,” Kish adds. “Seeing the sport in
this light has been very cool for me because I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, when
I was a player, I didn’t even think about this.’ But now I’m seeing all
these different things and it’s a different viewpoint. That has been very
exciting for me.”
Despite competing against each other at U18 Nationals and in U SPORTS, Kish
and Olfert didn’t officially meet until both were brought on to Alberta’s
coaching staff ahead of the 2023 tournament. With the experience playing in
the tournament themselves, it provides a unique perspective for coaching
“I remember going in there and being very nervous,” Kish says about playing
in the tournament. “You want to do exceptionally well because you have all
these expectations riding on you.”
“Sometimes I find your athletes forget that you had a childhood, that you
grew up as well and you’ve been through some of these things,” Olfert adds.
“They can look to you and be like, ‘What do we do here?’ And you actually
have an answer because you know where their feet are, you know what’s going
through their heads.”
The return to Dawson Creek for Kish and Olfert is full of nostalgia. It’s a
familiar city, a familiar rink and a familiar schedule for what is in store
for each team during the week. As two of 1,578 girls who have competed in
this tournament since 2001, Kish and Olfert hope Team Alberta can embrace
this opportunity and be truly present in this moment.
“This tournament is a reminder of what all these girls have gone through to
get here. Now, they get to enjoy it and experience it just like Jessie and I
did 11 years ago,” Kish says.
“Life has changed a lot in the last 11 years, but it’s also been a lot of
really good changes and a lot of personal growth,” Olfert says. “This is
really cool to have a full circle moment of returning back to Dawson Creek
and getting to relive it, but in a very different way.”