Every Canadian hockey player, young or old, dreams of pulling on that maple leaf sweater. Very few athletes are lucky enough to get that opportunity, and two University of Manitoba Bisons will do just that in the coming weeks.
Forward Alanna Sharman and defenseman Erica Rieder will both represent the University of Manitoba at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) games this winter in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The tournament – which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 8 – is the 28th edition of the Winter Universiade, and will see 122 Canadian hopefuls representing their country.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Sharman said regarding her selection. “I’m sure I’ll be nervous when I get there but I’m looking forward to this weekend and next weekend of Bisons and then I’ll start thinking about it.”
When asked if she was nervous about the Universiade, Rieder let out a laugh.
“Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’m nervous,” she said. “It’s not every day you get to go overseas and play with Team Canada.”
Wearing the maple leaf is a dream of many young hockey players, something not lost on Sharman.
“It’s definitely an incredible feeling,” she said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Likewise with Reider, the chance to dress for team Canada is the chance of a lifetime.
“It’s my first time wearing the maple leaf but, I’m incredibly excited to go, especially going with [Sharman],” the defenseman said. “It’s gonna be an awesome experience.”
Both Sharman and Rieder were invited to the tryout in Calgary, although neither knew that the other got an invite.
“I texted Jon [Rempel] and asked if anyone else made it, hoping that [Sharman] would’ve made it,” Rieder said. “Then she texted me and was like ‘please tell me you made it.’” Both players are ecstatic to be experiencing this together.
Sharman currently sits second in Bisons’ scoring, tallying seven goals and 14 points in 15 games. Rieder, meanwhile, sits third amongst Bisons defenders with four goals and 10 points in 18 regular season games heading into this week’s matchup against the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
“We’re really proud of what they’ve been able to do and how they’re going to represent our program,” said Bisons head coach Jon Rempel. “I was fortunate to be a part of that in Spain two years ago and it was a really cool event.”
“Any time you get to put on the maple leaf and play for your country, I don’t care what level you play at, it’s a huge honour. They deserve it, they’re a huge part of our program and when they go that’ll be a challenge for us.”
Sharman’s offensive ability is one of the strongest aspects of her game, and Rempel was quick to point that out.
“Offensive creativity is probably her strongest suit,” he said. “She can do things with the puck in small spaces that most kids can’t, extremely unselfish with the puck and the best practice habits on the team.”
Rieder is a really strong player on the Bisons blueline, and extremely hardworking.
“Erica is just a force,” Rempel said. “She’s one of those kids that I think comes along very, very rarely in your coaching career. Big, strong, she’s a gym rat, an incredibly strong leader.”
Rempel was part of the coaching staff during the 2015 Universiade in Spain, where Canada came home with a treasure trove of medals. Athletes wearing red and white took home five medals in the six events at the games, with bronze in alpine skiing, short-track speed skating, and men’s hockey, adding silver in both curling and women’s hockey.
On the women’s side, Sharman and Rieder are part of a group looking for a comeback. After taking home gold in the first three tournaments since women’s hockey was introduced. Team Canada came up short of the four-peat, taking home a silver medal in 2015.
The two Bisons will be joined by a number of fellow Canada West talents. Jaycee Magwood from the University of Regina, Kaitlin Willoughby from the University of Saskatchewan, and Alex Poznikoff from the University of Alberta – all top 10 Canada West scorers – will join the red and white along with Kylie Gavelin and Alexis Larson of Regina and Kelly Murray of UBC.
Sharman and Reider will get right to work on day one of the tournament, when Canada squares off against China in the opener. The rest of the round robin schedule has Canada facing Great Britain on Jan. 30, and host Kazakhstan on Feb. 1. Teams from Japan, Kazakhstan, the United States and Russia will also be vying for the gold medal.