M’CHIGEENG—Zaagaasge Corbiere (Z for short) has had quite a run as she pursues a hockey career in a sport still largely dominated by the males of the species, making waves as one of the few females playing the sport on the upper tier teams’ rosters. Zaagaasge recently returned from a sojourn overseas in Italy and France as a member of the Canadian Pro-development team.
“It was a really great experience, a lot of fun,” she said. “I really liked going on the tours and playing against all the other girls from different countries.”
There was some trepidation heading into the tournaments and training in Europe with the possibility of a language barrier, but that proved to not be the case.
“Actually, a lot of the them were really fluent (in English), well a handful were fluent and the rest were pretty good,” she said.
Z’s team did well in the tournaments, playing five games, but Z was only able to play in four, and although she played the last game, she was a long way from 100 percent as the team was struck by a flu-like ailment that laid most of the young women low.
“We only had seven players in the fourth game (the one Z missed),” she said. By the fifth game she had rallied enough to take to the ice, but that was more of a dedication to the concept of ‘the show must go on.’ “In the final game we only had nine or 10 players on the ice. I played the final one.”
The Italy sojourn, and where the team was mostly based, centred in a mountain valley at a place called Chamonix. The team played mostly in local arenas, but there was one notable exception.
“When we were in Italy, we went to a really old Olympic arena,” said Z. “It was not as big as I thought it would be.” This was an important revelation as one of Z’s goals is firmly sighted on making it on to the Canadian Olympic team and dreams of scholarships dance frequently in her head. A not unrealistic dream by any standard, given her hockey performance so far. Other than that, the now 12-year-old is still feeling her way when it comes to career choices.
Clara Corbiere, Z’s grandmother who accompanied her on the tour, was effusive about her granddaughter’s accomplishments.
“We got Z’s evaluation from World Selects Invitational,” she said. “They said ‘a couple of things that I was really impressed with: your hockey sense and nose for where the puck is going. You have a great ability to read the play and anticipate what the other team is doing’.”
Z’s legs on the ice were another big positive. “Your skating and edge work looks great. You are such a nice skater,” reads the assessment. But like any useful assessment, there were some things she still needs to work on. “Let’s get your hands stronger” and “Work on your first four strides from a standstill.”
“I love that she got feedback; now we know where she needs to concentrate,” said Ms. Corbiere. “My lazy hockey player really let the dry land and muscle toning lapse last year. Now she has to shoot 100 pucks six days a week and for three days (practice) stickhandling,” laughed Ms. Corbiere.
As for the extra curricular part of the Pro-Development Selects tour, Z said that she really enjoyed the historic buildings, especially a large cathedral they visited in Milan. Then there was the shopping. Z was more interested in finding gifts for the folks back home than any of the high fashion options in that city famed for its haute couture. “It was fun looking, though,” she admitted.
As for that the future holds, “There are a lot of rumours out there about where Z will be playing next season,” said Ms. Corbiere. But she points out that Z’s European sidetrip sidelined her for Ontario for AAA Major tryouts. “They gave her an opportunity to try out but Z had other things in mind. She was also contacted by two other teams who held a spot for her.”
One of the key challenges when it comes to being a girl playing hockey on boys’ teams helps make it easier to understand some of her ambivalence. “It was difficult creating a bond with the Sudbury Junior AAA Wolves when she always had to have a dressing room by herself and she had to wait while the boys dressed,” explained her grandmother. “Although she did create bonds with her defensive partner and the goalies, she really did not feel a part of the team.”
“After much talking and eventually respecting her wishes, she has decide to play for the Peewee Panthers this year,” said Ms. Corbiere. “I am a bit disappointed but that does not matter because my granddaughter is happy—happy that she will be with teammates who she has a bond with and that she will be once again reunited with her best friend Kallie as well as coaches Hughson and Best.”
But that decision doesn’t mean she is letting up. Z is still in spring hockey with Pro Development and she will be playing in New York and Massachusetts as well as at another aboriginal tournament in August.
The Pro Development experience helped give Z a strong idea of what lies ahead in top tier sports. “There’s a lot of travelling,” she laughed.