Canada’s ‘other’ ice sport

(Photo by Cristina Rucchetta)

Erika Kiviaho has been on skates since she was four years old.

But one of the newest members of Laurier’s women’s hockey team wasn’t raised with a hockey stick in her hands.

The Sudbury native instead has been playing ringette since she was young, and found a great deal of success in Canada’s ‘other’ ice sport.

“My older sister started in it,” explained Kiviaho. “And so I just naturally followed that.”

Ringette originated out of the Sudbury area in the 1960s. It was invented as an on-ice sport for women, since women’s hockey had not taken off. The game requires more passing and teamwork than hockey, since players cannot carry the puck over either blue line.

Kiviaho started her career playing at the A and AA level out of Walden, Ont. and has been climbing the ranks ever since. Last winter, she won a gold medal playing for Ontario at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax. She has also been a part of tours through Europe to bring more popularity to the sport.

In fact, Kiviaho didn’t even start playing ice hockey until high school. Despite the differences between the sports, some skills she developed in ringette made Kiviaho’s transition into hockey easier.

“Obviously, skating is a foundation for both sports,” she said. “A lot of the positioning and gap control … just kind of knowing where you need to be defensively. A lot of stuff like that transfers over.”

In her first year playing hockey at Laurier, Kiviaho is currently balancing playing for the Richmond Hill Lightning of the National Ringette League, as well as her role with the Golden Hawks.

“I went to [Laurier’s] open tryouts not really expecting to make it, but when the coach asked me to come back I told him I played high level ringette as well and was already committed to that,” Kiviaho said.

“So we have kind of taken the season as it goes schedule wise. I have had to miss some stuff, but it has been working out okay for the most part … it’s definitely a privilege to be able to play both.”

Kiviaho has been relishing the opportunity to play for a women’s team that currently sits second in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) league. Her lack of experience in hockey has not held her back from finding a role on the team.

“Because I am coming from ringette to hockey and also I’m a first year, my skill set isn’t as strong as a lot of the older players,” Kiviaho said.

“My skating is my strong point, so I’m put out for the penalty kill and I’m more kind of like the energy line or the grind line. You just have to go out and make life difficult for the other team.

“I just go out and hustle and that’s pretty much what’s expected.”

Choosing to play just one sport for Kiviaho was too difficult of a decision to make.

Instead, she said she would like to succeed in both. In the coming years at Laurier she would like to improve her skills and see her role on the team expand, while in ringette she hopes to compete for Canada’s national team.

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