’A really amazing experience’: Sask. ringette player returns from World Championship tournament in Finland
Only one player from Saskatchewan made it onto the 22-person roster for Canada’s junior national ringette team.
In fact, she was the only player from the province invited to try out.
Holly Kozan, the goaltender for the Saskatchewan Heat in the National Ringette League, was able to stand out above the rest, earning her the opportunity to compete at the World Ringette Championships in Finland in early November.
“I was super excited to be going,” said Kozan, 19.
“I think it means a lot, to not only represent your country, but represent your province and hopefully open other province’s eyes.”
She said there is a lot of great talent in the province, even thought the ringette community is a bit smaller in Saskatchewan compared to other provinces.
The COVID-19 pandemic also made it harder for players to get an opportunity to make the team.
Assistant coach Keely Brown said pre-selection camps, which usually saw players from all different provinces invited, could not be held during the previous two years.
That meant the majority of scouting had to come from one national tournament, where only one team from Saskatchewan was competing.
But, Brown said, Kozan had the exact characteristics she and the other coaches were looking for.
“We noticed that when she stepped in goal for (the Heat) that she was really good at establishing a bit of a calm, mature presence for her team,” Brown said.
“And when you’re coaching the junior national team, you’re looking for a goalie who can exude that calm confidence in net under stressful situations, or in situations when they’re getting a lot of shots.”
Brown said they were focusing on players who had a lot of experience, but there is some great younger talent in the pipeline as well.
“The Saskatchewan team was relatively new to the NRL, but we definitely noticed that there were a number of really strong skaters and good competitive players,” Brown said.
“So we had our eye on a lot of players, but we were limited in the amount of people we could invite to camp.”
Kozan was facing a daunting task, Brown said, having to act as an important piece of a roster and create relationships with teammates who she was meeting for the first time.
“Right from the beginning, she fit in really well,” Brown said, praising Kozan’s demeanour and interactions with her teammates.
Kozan introduced herself right away, Brown said, and was ready to work with her teammates on Day 1.
Kozan said one of the biggest moments for her was being able to put on the red and white jersey for the first time.
“It was a little bit emotional. Just talking about it gives me chills still,” she explained.
“You just put the jersey on and you go, ‘OK, we’re doing this.’ And it’s something you think about a lot, but actually putting on the jersey, going out with your teammates (and) stepping onto that ice is a whole different experience.”
Even though Team Canada lost both of its games at the tournament, Kozan said she was grateful for the opportunity, and it was a feeling she’ll never forget.
Brown said the sport has a massive community in the Scandinavian country.
“When you go over to Finland, ringette is just a totally different national sport over there,” Brown said.
“The stands are full, and it’s very loud, and there’s smoke and fireworks, and it’s broadcast nationally on TV, and the players there have been playing for quite some time together and have a different style of play.”
Plus, she added, the Canadians had disadvantages in dealing with the time change and different culture, especially when it came to food.
The ringette world championships have a different format than most other tournaments. Canada and Finland played two games, and if each team won one game then it would have been decided in overtime.
Although Canada lost both contests, Kozan said the experience left her and her teammates feeling determined to work harder, and hopefully return for a chance at redemption in the future.
“Being able to experience that will just make myself and all the rest of the players on my team better in the long run, even though it wasn’t the scores we would’ve liked,” she said.
“It would be really cool to play the Finns again, and get another crack at them.”
But it wasn’t just on the ice that Kozan built the chemistry needed to help be successful, they were in Finland after all.
“It was really important when we were over there to not just be, ‘Ringette, ringette, ringette,’ 24/7, because I think that is not good for you either,” Kozan explained.
“I think having that balance and that time to be able to, you know, take the metro and go explore a little bit of downtown Helsinki, was important for us as a group.”
So what comes next for Kozan and her ringette career?
She said she will play the remainder of the season with her club team, and hopefully earn another chance to play overseas. At the same time, she’s coaching players in her own community in the Buffalo Plains Ringette Association, hoping to maybe see them suit up for Team Canada in the future.
But, Brown said, if Kozan continues to train and work hard, she will likely be eligible to try out for the senior national team and compete again at the next world championships.
For full results and stats from the World Ringette Championships in Finland, please visit – https://wrc2022.fi/en/