Pursuit of Excellence Building Strong Women's Hockey Tradition

Mark StaffieriContributor IIOctober 3, 2012

Five year veteran Halli Krzyzaniak and newcomer Bridget Baker (courtesy of PofE Athletics)
Five year veteran Halli Krzyzaniak and newcomer Bridget Baker (courtesy of PofE Athletics)

In a five year time span, the Pursuit of Excellence has quickly established itself as one of the premier hockey academies for girls. With at least 25 girls earning scholarships to NCAA Division I women’s hockey, P of E is quickly becoming the academy of choice.

Their prominent alumni include eight girls that have played for the Canadian Under-18 National Team for four years. Some of those alumni include Christine Bestland, Jessica Campbell, Meghan Dufault, Jordan Krause, and Brigette Lacquette.

The sparkling reputation of the academy has even attracted attention form players outside of Canada. On their current roster, Carmen Haenggi (who wears  No.11) competed in the Swiss Elite League, while goaltender, Sara Besseling, is from the Swedish Elite League.

“We would like to make our demographic worldwide,” stated head coach Scott Spencer.

Bridget Baker, a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen, (donning #13) played for Vermont at the North American Hockey Academy. Baker has very good impressions of P of E: “I love it, a great school. My goal is to be ready for college, and possibly a national program.”

The academy’s reputation is one that Baker believes will improve her skills, “A focus on development instead of just winning.” While this year’s P of E team is young, Baker would not hesitate to recommend it, “Oh, yes, totally. I would definitely do that.”

Heading into the 2012-13 season, P of E has new faces on their coaching staff. Scott Spencer, raised in Saskatchewan, has served on the coaching staff of Nate Handrahan at Robert Morris University and Ohio State, respectively.

“There is a lot of youth here. You have to teach them the day in and day out. We teach the details of the game, and we do it day after day. Our program is about building full student athletes.”

When not playing hockey, the girls attend public school in Kelowna, British Columbia. “We work with the schools,” said Spencer. While at Bemidji State, he assisted the men’s hockey team, while working as a strength and conditioning coach with the women’s team. In addition, he helped to start the North Iowa Outlaws of the National American Hockey League in 2005.

As a former coach in the NCAA, Spencer understands the importance of preparation. “In my experience, the most well-prepared college recruits came from P of E. Their experience there is like a college setting, and they are well-rounded people.” One of the P of E students that he recruited while at Ohio State was Cara Zubko. “[Spencer] is helpful and trustworthy. He knows what he is doing,” stated Baker.

While he is currently missing two players (Sarah Potomak and Lauren Spring) as they practice with Team British Columbia in preparation for the Canadian National Under-18 championships, Spencer is quick to acknowledge their abilities. “Both are national team caliber players,” he stated.

With the success of P of E, there have been many other competing hockey academies, which can make recruiting a challenge. “Down the road from us is the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia. Many Junior Women’s Hockey League teams exist too. There is Edge School and Warner School in Alberta. Also the North American Hockey Academy. Tons are popping up.”

Assisting Spencer is Melanie Jue, a former player with the Cornell Big Red. As a senior, she participated in the championship game of the NCAA Frozen Four. “As we develop college athletes, we also set standards. We develop college athletes. We help them understand what their habits are and hold them accountable," she said.

Although this year’s P of E team is young; Spencer never hesitates to share his enthusiasm. “We are clearly excited about our team. They are very young, inexperienced. With the steps we have made, we are very, very excited.” One of his most prominent players is Halli Krzyzaniak, who is entering her fifth season with P of E.

Krzyzaniiak, a member of the Canadian Under-18 National Team, was part of the gold medal winning contingent at the 2012 IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds. In 2011, she competed with Team Manitoba at the Canada Winter Games and at the Canadian Under-18 Nationals.

One of the defender's finest seasons with P of E came during the 2010-11 season. Having logged 25 points in 42 games, she helped P of E win the gold at the Canadian Sport Hockey League championships.

Spencer will be the fourth coach that she plays for at P of E. “The whole dynamic changes every year. There are surprises, you never know what you are going to get. There is an adjustment period with a coaching change. You get used to their style and their expectations.”

As the most experienced player on this year’s squad, Krzyzaniak will be called upon to provide leadership. “I think I see myself as a leader. Being around for so many years helps out in that area.”

Krzyzaniak will be the first to acknowledge how crucial P of E has been for her. “It helped my career. The skill development is unbeatable.” Humble and gracious, she possesses a maturity that recognizes there is always room for improvement. “Everything needs improvement. You are constantly chipping away, hoping to improve. The little things get you in tune, and get you ready for future years.”

Having played with current NCAA stars, Christine Bestland (Mercyhurst) and Jessica Campbell (Cornell), Krzyzaniak is quick to acknowledge that P of E has a family atmosphere. “Even with all the girls that graduated, we are still a family. We keep in touch and we are always rooting for each other.”

“There is a lot of history. A tradition that is starting to be built,” acknowledged Spencer. “I wish that when I was playing, I had an opportunity like this,” added Jue. “This is how a college team runs. We prepare our athletes academically, physically, and mentally.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated