Fort Smith’s Kiah Vail, 17, is bringing the Esso Cup back to her hometown. As far as she knows, it’ll be the prestigious hockey trophy’s first time visiting the NWT.
Vail and her Edmonton-area team, the St Albert Slash, won the Esso Cup on April 28 in Nova Scotia after defeating the previously unbeaten Saskatoon Stars in the championship game.
The female midget AAA team finished its regular season at the end of March, winning the Alberta Provincial Championship, before heading to the Pacific Regional Championship and finally Nationals at the end of April.
Vail told Cabin Radio the Esso Cup, awarded to the top team in Canada's National Female Midget Championship, is the greatest thing an athlete can win at her level.
“It was quite gruelling, to be honest, playing seven games in seven days,” said Vail, who also won hockey gold with Team NT in Iqaluit at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games.
"But in the end, in that moment of winning, in the huddle, I realized: This is it. This is the sport I love and this is why I’m doing it, so I can create moments like this."
'Anything is possible'
After Vail's longest-ever season Vail (tryouts started in late August and she made the team in September), she brought the trophy home to aspiring athletes from Fort Smith minor hockey – where she got her start.
Speaking by phone from Edmonton before addressing those players in Fort Smith on Friday, Vail said she would use the 14-hour drive home to contemplate what message she’d like to share with them.
“I’ll talk about my beginnings with minor hockey in Fort Smith and never expecting it to lead to where I am today," she said, "and that really anything is possible if you put your mind to it and you have help and mentorship."
In addition to the Esso Cup, Vail will also bring the medal and hat she was given at Nationals. She sees the memorabilia as items the youth can grasp, both figuratively and literally, as rewards for hard work.
And while summer is around the corner, Vail is already looking forward to next season, when she hopes to make Team Alberta's U18s and play in the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
She’ll be starting Grade 12 in the fall and has begun scoping out post-secondary institutions that will afford her the opportunity to play hockey – and hopefully offer her a few scholarships as well.