When the Canadian ringette championships arrive in Burnaby next month, the Lower Mainland Thunder plan to make a whole bunch of noise.
"It's exciting for me and my teammates," said six-year National Ringette League veteran Julia Scigliano of Burnaby.
The 27-year-old Thunder forward would like nothing better than to win a national title at home before friends and family.
"This year we have a legit chance to medal. Of course we would like to win it, but in the past there has never been a possibility that a B.C. team could win. But this is amazing," Scigliano said.
The Thunder is the third goaround for a B.C. team in the national elite league and Scigliano is the only remaining member to have played in all six seasons.
But after 20 years in the game, Scigliano is still looking for her firstever gold medal.
She came close in 2003, when a B.C. belle team won silver in the under-19 division at the nationals in Waterloo, Ont. Scigliano also placed second at the 2000 B.C. Winter Games as a 16-year-old junior.
The chance to go one better at this stage in her career and on home ice is an opportunity that is too enticing for Scigliano.
"If we make the final, we're hoping to get a lot of people there - the more the better. We're excited," said Scigliano, who finished the Thunder's 30-game regular season in 12th place in Western Conference scoring with six goals and 39 assists.
But the host Thunder is far from a long shot. The expansion team had a great first season, finishing second in the six-team conference with 22 wins and just two points shy of first-place Prairie Fire in the standings.
The Thunder is currently ranked fifth in the nation, behind eastern frontrunners Montreal Mission and Cambridge Turbos. The Fire slipped to third place in the lastest rankings.
The Lower Mainland club will have first-hand knowledge of the Ontario team. Jennifer Wakefield was a member of the Turbos before coming west to play on the Thunder.
Wakefield, at 32 years of age, is the oldest member of the Thunder, but one of its best, earning the Western Conference second star for the month of February.
The B.C. club also has some international flavor with two top Finnish stars on board.
Defender Heidi Petrell came to Canada with her brother Lennart, who plays in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.
Salla Kyhala, the West's first-ever league scoring champion with 69 goals and 120 points, was also the runner-up at the recent Red Bull Crushed Ice women's race in Quebec City.
With this kind of elite company, it is no wonder Scigliano believes new spectators will be surprised by the speed of the game.
"It's fast, it's really fast," said Scigliano, who also plays Division 1 women's hockey. "Some people think of ringette as a slow version of hockey, but that's not true. When people come out and watch one of our games, they're blown away. A common response is, 'Wow, I didn't think ringette would be played like that.'"
Scigliano says the game is much tougher than hockey, due to the close man-on-man marking.
"We have a lot of oohs and ahhs (from fans). It's pretty exciting," Scigliano said. "You have to work for your chances, you don't just throw it on net."
Another thing Thunder players
would never do is take the game lightly.
Since last season, when the priviate ownership group of the thenFraser Valley Avalanche fell through, the team has been run by the league. But the individual players shoulder most of the financial burden for travel, accomodation, referees and practice times during the course of the season, which entails travel to Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba every third weekend.
That commitment runs into the thousands of dollars each season, but Scigliano is not complaining.
"The girls are my family," she said. "We're not doing it because we have to do it, or because our coaches are making us do it. We're actually a tightknit family. I am close to these girls."
The Canadian Ringette Championships will take place in Burnaby from April 8 to 14, with national titles decided in the under-16 and -19 age groups as well as the NRL.
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