Leaside Wildcats swap players with New Zealand squad

[attach]7221[/attach]The Leaside Wildcats Girls Hockey Association and Ice Fernz, the New Zealand national women’s hockey team, are swapping players for the next few months, opening roster spots to give the girls a new learning experience.

In advance of the Division 2A IIHF World Championships in April, the Ice Fernz are sending four Kiwis — Krystie Woodyear-Smith, Jamie Jones, Caitlin Heale and Grace Harrison — for one- to two-month stints each.

Going the other way is Gabby Smyth, a Grade 10 student at Leaside High School who left Dec. 1 for a 10-day stint, where she was to train with the Ice Fernz’s under-18 team and play in an exhibition series against Team Australia.

Woodyear-Smith, an 18-year-old defenseman who arrived Nov. 13, will be playing with the Wildcats’ Senior C squad. Jones, 15, Heale, 15, and Harrison, 16, will compete with the organization’s midget BB team.

Jones got in town Nov. 24, and Heale and Harrison are to arrive Dec. 11. The visiting Kiwis are being billeted with Wildcat families, who will coordinate their accommodations.

Smyth is the only local girl going the other way.

Woodyear-Smith has been undertaking a weekly five-day, 10-hour training regimen, one that has been leaving her sore and stiff, but all smiles.

“There were extra techniques that I wasn’t using, like using my heel more,” Woodyear-Smith said from the flat swhere she is staying on the York University campus.

“So I’m using the whole blade when I push off and now I’m a little bit faster.”

The defenseman, who notes that she caught the hockey bug while living briefly in Vancouver, says she has seen her skating and strength improve immediately after only a week of training.

At the suggestion of York University player Kiri Langford, a fellow Kiwi, Jamiee Wood participated in the first exchange of this kind in January.

The 18-year-old Ice Fernz goalie stayed with the McStay family in Leaside for two months.

Smyth became friends with Wood — her family would carpool with Wood during her stay — and visited Wood, with her father Andrew Smyth, in New Zealand last summer.

Smyth also visited with the Ice Fernz coaches, and witnessed some level competition.

Returning to New Zealand will be great chance to reconnect with Wood and broaden her hockey horizons, Smyth said from her Leaside home.

“I am excited to see everyone again,” said Smyth, a defenseman who has been skating with the Wildcats since she was 9. “I’m preparing, making sure I have everything before I leave, because I don’t want to forget anything.”

She has raised more than $3,500 for the 10-day tour. As a thank you for the contributions from family, the local hockey community and local businesses, she will carry a briefcase with stickers of her sponsors.