Jashvina Shah

CWHL: Rookie Elana Lovell's Return to Competitive Play

When Inferno forward Elana Lovell graduated from the University of Calgary in 2013, she didn't want to play hockey any more.

"I hadn’t had a really good last season," Lovell said. "I just wasn't enjoying it. I was having some knee issues, and I think injuries over the course of my time at U of C had kind of just taken over.

"I knew my body needed a break; and honestly, my mind needed a break from it too."

Lovell, who'd lived in Calgary since joining the university in 2008, hadn't considered the Inferno at the time.

“I’d never had a season off without hockey before," Lovell said.

Lovell turned to coaching instead. She started in the spring of her last season at U of C, when her assistant coach Tara Hammer asked Lovell and a teammate if they wanted to assist with spring coaching.

Lovell enjoyed it. One contact led to another, and the recent graduate found herself coaching the local midget Triple A team. The next season, Lovell coached the bantam Triple A team.

"That really brought forth my passion for the game again," Lovell said.

"It was amazing to see the passion in the girls’ eyes and how much they loved hockey and being at the rink and how much fun it was to be on a team again.”

As a result, Lovell entered last summer's CWHL draft.

"I didn’t really have all the confidence in the world in my ability to make this team because I knew of all the high profile names coming, but I was definitely super lucky and excited when they took me," Lovell said.

Calgary selected Lovell seventh and 34th overall. She was one of 12 Inferno picks in the draft in 12 rounds.

"I saw her skate a couple times before we had the group together, and I’m like, wow, you know [she] can play," Calgary coach Scott Reid said. "It’s just a matter of [how] she would fit in when you get the group together. You see her by herself or with other teammates, but once training camp came around, she just kept it up and kept getting better. Then she was given an opportunity to play with some special players, and she took advantage of that.

"She put herself in this position. A lot of the credit goes to her.”

But Lovell, who's nominated for the CWHL's Rookie of the Year award alongside teammate Brianne Jenner, needed to adjust to the CWHL caliber after two seasons of recreational hockey.

"Trying to catch up to the same work ethic and whatnot and trying to get my skills back up to where they needed to be...I’m still doing that to this day," Lovell said. "[I'm] still trying to work hard in practice and the girls are always just so skilled and whatnot, they kind of bring their 110 percent every practice, so it really challenges me to keep up with them.”

While Lovell took a two-year hiatus from competitive hockey, coaching kept her mind sharp.

"I’m kind of like a kinesthetic learner to begin with so I love to do things. But then obviously being able to pair the visual up, I think that’s been the most beneficial." Lovell said.

"When you heckle kids about forechecking and backchecking, you kind of have to do it yourself.”

Lovell finished second on Calgary's offense with 26 points. She was tied with fellow Rookie of the Year nominee Rebecca Vint for ninth in the league.

"She can put the puck basically wherever she wants on net. She can really hit the top corner; she’s got a very good shot, very accurate," Inferno teammate Brittany Esposito said.

"Coming in, I know she was really nervous, just even coming into tryouts. And obviously she’s done very well and as the season's gone on, she’s gotten more confident, as she should."

Lovell has played all over the ice this year, whether on different lines, defense, or special teams.

"Any time she’s been in [the] scoring area, she’s dangerous," Reid said. "A lot of the [players] really respect her shot, and when she gets into those areas and she shoots the puck. She can definitely put it in the net.”

The breakout star began skating when she played Ringette in Kelowna, British Columbia.

“I disliked Ringette. For me it wasn’t hockey and for some reason my mom decided to enroll me in that because it was all girls,” Lovell said.

Lovell then moved to Kamloops. There was no Ringette team in Kamloops, but Lovell's best friend's parents convinced Lovell's mother to let her play boys' hockey.

“I was terrible to begin with. I could barely skate, [I was] just this 11-year-old person on skates that was pretty much walking," Lovell said.

“I started out as the worst player on the team. Nobody wanted to play with me. They didn’t know if they should put me on forward or on defense, kind of because I was so bad. But at the end of the year I was probably the most developed player and it ended up just being probably one of the best seasons of my life."

Lovell joined U of C in 2008. She played for the Dinos for five seasons, but missed 12 games in 2012 with a knee injury, including the end of the season and the Canada West playoffs.

The Dinos were Canada West champions, and Lovell began practicing right before the CIS championship. She dressed for the tournament and had four points, including a goal and an assist in the national championship win over Montreal.

It was Lovell's most memorable moment so far -- but the rookie will have a chance for another this weekend against Les Canadiennes.

"They have a pretty well-rounded team and I think we stack up pretty good against them," Lovell said. "I actually think it’s just going to be a phenomenal weekend of hockey and I think it’s going to be one of the best games of the season. It’s pretty exciting that we get to play them again in the finals.”

(Photo credit: Canadian Women's Hockey League)

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