The list of elite women's hockey players from Newfoundland & Labrador isn't particularly long, but it's been growing quickly in recent years. Abby Newhook's name could soon be near the top.
Despite that, the Canada Winter Games will likely be her first and only chance to play for her province on the national stage. The multi-sport event, which takes place every four years, features teams from all 10 provinces and two of the three territories. In non-CWG years, the pinnacle in women's hockey is the national under-18 championship, where Newfoundland & Labrador is grouped together with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island to form one combined Team Atlantic.
"It's pretty cool being able to represent your province," Newhook said. "I mean, usually it's just at the Atlantic Challenge Cup. It's pretty cool that this event only happens every four years and that I'm lucky enough to be able to represent my province."
The 15-year-old committed to Boston College over a year ago, making her the youngest girl from Newfoundland & Labrador to commit to a Division I NCAA program. She didn't have to move away, either, to gain the scouts' attention: she was captaining a bantam AAA boys' team in her hometown of St. John's at the time. That alone is a big step for a province that has sent just a handful of players to highest levels. Sarah Davis, who represented Canada at the World Championships from 2015-17, remains the only Newfoundlander to have ever cracked the senior women's national team.
Of course, leaving was bound to happen eventually. This season, Newhook is attending prep school at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts.
"I kind of knew that the level of hockey at home, for girls' hockey anyways, wasn't at the level I want to be playing at to challenge myself," she explained. "I knew that there was only a couple years of boys' hockey left and in order to push and move on with hockey, that I had to go away."
Whereas most teenagers choose their high school before their university, Newhook's approach was the opposite. She'd already made her decision on post-secondary and knew she wanted to go to prep school somewhere in the United States, but was choosing between Shattuck St. Mary's and Tabor. Ultimately, Tabor won out because it was a little closer to home and came at the recommendation of officials at Boston College.
The biggest adjustment so far in living away has been on the academic side, where she says Tabor's demands have far exceeded the workload she was used to and forced her to improve her time-management skills. On the ice she initially had to work at staying out of the penalty box after playing two years of full-contact hockey, but ultimately counts the physical aspect of her game as one of her biggest strengths.
She's expected to start at Boston College in 2021-22, where she'll join her older brother, Alex. Abby didn't let her brother's earlier commitment influence her own path, though: she chose BC because it genuinely felt like a good fit. The fact that she'll be reunited with her sibling is simply a bonus.
"I really like the coaches at the school – they really reached out to me," she offered. "The campus is pretty cool and I just kind of got that feeling when I went there that it was the spot for me. I know they have a pretty good program, so that definitely came into play with it."
The Canada Winter Games women's hockey tournament sorts teams into three pools, based on previous results. Pools A and B are fairly even, competitive groups, whereas Pool C contains the bottom-four finishers from the 2015 edition. Newfoundland & Labrador finds itself in that group, and will face Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories in preliminary play. The top two teams from Pool C advance to a qualifying round against the bottom team from each of pools A and B for a chance at the quarterfinals.
This year's Team NL also features U18 World Champion Shailynn Snow, as well as Shae-Lynn Clarke, who was invited to Hockey Canada's U18 try-out camp. Together with Newhook, they could lead the squad to some upsets.
"We're usually a team who works really hard," said Newhook of the group. "We never give up. And coming in as the underdog, we just give it all we've got, work together, and stay positive."
She expects to have a good time supporting athletes from her province in a variety of different sports. For her part, she of course intends to be a good team player, and is hoping to wind up near the top of the tournament's points race. Newhook also wants to leave an impression that will help her earn an invite to Hockey Canada's U18 camp this summer. Making and eventually rising through the ranks of the national program is her ultimate goal, and at this point, it seems well within her reach.
The women's hockey tournament at the Canada Winter Games runs from February 24 to March 2. All games will be streamed live except for one quarterfinal and the gold-medal game, which will be broadcast on TSN and RDS.