The Toronto Leaside Wildcats are committed to advancing women’s hockey here in the heart of Toronto. But following the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver we saw an opportunity to play a part in the development of the sport outside of Canada—specifically, in countries whose female hockey programs were in the early stages of development.
Since 2010 we have, on four occasions, hosted the Women’s National Team of China and 2018 saw the Toronto Leaside Wildcats host the New Zealand National Women’s Team, the Ice Fernz. They competed in 2 exhibition games and in our own Leaside March Break Madness Tournament as they prepared for the IIHF World Championships in Spain. As more national women’s teams come to Ontario for training and development, the Association will continue to work with the OWHA to provide opportunities for these teams to compete against Wildcats teams.
In 2012 we expanded our commitment to international development and hosted a player from the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation’s national program. This midget-aged player came to Toronto for 6 weeks and was rostered with one of our Midget teams, billeting with two Leaside Wildcats families. During her time in Toronto, the player was able to participate in TLGHA games, tournaments, practices, and team training. This proved to be an incredible development opportunity for this player—one that was so successful that since 2012, the Wildcats have hosted 16 midget-aged players and 5 senior players, most of them who have continued on to play on New Zealand’s National Women’s Team. Each of these players benefited enormously from exceptional instruction, development, and game experience. The Association plans to keep this program available to international players and is working to build a framework that can be shared with other IIHF women’s and U18 programs.
After a very successful endeavour in 2015, when the Wildcats sent a team to Spain to play an exhibition series against the Spanish National Women’s team, 2016 saw the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation extend an invitation to a Wildcats Midget team to come to New Zealand as a part of fostering the global game and sharing cultural experiences. This was an exceptional experience for both the New Zealand and Leaside players and coaches; where they practiced with local teams, took part in an international outdoor tournament culminating in a 3-game exhibition series against the New Zealand National U18 team. As with our player billet program, we are working with key players at the OWHA and local ice hockey federations to see if we can take this initiative forward for more teams in more countries in the years ahead.
These initiatives are a unique component of the Toronto Leaside Wildcats programming. We are grateful for the support of countless volunteers and, especially, of the host families who make these opportunities possible. For more highlights of these experiences, check out our Facebook page for pictures and updates on these and other Wildcats experiences.