In the lobby of the Olds Sportsplex, Rikki Leonard, a Red Deer College Queens defenceman, pauses for a moment to consider the possibility.
It’s the morning after Leonard’s Queens defeated the Olds College Broncos 4-0 in her hometown. Today, they sit first in the ACAC standings by seven points with eight games left in the regular season.
They hold the best goal-differential in the league and Leonard thinks this could be the year they finally finish on top, improving on last season’s ACAC silver.
“I think so, definitely. If we work hard enough, this could definitely be our year,” she said. “When I first got there, it was just kind of the beginning of becoming the team that we are today … all the years I’ve played, we’ve either been third or second. We’ve been a decently strong team, but this year I think we’ve got something amazing.”
The 21-year-old grew up in Olds Minor Hockey but eventually left to play in Red Deer’s midget program. She fondly remembers the friends made and people even strangers who would stop by to watch her games.
“I’m so happy to be back here playing, really,” she said.
Leonard is currently studying to become a nurse. She says she didn’t have a defined plan after high school.
“I really just wanted to go overseas and just help people. I didn’t really know what that would look like.”
Her father, Wade, told her she needed something more concrete and realistic. So she picked Red Deer College’s nursing program.
She found her calling but keeping up with coursework, practicum shifts at the hospital and varsity hockey didn’t come easy. There were early mornings and late nights. Weekends that could have been spent with family in Olds were used for work.
“It’s giving up a lot of things that your friends are doing,” Leonard said. “Because you have to do that in order to do hockey and do well in (school). But I think when it’s something you enjoy, it makes it easier.”
Leonard comes from a hockey-mad family. Wade is the local midget A girls coach. Her sister Amy was a goalie for years. And her two twin sisters Dayna and Kelly recently committed to play for the SAIT Trojans next year.
“My dad and the twins are Oilers fans. I don’t know how I came up with the Flames. I love Jarome Iginla. I met him when I was little and ever since then, he’s been my favourite player,” she said.
She’s thrilled that two more from her family will play in the ACAC, saying it’s rare for girls to play beyond the minor level.
However, she’s not sure if she’ll return for her final year of eligibility to play against them.
“It’s definitely been a thought of mine. It would be so much fun. I haven’t decided yet. My nursing work is getting pretty heavy. Next year is my last. We do final practicums where we go to the hospital for quite a bit of time and I really wanted to come back to Olds but with hockey, you can’t do that much travelling and make it work. I’m kind of on the fence right now.”