Rode

Rode: Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs star forward Jolie Nafziger a natural

There are individuals who seem to be a natural at whatever they do.

You could say that about Jolie Nafziger, who got into hockey almost before she could walk.

Today the 17-year-old Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs U18AAA star is one of the premier players in the Alberta Female Hockey League — second in league scoring with 15 points, including nine assists, in 16 games — and on the radar of a number of post-secondary institutions on both sides of the border.

“My parents put me on the ice when I was three and I started playing competitive hockey when I was about five,” said the Caroline native, who now lives in Red Deer and attends Grade 12 at Notre Dame.

Jolie, who has always played centre, played boys hockey in Caroline until first-year bantam when she moved to Red Deer.

She credits her time playing with the boys for much of her development.

“It played a huge part in it … a key to my success,” she said. “They have some great girls programs now but not as many when I was younger so it was important for me to play with the boys. In fact, I loved it.”

Although she’s listed at five-foot-two, she’s not afraid for any physical contact and to work the boards.

“A bit more aggressive for sure, although I don’t take penalties.”

Her nine assists this season is tied for first in the league. The ability to see the ice and make quick decisions with the puck comes from her time with the boys.

“I think in the girls game you can hold onto the puck a bit longer while with the boys you need to get rid of it quicker, which has helped me a lot … why I do get so many assists.”

Jolie admits it was a bit scary moving away from home and into the bantam elite program in Red Deer, but thanks to head coach Dave McLaughlin she made a smooth transition.

“That first year was huge for me as it was my first year in girls hockey,” she said. “But the coaches and players were great and I enjoyed it a lot so stuck with it.”

She feels McLaughlin was one of the biggest individual influences in her life.

“My dad (Shane) coached me a lot and helped me so much as has my current coach (Brett Wold), but Dave was the most amazing coach I’ve had … he was great.”

Jolie’s willingness to work hard and develop all aspects of her game has contributed to her on-ice success.

“I took power skating for years and feel I’m a good skater … I shoot the puck well and try to calm the puck down when I have it to make good plays.

“I’ve seen a big improvement in my game over the three years with the midgets, but I still work on my shot. That’s something Brett has us all work on a lot. Making sure we can pick the corners and not just hit the goalie.”

Jolie feels that she improved even last year, which was all but cancelled because of Covid.

“I probably shouldn’t say it benefited me, but it didn’t bother me as much as I was lucky to work with a trainer, Jason Jaffray, from Olds. He helped me stay in shape and focus on hockey-related things … I think it’s a huge reason for my success this year.

Jolie’s sister Madelynne, 15, is in her first year with the U18AAA Chiefs.

“We played together a bit when we were really young, but this is really the first time we’ve been together at a higher level and it’s exciting for the whole family,” Jolie said.

In fact, the Nafziger family plays a big role with the Chiefs as mother — Lorissa — is team manager.

The Chiefs have two games remaining in the first half of the season — both on the road.

As for her future, Jolie hopes that will be determined shortly.

“We’re in a tournament this weekend and they expect around 100 scouts there so I should know more about where I’ll play next year following that,” she said. “I’ve had a few offers from U.S. college teams, which is amazing, so cool, but I haven’t committed so far.”

She wants to get into the medical field as a surgeon and stresses academics are as important as hockey. She could, without doubt, play for the RDP Queens, but is looking to get away from home.

“I do love it here but I’ve played in this area my whole life and I’d like to get away to play for four years then look to return.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca