Red Deer College Queens hockey head coach Kelly Coulter admits he has a soft spot for northern Alberta athletes.
“I spent a lot of time there before I moved to Red Deer and there are a lot of good athletes up there, ones who can help our program,” he said, after announcing the commitment of Arilyn Toews for next season.
The Toews family has a connection to RDC with Arilyn’s father, Tim, and uncle, Murray, both playing with the Kings.
“I coached with Murray and having a connection with the family helped in that I didn’t have to make inroads with them … they knew me,” explained Coulter.
Arilyn wasn’t thinking much about that when she got an offer from Kelly and quickly accepted it.
“When I was younger I always wanted to go to Red Deer College and play hockey,” said the five-foot-three 17-year-old. “So it worked out perfectly.”
Arilyn also wanted to get into the nursing program, which is highly regarded at RDC.
“My mom’s a nurse and that’s the only thing I wanted to do. It’ll be tough, but I’m excited about getting into it and getting to play hockey.”
Toews is from an acreage near Wembley and about 30 minutes from Grande Prairie. She got into hockey when she was five and played with the boys program in Wembley until second year peewee, when she switched to girls hockey in Grande Prairie. She played mite level for a year before joining the Peace Country Storm bantam elite team.
She feels her time with the boys was a benefit.
“In fact I would have liked to have played another year with the boys as I learned a lot. It was good calibre and I liked the physical side.
She has always played centre, although she indicated she can play on the wing if needed.
Arilyn has always been a scorer — finishing with 11 goals in 25 games last season — but looks at herself as a strong two-way player.
“I’m quick and feel I’m a good teammate and a leader on my team,” she said. “I have a lot of passion for the game and take it seriously.”
It’s those commodities, combined with her overall skill, that caught Coulter’s attention.
“I first saw her when Grande Prairie hosted the AA provincials and I believe she was brought up as an an affiliated player,” he said. “But she was a standout, even at a young age.
“She has great speed, a good shot and good offensive zone instincts. For me you look at scoring but if they can skate and handle the physicality it’s huge.
“Any time you can add to the offensive attack is great as you can’t teach scoring. Plus she brings good character, which is one of the most important things with our team. We look to add good people who work hard to improve themselves and the team.”
Arilyn, like everyone else in the province, started the season only to see it shut down because of the pandemic.
“We played two exhibition games and were set to play our first league game (in the Alberta Female Midget Elite Hockey League) before we shut down,” she explained. “It’s been tough, but it’s the same for everyone. It will be tougher than usual when we do get back, but once we get into a routine we’ll be fine.”
She skates on the outdoor rinks in her area and works out at home “once the gyms closed”.
Arilyn knows a thing or two about the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League as her older sister played with Grant MacEwan, and she’s watched the Queens.
“When we played in Red Deer we went to watch them (Queens) when we could and saw them a couple of times so I have an idea about the league,” she said.
“Hopefully we’ll be back playing in the fall … I know I’m super excited about it.”
So is Coulter.
“Hopefully things will be better,” added Kelly, who is still looking to add a couple of defensive players, although that may be easier than in most years.
“Every day it seems I’m getting six or eight calls from kids looking for a place to play … it’s insane,” he said. “A lot of calls from B.C. academies and even Ontario.
“The tough thing for them is there’s just not as many spots open at universities or colleges. For us we had 14 new recruits last season and we haven’t seen them play yet.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org