It was a decision that turned golden.
Red Deer’s Caleigh Meraw made a decision following the 2016-17 Alberta Female Hockey League season to play her final year of midget AAA away from home.
The six-foot defenceman talked with the defending Canadian champion St. Albert Slash and was accepted with open arms. The move proved beneficial to both parties as they went on to become the first team to win back-to-back Esso Cup titles.
“When I decided to go there I honestly didn’t think about going because they were national champions,” explained Meraw. “I’d played spring hockey with some of their players, so I knew them and felt it would be a good fit.”
In fact the Slash weren’t favourites going into the league playoffs as they finished behind the regular season champion Rocky Mountain Raiders.
“They had a really good team and Red Deer and Lloydminster were right there,” said Meraw. “It was a toss-up who would win. All four could have and we got lucky.”
The Alberta League is one of the best in the country, which played a major role in the Slash’s championship run.
“The hardest part of winning the championship was getting out of Alberta,” she said. “I believe any of the top teams here could have won. Playing in this league certainly prepared us for winning the Pacific Region and Esso Cup.”
The Slash lost to Saskatoon in the round-robin, a game in which Meraw was named the St. Albert player of the game. However, once they got on a roll the Slash rolled to the title, beating Saskatoon in the final.
The Esso Cup wasn’t new to Caleigh. She was an alternate on the Chiefs when they hosted the Nationals in 2015, finishing second.
“I attended as many games as I could and really looked up to the girls on the (Red Deer) team. Watching them was special. I wanted to be able to play in it and now playing and winning is a dream come true.”
As for leaving the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs, she indicated there was no hard feelings.
“I liked the coaches and the players, it was just a personal decision … something small … just getting away for a year.”
She lived with a billet family and was one of the key defenders for the Slash.
“We had two third-year, two second-year and two rookies on defence,” she said. “I played in every situation. I took a regular shift and played on the power play and penalty kill.”
Caleigh took her Grade 12 classes on line, but will graduate with Notre Dame.
“That’s one thing that did worry me by moving away. It’s nice to be able to graduate with my friends … everyone I know.”
Meraw started skating at an early age and played ringette when she was four.
“I got into hockey at age eight or nine and been in it since.”
In fact she loved the sport so much she quit playing other sports in Middle School.
“I was in Grade 7 or 8 when I decided to concentrate on hockey,” explained Meraw, who has always played defence.
“I was taller and had a longer reach than most girls so they put me there and I’ve been there ever since.”
Although she has returned to the fastball diamond and is playing first base for the U18 B Rage in the Girls Prairie League Softball.
“It was good to do something in the off-season. It really helps being a multi-sport athlete. I find it helps me in game awareness and hand-eye coordination … things that help me in hockey”
But hockey is in Caleigh’s future as she has committed to St Mary’s University in Halifax.
“It’s perfect in that it’s a great city and both my parents are from down there. My mom from New Brunswick and dad from Cape Breton,” she concluded.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org