Local Sports: Kaitlan Linnell achieves hockey dream

Coming up through Red Deer minor hockey Kaitlan Linnell had a dream of making a post-secondary team.

That dream came true last season when she signed with the RDC Queens.

“Being able to play post-secondary hockey in your home town is a dream come true,” she said. “I always dreamed of playing post-secondary hockey and Kelly (Queens head coach Coulter) made it a reality by signing me … it means a lot.”

Linnell joined the Queens after graduating from Notre Dame High School and the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs midget AAA squad. She didn’t sign until August and admits she’s come a long way since that day.

“I have come a long way from being a possible red shirt to becoming a second line player and on the second power play,” she said. “I have to give credit to the coaches. They have been really helpful and pushed me to be better … the same with the girls they are really helpful.”

Coulter has to smile when asked about Kaitlan.

“Her growth as a player and a person has been exceptional,” he said. “Her leaving (after this season) leaves a huge hole to fill.

“It’s been a pleasure coaching her. She does what she’s asked and gives 110 per cent in her schooling and to the team.”

Coulter feels Linnell is perfect role model for anyone coming through the Queens program.

“Her growth is exactly what we want in our program … people leaving here growing as hockey players and more importantly as people.”

Kaitlan not only gives credit to Coulter and his staff, but to her coaches in minor hockey and the hockey program at Notre Dame.

“We had amazing skill coaches, who helped develop me to play at this level.”

Linnell did a great job of developing her game.

Last season she had one goal and one assist in 17 games, but in the playoffs she was one of the team leaders, scoring three times and adding a pair of helpers in seven games.

This season she has three goals and three assists in 20 games.

The Queens aren’t a big scoring team, but it’s easy to notice Kaitlan. She handles the puck as well as anyone on the team and creates scoring chances with her skill and ability to play in traffic.

“Definitely confidence helps with the puck,” she said. “I try to play with my head up and take my time and make the right play. If things go wrong my teammates help a lot.”

At five-foot-seven she doesn’t mind contact.

“It’s definitely a huge advantage having a little size as there’s a lot of bigger girls in the league. If you’re not strong on your feet you get pushed around.”

The Queens need Linnell to contribute offensively even more after losing several players up front at Christmas, including scoring leader Veronika Bucifalova.

“We had a few big losses, so it’s up to everyone else to step up,” said Linnell. “For me it’s important to keep driving the net and giving my best every time.”

Coulter believes everyone has stepped up in the second half.

“Kaitlan has a great shot and is creating more. But everyone is contributing and as they gain experience we all benefit.”

Linnell is in pre-professional veterinary medicine and will look to attend either the University of Saskatchewan or the U of Calgary next year.

“I have to move on. It would be great if I could get my degree here. But it’s a heavy course load and I’ll be taking seven classes plus labs so really there’s not a chance to continue playing anyway.”

But she’s not worried about that as the Queens finish their regular season this weekend with a pair of games at SAIT and then head into the playoffs, against second-place Grant MacEwan.

“We’re in the playoff now we take it from here,” said Linnell. “We have to keep elevating our game and hopefully make the final.”

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

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