The first time Calleja Misson saw hockey on television she knew she wanted to play.
“I was one and a half or two when I stated,” she said. “I put on all the equipment, my skates, helmet and gloves and went to the basement and shot pucks off the wall. That’s when I really fell in love with the sport.”
Her passion for the game along with her willingness to work hard and develop as a player has her among the top players on the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs Bantam (U15) Elite squad, as a 13 -year-old.
Calleja was born in Calgary but moved to Red Deer in 2010 and played the majority of her minor hockey in the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association with the boys.
“I played boys’ hockey in atom and pee wee, in fact this is the first year I played with the girls,” explained the five-foot-six forward.
Calleja believes her time with the boys helped her develop certain aspects of her game.
“Definitely,” she said. “It was hard, playing pee wee AA last year, especially being the only girl. It was tough to keep up early in the season but as the season wore on and I got some buddies on the team everything seemed to click and I could match them in pace and speed.”
She also came up through minor hockey with a group of players, which made it easier as well.
“I played with some guys through atom and pee wee and I had some close buddies and we’d spend time on the outdoor rinks to get extra practice.”
Shane Nafziger, who is in his third season with the Chiefs Elite program and first as head coach, feels Misson’s time with boys hockey has been a benefit.
“For sure. You can tell 100 percent of the girls who played with the boys … they see the plays happen before they happen and play a bit more physical. Not that the pee wees can hit but it’s a bit more physical for sure.”
“It is,” added Misson. “The girls game is not as rough … it’s still physical but it’s not the same, it’s more rubbing the players out.”
Calleja is an excellent skater and one of the bigger players on the Chiefs. She can play both wing and centre.
“I played wing until atom where they switched me to centre,” she explained. “I like wing a bit more but have played both and really it doesn’t matter as long as I’m playing.
“It helped my development by playing centre as you learn different parts of the game, especially on the defensive side.”
“It helps for sure,” said Nafziger. “As a winger she blocks shots while at centre she supports down low.”
Coming into camp this season, Calleja wasn’t sure she would make the Elite AAA squad.
“To be honest not at all. But work ethic has been big. I try to come in and work hard.”
Nafziger had to smile when asked about her making the team.
“I’m not sure why she’d be surprised. She’s an intense player, shoots well and can skate. Put that all together with her size and you have a top player.”
Misson has had a great start to her bantam career with six goals and three assists in nine games, tied for second on the team with Haley Jackson (7g, 2a) and one point back of Belle Smith (5g, 5a).
“I’ve been fortunate, I’ve always been a scorer it seems to come naturally,” she said.
The Chiefs have put together a solid start to the season with a 6-3-0 record.
“The girls are awesome, so much fun to be around,” said Misson, who is in Grade 8 at St. Francis. “I can have a bad day and come into the dressing room and it all changes. It’s so happy, so much fun.”
“We have a great group of girls, which goes a long way in our success,” added Nafziger, who has 11 second-year players on the 17-player roster.
“I believe we have several girls who will go on to play (midget) AAA next year.”
As for Calleja she has another year of bantam, but no matter what is ahead for her she hopes it’s on the ice.
“I haven’t through much about the future except I want to continue to play as long as I can,” she concluded.
The Chiefs have three game remaining prior to the Christmas break, all on the road.
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