“Working hard now will make it worth it later on,” says Haylee Lecuyer, a young female hockey player looking to go big.
The 12-year-old from Espanola has an undeniable passion for Canada’s most popular sport, and a work ethic unlike most her age.
The beginning of her story is a familiar one to the average hockey player. She started skating when she was three years old, began playing hockey at five, and moved to the Sault after turning six.
Her potential, however, is anything but average.
Now a grade seven student at École Notre-Dame-Du-Sault, Lecuyer is willing to do whatever it takes to bring her game to the next level.
In the winter months, Lecuyer makes use of every opportunity to hit the ice. Whether that means just going for skates on some of the local rinks, or getting in some practice time with drills, she’s determined to take advantage of what’s available to her and strives to make every moment count.
“It can be hard to get me off the ice,” she says. “I don’t even notice I have frozen feet until I get off. Even if it’s too cold outside, I’ll still go. I’ve even gotten frostbite.”
Lecuyer has dreams – big ones. She wants to make the women’s 2026 Olympics ice hockey team in Milan, which she would be eligible for as a 16-year-old.
She recently finished the season playing with the U12 AAA Soo Jr Greyhounds – the highest level of hockey for her age.
Lecuyer is the lone girl on a team -- and a league -- dominated by boys. But that doesn’t seem to deter her.
“It’s a challenge to play against boys, but I feel like I’m at the same level as them,” she says. “I have to go in my own dressing room which I don’t like because I can’t get pumped up with the boys before going on the ice.”
The left-winger says she would like to see more contact in women’s hockey, which she currently benefits from at the AAA level.
“I get pretty physical,” she says. “They hit me into the boards, but I hit them right back. I even made a boy cry.”
Lecuyer has tried out for girls teams in the past, but she says it doesn’t compare to the style the boys have.
“It’s just not the same,” she says. “The opportunities aren’t as big here for girls compared to leagues in southern Ontario. There are better training methods down there. Up here, there’s not as much.”
Lecuyer keeps herself on a strict schedule when it comes to training, eating, and sleeping.
She’s regularly involved with TMX Athletics, a local facility which helps with her fitness, conditioning, and strength.
In addition to her training, Lecuyer has tried virtually every sport available to her – baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, badminton, gymnastics, figure skating, and track are all part of her repertoire.
Lecuyer says her understanding of other sports has significantly improved her game on the ice, particularly soccer.
“It helps with my stamina, accuracy with the kick, and the coordination with my feet,” she says.
Lecuyer also played ringette for four years but couldn’t compete this season because of a conflicting hockey schedule. Instead, she dedicated her time by giving back and assisting younger ringette players.
“I want to help out little kids to show them how to play the game right, and to teach them to push themselves to keep going,” she says. “They get excited to see me. They have older sisters that play with me.”
The pandemic made it incredibly difficult on Lecuyer as she didn’t have any organized sports to take part in. But she never fell behind, finding ways to keep busy and continue improving her game.
“We built a rink in the backyard so I could shoot pucks,” she says. “My grandpa makes me do exercises to improve my wrist shot. I was even rollerblading in my house to help pass the time.”
While statistics may suggest the odds of her Olympic and professional aspirations are slim, Lecuyer is already in a position very few girls find themselves in.
She recently got back from the Ponytail Showcase in Toronto – one of the most popular tournaments for girls in the country. Her team earned the gold medal after winning 3-1 in the finals.
Receiving recognition like that in bigger markets is imperative for Lecuyer’s future in hockey.
“Down south, you can get noticed, and they could ask you to be a part of their team,” she says. “I want to keep going with AAA until Bantams, then I want to move to Barrie because I know a lot of girls on their hockey team, and I play well with them.”
This summer, Lecuyer and her family will be travelling to Boston for the Beantown Classic Tournament – regarded as the most highly scouted series of elite hockey showcase tournaments in North America.
She even received a special invitation to try out for the Girls Rose Evaluation camp to qualify for War of the Roses in Edmonton next year.
The Rose Series is garnered for super-elite female athletes, and many participants who take place in the tournament eventually end up playing for Team Canada.
Lecuyer says it can be hard to contain the excitement when thinking about that opportunity.
“I keep it inside more,” she says. “If I was younger and I heard that I probably would have screamed. I’m really happy inside but I don’t show it that much.”
Lecuyer says she relies on the endless support from her family and appreciates their efforts when it comes to travel and other commitments.
She receives plenty of guidance from her relatives, but sometimes, the advice can be slightly mixed.
“My grandma always tells me to have fun,” she says. “My grandpa tells me to lift the stick and go in front of the opponent so I can cut them off.”
Though the tips may be unalike, her aspirations have remained consistent throughout.
“I want to get noticed by the PWHPA,” she says. “I want to play for Boston, go to Harvard, and build my dream house there.”
While she’s deeply inspired by her family, Lecuyer looks to hockey phenoms like Connor McDavid, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Marie-Philip-Poulin as players of inspiration.
Above all, Lecuyer’s message to other players – and herself – has remained consistent throughout.
“Have fun – it’s okay to fail,” she says. “If the legs are burning, just keep going because that’s how you get stronger. Try your best, always be kind, and respect others.”