Brianne Veale has travelled a route few female hockey players from Sault Ste. Marie have navigated, but the 28-year-old is determined to map out her journey for others to follow.
Veale, who played five seasons at Brock University, during which she served as assistant captain in three of them, is back home doing her best to give back to a sport that has given her so much.
She currently runs the Northern Elite Female Hockey Academy, which focuses on female hockey locally, and her end goal is to make sure other female players know there’s somewhere to go after their minor days in Sault Ste. Marie.
“We’re all coming back to help female athletes that want to get to where we were,’” said Veale, referring to her and several other elite female players who help out at the academy. “We do have a lot of girls continuing on once they leave midget hockey. I want to make sure people know that we might not be going to the OHL or the NHL, but we can still get to the highest level possible by playing university hockey or in the Olympics.”
The Sault has yet to have a female player crack the Canadian women’s national team roster and while that would represent a lofty accomplishment, Veale believes anything is possible.
“My goal is to watch one of my Atom players go through my program, go to university and then the national team or to get to where they always dreamed about going,” she said.
While her academy focuses on a lot of summer training, Veale is still active in the winter. She’s an assistant coach for the Sault College Cougars women’s team and she often helps out with other female teams that seek her services. Her academy focuses on so many things, from skill development, to nutrition, power skating, character building, physical fitness and so much more.
And if it’s role models some of the female youth are looking for, then Veale has all kinds of them. Her academy is congested with former high-level athletes from the Sault, all of whom are female.
Veale uses local resources such as former Saultites who have gone to excel at the post-secondary level, among them Shannon Clement (University of New Hampshire), Lyndsey Pilkington (Wilfrid Laurier), Lydia Murray (University of Maine Black Bears), Andrea Brunetta (Buffalo State College) Amanda Alexander (Marian University), Julia Colizza (Mercyhurst College) and she’s also utilized the the talents of Jordana Sacco (Sault College) and Krista Zanatta.
She hopes the accomplishments of some of those instructors will serve as evidence to other young girls that even though they’re from small-town Sault Ste. Marie, big things can still be accomplished.
“A lot of these girls just want a mentor and seeing a female on the ice with them is a big deal,” Veale said. “The difference with my camp is it’s run by all females. Everyone from my off-ice training people to my nutritional seminars, everyone is a female athlete and they’re all from Sault Ste. Marie.
“They all played competitive sports, whether it was hockey or soccer and they understand where these girls are right now and where they want to go.”
Prior to returning home, Veale’s life was dominated by hockey. Not only did she play at Brock University, but she also served as a student intern with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, working on the community relations and hockey development side.
She also ran some hockey camps overseas in Sweden. Last year, she served as an assistant on Jamie Henderson’s local midget boys team.
“I just try to instill in these players things such as character building,” said Veale, who studied concurrent education at Brock and then took a post-grad course at George Brown College for sports marketing. “We discuss things such as time management, especially with our older girls. I talk to them a lot about their goals, how competitive they want to play and I give them a schedule of a day in the life of a student athlete.
“All of our instructors have come from competitive levels. Some played in the States, some in Canada and some overseas so we feel we have a lot to give.”
And one of the biggest things Veale says her academy provides for the female youth in the Sault is the opportunity to use each other as a measuring stick in terms of where they stack up talent wise.
“The biggest reason girls like to come to the August clinic is because for some of them, it’s their one chance throughout the year to go play with girls and to evaluate themselves against their peers. It’s interesting to see the way they socialize once females are with females.”
And it’ll also be interesting to see how many of them end up travelling the path Veale and so many of her instructors travelled.
For more information on the clinic and Veale’s services, visit her Facebook page
(Full disclosure: On top of being a fantastic hockey coach and mentor, Brianne is also an account strategist at Village Media, SooToday's Sault-based parent company)