Sault female hockey player has her eyes on Winter Olympics

On her way to becoming the biggest stage in hockey, 12-year-old Haylee Lecuyer is OK with being a girl on a rink full of boys

“Working hard now will pay off later,” says Haylee Lecuyer, a young hockey player who wants to make it 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 their story is familiar to the average hockey player. She started skating at age three, started playing hockey at five, and moved to Sault after age six.

However, their potential is far from average.

Lecuyer, who is now a seventh grade student at École Notre-Dame-Du-Sault, is ready to do whatever it takes to take her game to the next level.

In the winter months, Lecuyer takes every opportunity to hit the ice. Whether that means skating at some of the local rinks or spending some practice time with drills, she’s determined to use what’s available to her and strives to seize every moment.

“It can be difficult to get me off the ice,” she says. “I don’t even realize I have frozen feet until I get out. Even if it’s too cold outside, I still go. I even got frostbite.”

Lecuyer has dreams – big ones. She wants to make the women’s ice hockey team at the Milan 2026 Olympics, for which she would be eligible to play when she was 16.

She recently finished the season with the U12 AAA Soo Jr Greyhounds – the highest level of hockey for her age.

Lecuyer is the lonely girl on a team – and league – dominated by boys. But that doesn’t seem to deter her.

“It’s a challenge to play against guys, but I feel like I’m on the same level as them,” she says. “I have to go to my own dressing room, which I don’t like because I can’t get upset with the guys before I go on the ice.”

The left wing would like more contact in women’s hockey, which she is currently benefiting from at AAA level.

“I’m getting pretty physical,” she says. “They hit me in the boards, but I hit them right back. I even made a boy cry.”

Lecuyer has tried it for girls’ teams in the past, but she says it doesn’t compare to the boys’ style.

“It’s just not the same,” she says. “The opportunities here for girls aren’t as great as in the southern Ontario leagues. There are better training methods down there. There’s not that much up here.”

Lecuyer sticks to a strict schedule when it comes to training, eating and sleeping.

She is a regular volunteer at TMX Athletics, a local organization that 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 and field are all part of her repertoire.

Lecuyer says her understanding of other sports has greatly enhanced her game on the ice, particularly soccer.

“It helps me with my stamina, accuracy and coordination with my feet,” she says.

Lecuyer also played ringette for four years but was unable to compete that season due to a conflicting hockey schedule. Instead, she devoted her time to giving back and assisting younger ringette players.

“I want to help young kids show them how to play the game properly and teach them to push themselves to keep going,” she says. “You’re happy to see me. They have older sisters who play with me.”

The pandemic made it incredibly difficult for Lecuyer as she didn’t have any organized sport to participate in. But she never fell behind and found ways to keep herself busy and keep improving her game.

“We built an ice rink in the backyard so I could shoot pucks,” she says. “My grandpa makes me do exercises to improve my wrist shot. I even went rollerblading around my house to pass the time.”

While stats suggest the chances of her Olympic and professional aspirations are slim, Lecuyer is already in a position few girls are in.

She recently returned from the Ponytail Showcase in Toronto – one of the most popular tournaments for girls in the country. Her team took the gold medal after a 3-1 victory in the final.

Earning such recognition in larger markets is imperative to Lecuyer’s future in hockey.

“You can get noticed in the South and they might ask you to be part of their team,” she says. “I want to continue with AAA until Bantams, then I want to move to Barrie because I know a lot of girls on their hockey team and play well with them.”

This summer, Lecuyer and her family will travel to Boston for the Beantown Classic Tournament – billed as the most wanted series of elite hockey showcase tournaments in North America.

She even received a special invitation to attend the Girls Rose Evaluation Camp to qualify for next year’s War of the Roses in Edmonton.

The Rose Series is awarded to super-elite female athletes, and many contestants who compete in the tournament end up playing for Team Canada.

Lecuyer says it can be difficult to contain the excitement when thinking about this opportunity.

“I keep it indoors more,” she says. “If I had been younger and heard that, I probably would have screamed. I’m very happy inside, but I don’t show it that much.”

Lecuyer says she relies on her family’s endless support and appreciates their efforts when it comes to travel and other commitments.

She receives a lot of advice from her relatives, but sometimes the advice can be a bit mixed.

“My grandma always tells me to have fun,” she says. “My grandpa tells me to raise the stick and walk in front of the opponent so I can knock him off.”

Though the tips may differ, their aspirations have remained the same throughout.

“I want to be recognized by the PWHPA,” she says. “I want to play for Boston, go to Harvard and build my dream house there.”

While heavily inspired by her family, Lecuyer sees hockey phenomena like Connor McDavid, Hayley Wickenheiser and Marie-Philip-Poulin as inspirational players.

Most importantly, Lecuyer’s message to other players – and to himself – has remained consistent throughout.

“Have fun – it’s okay to fail,” she says. “If your legs are on fire, just keep going because that’s how you get stronger. Do your best, always be kind and respect others.”

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