For Shelby Ballendine, this winter promises to be an adventure on skates as she pursues her passion – hockey – all the way to Sweden.
Ballendine, who is waiting for her flight details to get worked out, is going to Leksand to play hockey for the Leksand IF, or in full: Leksands Idrottsförening. Leksand is a small town of around 5,000 people 300 km northwest of Stockholm in Swedenand a long ways from home.
There Ballendine, who is a forward, will play in the highest league for women in Sweden, in a town which is famous for its hockey teams.
After she finished University, Ballendine, who played junior hockey here in Quesnel, decided to try searching abroad for a chance to continue playing hockey. With the tryouts and meetings with coaches getting on a team usually entails, becoming a part of an international team seems a long, difficult affair with plenty of hurdles on the path. The internet, however, helped Ballendine jump them all with one small step for the internet and a huge leap for Ballendine.
“Youtube videos and email, that’s how I did it,” Ballendine said.
She posted videos of herself playing hockey online, where coaches from all over the world could see her play. This worked in lieu of tryouts.
Then she started talking to coaches and managers, until she found one who liked her videos and had a spot on his team. He liked her enough that he brought her onto the team without ever having met her in person.
Here in Quesnel, Brian Kozak, head of the Quesnel Acceleration Centre and Shelby’s boss, will be missing her hard work.
“For sure I’ll miss her. I definitely could have used her this winter,” Kozak said.
Ballendine has trained with Kozak for 8 years and has now taken over as a trainer herself.
With her hard work and dedication, she has become a great example for girls here in Quesnel, said Kozak.
“Having Shelby here, because mostly we have males here, with her success, she’s a great example for the girls,” Kozak said.
Though Ballendine doesn’t see herself as the example Kozak does, she enjoys coaching the girls and sharing her experiences.
“Working here and working with younger girl athletes, it’s a great opportunity to see them come up and help them out the best you can, like giving advice on university hockey,” Ballendine said.
Having a female role model is good for the local girls, because it can be difficult pursuing hockey, as a girl, here in Quesnel.
“Either they have to go to Prince George to play or play with the Quesnel boys’ team, like Cheyann Newmann, which is a little different. She has to get dressed by herself and comes into the room after. There are a lot more mental differences being with a guys team. So they have to be mentally tougher,” Kozak said.
Ballendine herself played her way through boys’ hockey, which she credits with making her a tougher player.
“It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from them,” she said of her years with rep boys teams.
“The games faster and you have to keep your head up because there’s hitting. So that helped a lot.”
Moving on to her next step in her hockey career is exciting for Ballendine. She is looking forward to this next step and the level of play it promises, she said.
So while there’s excitement for hockey, there’s a bit of nervousness as well, specifically with regards to language. She has been assured, however, that most Swedish people speak passable English.
“Apparently they all take English while growing up and they can speak it pretty fluently. They say it’s not that bad of a language barrier,” she said.
And she knows the manager of the team can speak English, because she’s spoken with him, and hopes the coach can.
One of only two international players on the team, the other being an American defensemen, Ballendine is diving head first into a new culture, which she finds interesting. She hopes to learn about Swedish culture and how they live.
And when she comes back next summer she’ll have planty of stories to tell her trainees.