Ierahkwanónhnha Olivia Moon Meloche and Iehwatsirahnì:ra’ts Gilbert had never played hockey before they tried out for the U13 Rockettes du Suroît, but you wouldn’t know that as the duo celebrated with gold medals in Brockville, Ontario, last weekend.
“It was very shocking, I couldn’t really process it all, but it was really exciting,” said Meloche. “It was nerve-wracking. When we kept winning I was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to move on, we’re getting closer and closer.’”
Meloche pushed through the nerves, skating to a 1-0 victory with her team against the Kemptville Storm as part of the Brockville Girls Hockey Association February Freeze tournament, which took place last Friday to Sunday.
Meloche’s mother, Karahkwenhawe Sandi Goodleaf, said the final was tense after the team sailed through the competition with a series of wins and ties.
“We were screaming and blocking our eyes sometimes!” Goodleaf said. “You could tell both teams were really trying. All their effort and energy was going into this game. It could have gone either way, and there was so much energy on the ice and cheering from the crowd. But there was great defence on our team, and the goalie played amazing.”
Goodleaf said that a large number of friends and family made the trip to Ontario from Kahnawake to support the girls.
“The atmosphere itself was great. All the family, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, everybody, it seemed like everybody who was on the team had at least four people cheering them on,” Goodleaf said. “We had a great experience, and the girls did so well.”
Gilbert and Meloche, the only players on the team from Kahnawake, had both decided to try out for the team at the beginning of last season, and Goodleaf said it’s been incredible to watch both girls rise to the challenge.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Goodleaf said. “Everyone starts at like age six, and this is her first year playing,” she said of her daughter. “She went from having a hard time stopping on her skates to playing forward and scoring. It’s amazing.”
Jessica Hernandez, Gilbert’s mother, has been equally impressed by the girls’ tenacity, and was proud to see the two celebrate their victory at February Freeze with their teammates – particularly considering the language barrier at play.
“Our two girls are probably two of the only English-speaking girls on the team. There might be a few that understand, but it’s majority French-speaking,” Hernandez said. “It’s been a learning process this whole year for the two of them who are coming from (Mohawk) immersion school, but they wanted to learn how to play. They weren’t sure what to expect.”
Coaches have been accommodating of the girls, giving extra explanations during practices. But, as was made clear from this weekend’s victory, language hasn’t impeded their ability to be team players.
“I know these girls, and I know they’re capable of anything, so it’s just been really nice to see them put themselves out there for something new,” Hernandez said. “It just makes me happy that they’ve been willing to do that, because it really means they’re willing to push themselves to do anything.”
Though Meloche said it’s been hard to fit in at times due to the language barrier, she is glad she made the decision to join the team, and was particularly happy that so many people came to cheer the team on.
“It felt good to know that they were there, that they were watching my first time winning,” she said.
The Rockettes will continue with regular season games before the girls’ first season on the ice wraps up in March.