Alex Poznikoff grew up with dreams of one day playing in the NHL.
And she couldn’t be blamed for it, either.
Measuring in at all of five-foot-two, she has never let her size or the fact that she’s a woman stop her from taking on the highest level of hockey available to her on her way up.
She started out as many young girls do, playing on all-boys’ teams, before being named MVP of the Esso Cup — the Canadian women’s under-18 club championship.
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From there, it was on to her hometown University of Alberta Pandas hockey team where she was a point-per-game player (125 points in 125 games) and named the 2019 U Sports Player of the Year.
And she was leading the Canada West Conference in scoring the following year, before suffering a broken leg. While she managed to return in time for a run to nationals the tournament was called off by COVID-19 on the eve of the Pandas’ first game.
Since then, the 26-year-old native of Edmonton has been looking to take the next step in her playing career, only to discover there wasn’t really a staircase in place and resigned to join the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and get whatever on-ice experience she could find over the past three years.
But that’s all about to change now, as she takes to the ice for training camp with the yet-to-be-named Montreal franchise of the fledgling Professional Women’s Hockey League.
“It’s just a little more professional, I guess, is the main word for all of it,” Poznikoff said of the new venture, which comes on the heels of the dissolution of the Canadian National Women’s Hockey League and the sale of the Premier Hockey Federation to pave the way for the PWHL. “The last couple years, you didn’t practice with your team because you weren’t getting paid, so you still had to work full-time.
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“You would just fly out and play with your team for a weekend and try to showcase the game, so it was kind of a bit of a grind for those two years. We haven’t played a lot of games the past couple of years.”
And now, players have all relocated to their proper markets to begin training camps in the first steps to creating a sustainable women’s league that offers pay and benefits.
“You’re treated like a professional,” Poznikoff said. “Last year, they did their best, obviously, with minimal resources, to this year is a complete 180.
“To be able to practice consistently, train consistently and play games, I think that’s the biggest thing. When you travel around and you don’t get to practice, you’re not going to be showcasing your best talent.”
But all the hard work, travel and blind commitment is starting to pay off, as the required investments were secured to reach a January launch for the inaugural PWHL season.
“It’s very cool to see,” Poznikoff said, adding not everyone will be able to say they got in on the ground floor of the new league.
In it, she will face fellow Pandas alumni, as well as the program’s former founder and long-time head coach Howie Draper, who is coaching the New York franchise.
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“I couldn’t believe it when I saw that name, I was so excited,” Poznikoff said. “So cool for him, too. Really, he’s paved the way for women’s hockey, in a sense, and to now be in the pro league and the first year of that, I think that’s just very fitting and I’m really happy he did this.”
It may not be the NHL, but at this point having a professional league in place can be something tangible young female players can aspire toward one day.
“I played boys’ hockey basically until high school,” Poznikoff said. “There was hitting then in peewee and bantam. Obviously I’m five-two, there’s not a lot of size behind me. As a little girl, you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to play in the NHL. That’s what I want to do.’ And as I grew up, the most I had on my team was maybe one other girl when I was younger.
“It was just different. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity, there was no all-girls’ team even in the boys’ leagues. And then, when I got to high school and college, that’s when it all clicked. ‘OK, this is a lot different.’
“Now, it’s cool to see all the younger girls even in U-18 and U-15, they’re all playing on all-girls’ teams, which is something I didn’t see even 10-15 years ago. It’s cool to see how fast that’s been going.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge