It’s a long way from the NDCC Arena to the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
But that’s just where Nelson Minor Hockey grad Merissa Dawson was found last month when the University of Calgary Dinos met city rival Mount Royal Cougars at the 2020 Crowchild Classic.
Dawson, who plays on the blueline for the U of C Dinos, was front and center playing in before more than 10,000 screaming fans in the prime time game of the annual competition between the two Calgary-based schools.
“Obviously, playing in the Saddledome is quite exciting for all of us as we look forward to this event every year,” Dawson said from Calgary.
“This year was a bit more exciting than past years as it was the first time in the Classic’s history that the women’s teams got the later time slot, playing after the men.”
“We were both excited and nervous for this switch as it meant a larger crowd for our game,” Dawson, who started playing hockey at the age of five, added.
The Crowchild Classic is an annual competition between the University of Calgary Dinos and the Mount Royal University Cougars in Canada West regular season games across the sports of basketball, hockey, soccer, and volleyball.
The marquee event, a hockey doubleheader, takes place each year at the Scotiabank Saddledome thanks to the generous support of the Calgary Flames Foundation. The school that wins the most games in the series is awarded 'The Medal' – a 68-kilogram cast iron City of Calgary manhole cover.
Dawson and the Dinos, who are coached former National Women's Hockey star Danielle Goyette, took care of their end of the bargain, edging city rival Cougars 3-1 to climb into second overall in Canada West Women’s Hockey standings.
After three seasons of struggling playing in Canada West, Dawson and the Dinos have made great strides, qualifying for the playoffs with a 16-7 record.
“This year has been a break-through season for us as our team has been at the top of the league all year,” said Dawson, pursuing a major in psychology.
“Now that we’re getting the results we want, we are finally able to focus on other aspects of our game, versus our main focus just being not to lose.”
This season has also been a rebound year for Dawson. The 5-foot, seven-inch rearguard has seen her confidence increase which has allowed her to take on a leadership role with the Dinos.
“It’s obvious to see that the confidence of our other players has been increasing as well and has allowed the players on our team to really play to each of their strengths,” Dawson explained.
“Our success this year can also be attributed to a change of attitude, with girls being more open to feedback as well as feeling secure in stepping up when something needs to be said.
“Unlike previous years, we now show up to the rink with a winning mentality instead of being worried about making mistakes and losing.”
Dawson, 21, is not the only NMHA grad playing at the post-secondary level.
Former teammates in NMHA Emma Wheeldon and Taylor Harrison are playing with SAIT Trojans of Calgary in the Alberta College Athletic Association while Recce Hunt is with Bemidji State University in Minnesota playing in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
However, for Dawson, the 2020 Crowchild Classic is an event she will cherish forever.
“Being a female hockey player I never thought I’d get to experience playing in front of so many fans,” Dawson said. “It was an unforgettable experience for the team and a large step forward for female hockey.”