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The North Shore Winter Club Winterhawks Female U13 A team will become British Columbia and Western Canada’s first girl’s team to compete in the prestigious Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, Feb. 7-18.

“That significance is not lost on the team,” said head coach Karen Kos, who has led this team since they were five-and six-year-olds.

“We are so proud of the girls on so many levels. Proud of what they’ve accomplished,” said Kos. “This is a group that never had to try out for a team. You made my team by default because there aren’t that many 13-year-old girls in the club.

“The teams that we go up against in Tier 1 all have 60-plus girls trying out for their team, so they’re always quite strong, so it goes to show how committed and competitive this group of girls is.

“When we got into the tournament, they (the girls) were over the moon. They know that this is significant, but it’s also inspiring for younger generations. Setting a dream so large and having everybody on the same page working towards the same end goal is impressive. The little girls at North Shore Winter Club are so inspired by our group of girls - the high fives that they get in the hallways and the hugs they receive are so special. They are the trailblazers,” Kos added of her team. “It means a lot to aspiring young hockey players throughout B.C. It’s wonderful for BC Hockey.”

Kos first planted the seed four years ago with the Hockey department at North Shore Winter Club and she reminded her girls at the start of every year of that goal, which has finally come to fruition.

She reminded the Hockey department at the start of this year, and they were in complete support and put in the application back in the summer.

“We got the call that we were accepted. It’s a dream come true because we’ve been talking about this for so long,” said Kos. “The dream is quickly becoming our reality and I think everybody is still pinching themselves.”

One of those girls is Molly McFadyen, a 12-year-old defender on the Winterhawks team.

“We’re super excited. We’ve seen the boy’s team go year-after-year and there’s lots of international teams in it,” she said. “It’s going to be really cool playing against international teams.”

The group was told one morning during practice.

“We had an early morning practice on a Friday and the parents had a meeting just before and they came in and told the news to us when we were on the ice. We were all really happy. There were happy squeals,” said McFadyen, whose father Cameron is the manager of the team.

McFadyen has been playing hockey since she was six and has two older brothers playing.

“It’s going to be really cool playing against all the international teams and doing the fun, cultural things of Quebec, like the Carnival and the pin trading,” said McFadyen, who is delighted to be part of the first Western Canada girl’s team to compete. “We are really proud of that. We might be a little nervous at first, but it’s all going to turn into excitement.”

Kos says the team has already competed in several tournaments this season, including Kelowna, Richmond and West Edmonton Mall and tournament play has become a part of their hockey life.

“I think we’re in for some stiff competition, but some good competition. Every time there’s a tournament, I find that our team gets stronger and stronger throughout the course of the days that it’s on. It’s really important for team building and getting the girls’ systems down, especially when you’re playing better teams,” said Kos, who was in Toronto earlier this season and seen some of the competition.

“Taking this team to Quebec and being able to experience this with them and taking them through this incredible journey knowing that this opportunity didn’t exist for myself is so incredibly special,” said Kos, who grew up in a hockey-playing family and is a skating instructor.

“I can’t even begin to describe the excitement for everybody. It’s very fun to live vicariously through them and their 12-year-old little eyes.”

The Winterhawks leave February 6 and they have two exhibition games, one against the Quebec team and one against Little Caesars of Detroit. North Shore will play Switzerland in its first game and the tournament on February 9, which is a double knockout format.

“We’re in for some stiff competition, but some great competition and I really believe that this group of girls can do B.C. proud, that’s for sure,” said Kos, who is so proud of her group. “They were raised in an environment where their older brothers were playing hockey, so when this group first hit the ice, they were feisty right out of the gate, so I knew I had a special group of girls on our hands.”

As manager, Cameron McFadyen will be on the trip and shared in the excitement of the news that the team will compete in Quebec.

“Their first call was to coach Karen and then Karen called me and then we got the wheels in motion,: recalled Cameron. “The community has really rallied around them. They were on Global TV and CTV and CBC. It’s such a good news story and, in my opinion, there’s not enough good news.”

Mario Annicchiarico is a freelance writer based in Victoria who has previously covered the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, as well as the Western Hockey League.