Whitehorse Daily Star

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PRONGHORN ALUMNA – Angela Burke, seen in this 2015 file photo, is a University of Lethbridge Pronghorn alumna. She was recently drafted by the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno. Photo courtesy of UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE PRONGHORNS

Angela Burke drafted by Calgary Inferno

After a successful and hard-fought Canadian collegiate hockey career, Angela Burke decided to hang up her skates.

By Marissa Tiel on September 5, 2017

Yukoner is going into selection camp feeling confident and prepared

After a successful and hard-fought Canadian collegiate hockey career, Angela Burke decided to hang up her skates.

The Yukoner, who was 23 at the time in 2015, had just finished her fifth and final season with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.

“I wasn’t sure if I would play hockey after university,” said the left wing. “It takes a lot out of you.”

She had already fought so hard to be there, playing hockey at the university level.

Burke, who grew up in Whitehorse, first came to know women’s hockey through the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

She watched the Canadian women’s team win gold. Burke told her dad that she wanted to play hockey, but he didn’t believe her.

In the backyard of their Riverdale home, her dad built her a rink and told her that if she skated every day, he would sign her up for hockey.

First came house league and learning to skate.

“I was held back a few times,” said Burke. “I actually wasn’t good at all.”

But she persisted. Going from Peewee to Bantam on a number of mixed teams.

“It wasn’t until Bantam that I got really competitive and understood what it would take to get better,” she said.

In 2007, for the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, a 14-year-old Burke was named assistant captain for Team Yukon.

“It was just such a great experience being able to play in our home town,” she said.

But she realized the Yukoners were little fish in a big pond. In their games against teams like B.C. and Saskatchewan, their goal wasn’t to win, it was to survive, keeping the game to under 20 goals.

“I realized if I wanted to be better, it would take a lot more,” she said.

Burke said there weren’t many girls who continued to play in Midget and over the next few years, they were cut from the Mustangs rep team. The girls were forced to skate in the Bantam house league if they wanted to continue playing.

“It was really disheartening,” she said. “It was really tough playing with boys who were 12 years old.”

In 2009, a coach from Lethbridge who visiting for a high performance camp in Whitehorse ID’ed Burke’s talent. “[He] took a look at me and thought I could play for U of L’s women’s team,” said Burke.

A decade of playing hockey in the Yukon: three times on the Arctic Winter Games team, including a silver medal performance at the 2010 games had led to Lethbridge.

“I just had this belief that I could do it,” said Burke.

Sure, she could have gone off to a hockey school Outside.

“But I really loved Whitehorse. I loved my friends,” she said. “I wanted to graduate at home.”

Ten days before she was to leave for university, Burke was in a car accident.

She injured her wrist and suffered from whiplash.

“I came into my rookie year as a bandaid,” she said.

Not cleared to play until October, Burke remembers only skating about 10 shifts during the entire season.

Between first and second year, she worked hard. She had to gain her coaches’ respect as a player.

Second year was better. Third year was the best. The Pronghorns made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Burke reveled in hockey.

Then came graduation and the loss of identity an athlete experiences when they stop doing their sport. How does one go from training for a specific purpose to training to simply stay fit?

“At first I was super excited, then as an athlete you struggle with that identity piece,” said Burke. “You’re kind of wondering now what?”

Six months later, with a move to Burnaby, B.C., Burke started skating again. She joined a Senior AA/AAA league.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said of hanging up her skates. “I loved it too much.”

During her first South Coast Female Amateur Hockey League season with the Meadow Ridge Moose, she was named a League All-Star.

“I got to play hockey for fun. You really didn’t have that external pressure plus that pressure of school,” she said. “It got me thinking again about playing high level.”

Last November, Burke and her fiance moved to Calgary.

At the start of the year, Burke, now 25, began to think more seriously about a bid for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. It has always been her dream to play professional hockey and with the centralization of the Canadian and U.S. women’s national teams ahead of the 2018 Olympics, a number of spots have opened up on the league’s teams this fall.

“I feel like I’ve just been following the right path and everything is landing into place,” she said. “It’s always been a dream to play professional. This would be it.”

Burke put her name forward for the Aug. 1 voluntary draft. The only team she selected was Calgary. Of the six listed on the roster, a player could choose three.

As players’ names began to populate the draft list, Calgary Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg started her research.

With 12 players centralized for national team training, Hagg has a number of gaps to fill on the Inferno roster. She is especially interested in forwards, which account for 75 per cent of those spots.

While she hasn’t personally seen Burke skate, she has heard good things about the Yukoner.

“In meeting with her and speaking with her, she’s been training hard,” said Hagg.

“That’s exactly the type of player we’re looking for.”

Hagg wants players with an elite mindset.

“I’d heard she was a good hard-working player,” said Hagg. “I’m excited to see her get out on the ice.”

Burke was selected in the 11th round of the draft and joins 12 other players drafted by the Inferno.

With limited ice times around the city, Burke has been training for months with a team of elites out of SAIT. Her schedule has her training two to three hours a day, five days a week

“I’m going into this feeling really confident and prepared,” said Burke of the Calgary Inferno training camp and tryouts, which will be held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at WinSport in Calgary. “I’m just ready to go right now. Four weeks seems like a long time.”

A number of changes are afoot in the CWHL, which is going into its 11th season.

On Friday, the league announced that players this year would be paid. Each of the league’s seven teams will have a $100,000 salary cap and can pay their players between $2,000 and $10,000 this season.

“It’s an exciting and historic time for us,” commissioner Brenda Andress said. “We have always maintained that our goal was to pay our players and we had a strategic plan in place that would allow us to do so beginning this season.”

The league has also expanded to China this season. In June, the Kunlun Red Star was announced as an expansion team and during the August draft, another Chinese team was added to the league: the Vanke Rays. They join the Boston Blades, Calgary Inferno, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Markham Thunder and Toronto Furies.

With just under four weeks to the start of camp, Burke continues to prepare herself.

“I just can’t get rid of hockey. I feel like I have unfinished business with hockey and seeing how far I can go,” she said.

“I’m definitely nervous, but I really think I’m going to pull this off.”

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