Local Ringette Players Heading to Worlds!

Erin Markle remembers trips with her mother Sheri watching world ringette championships.

Now she’s about to play in one.

“It’s a dream come true,” Markle said. “It’s crazy now that it’s me.”

But it’s a natural progression, given their pedigree, for Markle and three other local National Ringette League players who echo Markle’s sentiments and will represent Canada as members of the national junior team at the world championships Nov. 27-Dec. 3 at Mississauga’s Hershey Centre.

Markle, a centre for Team Canada, joins her Waterloo Wildfire teammate Tara Burke, a defender, forward Sydney Nosal of the Cambridge Turbos and defender Ashley Heimbecker of the Richmond Hill Lightning in the tournament. Canada will play Finland in a best-of-three series to decide the under-21 junior championship. It runs concurrently with the senior event that features eight players with local connections.

All four juniors, now in university or college, are lifelong players from ringette families that continue to put their stamp on the sport. Erin’s mom Sheri Markle is a former elite level player who coaches the Wildfire. The Wellesley-based Burke’s twin sister Amy and younger sibling Jesse also play in the Wildfire organization. Heimbecker, whose older sister Carley is her teammate with Richmond Hill, is from Cambridge and came up in the Turbos’ minor system. Nosal teamed with her sisters Paige and Samantha to light up the scoresheet and lead the St. Clement’s Rockets, coached by their parents Terry and Scott, to the 2012 under-19 national championship.

Paige Nosal is a member of senior Team Canada, which will try to break Finland’s five straight run of championships, all at the expense of Canada in gold medal series.

Ah, those feisty, frustrating Finns. They’re a force at the world junior level too, though Canada swept the best-of-three championship series two years ago in Helsinki, winning 7-5 in Game 1 and 10-9 in overtime of Game 2.

“We’ve faced them before, in their own country, and we beat them, in their own country,” said Sydney Nosal, the lone player of the local contingent who was on the national junior team last time and is embracing a leadership role as one of Team Canada’s assistant captains.

Winning again will, as is usually the case in ringette, come down to the tale of the triangle. It’s a formation used by ringette teams in the defensive zone and as a launching point for counterattacking breakouts. Because it’s played on ice, many observers naturally equate ringette with hockey but closer inspection reveals a sport more like basketball or box lacrosse in terms of strategy and ring movement, complete with a 30-second shot clock.
Putting pressure on the opposition becomes paramount. Trouble is, the Finns are unpredictable in the way they rotate the ring, shoot from anywhere and drive the lane to the net.

Which is where the local players come in.

Markle, who plays forward with Waterloo and is tied for the team lead in points with five goals and seven assists in seven games, grew up playing centre and is being used in that slot for Team Canada. She’s the tip of the triangle, bearing responsibility as the top person in the alignment flanked by defenders Burke and Heimbecker. Force a turnover, fire a breakout pass and high-scoring forward Nosal, who tops the Turbos’ table with six goals and 11 assists in seven games, is unleashed to wreak havoc at the other end.

“I have to set the tone by playing aggressively,” said Markle, a criminology major at Western University in London. “I can’t let them come inside.”

If the Finns manage to get by Markle, it’s up to defenders like Burke and Heimbecker to close ranks and frustrate the Finns’ scoring attempts.

“Watching video of them, they always seem to have someone creating a distraction in the triangle,” said Burke, a third-year health sciences student at the University of Waterloo. “So I’ll have to keep my head on a swivel. It’s not that they’re more skilled. They’re just very smart.”

The junior team has watched so much video on the Finns one could argue it’s almost information overload. But it’s necessary, Heimbecker says. The senior team, surprisingly to the ringette universe, was blown out 13-0 by Finland in the clinching Game 2 of the final at the last worlds after previously close competitions. In response, the seniors are embracing a more defensive, counterattacking philosophy. The juniors, stretched to overtime last time, are adopting something of the same approach.

“It’s actually a very detailed thing when you get to these higher levels,” said Heimbecker, a medical radiation science student at McMaster University. “But I know we can do it.”

It will come down to chemistry, Nosal believes. The local foursome share familiarity through ringette, have played together on provincial teams, obviously enjoy each other’s company and will set aside league rivalries in pursuit of the world title.

“Last time it came down to our team pulling together,” said Nosal, an early childhood education student at Conestoga College. “We were all about digging deep and having energy. We had great team chemistry. We came together.”

Meantime, the following players with local connections are representing Canada in the senior worlds.

Karlo Berkovich’s column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at berkovich59@hotmail.com ; Twitter: @KarloBerkovich.