A young Métis woman from Edmonton has been able to Kash her hockey skills into a free education.
And now Heather Kashman, a student/athlete at the University of New Hampshire, is hoping to one day take her talents overseas.
Kashman is in her fourth year at the New Hampshire school. Though athletes are only allowed to play four seasons in the NCAA ranks, the 21-year-old will still have one season of eligibility remaining after the 2014-15 campaign.
That’s because following her impressive rookie season in 2011-12, Kashman sat out the entire following year as she recuperated from hip and shoulder surgeries.
Since she knew she would return for a fifth year at the school, Kashman spread out her academic workload as well. She now plans to graduate in the spring of 2016.
The business administration student has a dual major, marketing and management, with a minor in women’s studies.
Following her collegiate career, Kashman is hoping to continue playing the sport at an elite level.
“I really want to play in a pro league,” she said. “There are a bunch of pro teams and leagues in Europe. They don’t pay enough for you to just play hockey, but it is something I want to try for a bit.”
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is considered to be the top women’s circuit in the world.
The CWHL is operating with five franchises this season. There are teams in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Brampton, as well as a lone American entry in Boston.
But instead of aspiring to suit up for a squad in the CWHL, at this point, Kashman is keen to try her luck overseas.
“I don’t think the quality is any better (than the CWHL) but there’s a lot more teams than there are in North America,” said Kashman, who started playing hockey at the age of four.
Kashman grew up playing on boys’ teams and made the switch to girls’ hockey around the age of 12.
She is on a full scholarship at her American school. Her tuition, books, residence and meals (valued at about $50,000 per year) are covered by the university.
For those that are contemplating an athletic/academic university career, Kashman offers this advice.
“Definitely do it if you can,” she said. “This is one of the best life experiences I’ve ever had.”
After starring with the Edmonton Thunder Midget AAA squad, Kashman had plenty of scholarship offers.
“The University of New Hampshire was the first one to offer me a full scholarship and they showed the most interest in me,” she said. “There were quite a few offers after that. The University of New Hampshire campus is gorgeous. Something about being on that campus made me instantly choose it.”
Kashman and her teammates, however, have had a bit of a rocky road the last couple of years.
The team’s head coach got fired last year during the season, and after the assistant coach took over, the squad finished the year on a 10-game losing streak.
As for this season, Hilary Witt has been brought in as the team’s head coach. Witt most recently served as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s squad that captured the silver medal at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.
The UNH squad, however, got off to a slow start, posting a 3-10-1 record after its first 14 contests.
“We’re rebuilding I guess you could say,” Kashman said. “It’s a pretty young team and we have eight new freshmen this year. And our coach has brought in some different values and some different systems.”
Despite its record, Kashman believes her club is heading in the right direction.
“Team-wise we have to keep building,” she said. “We have come so far since our first game this year. If we keep learning we’ll be successful by the end. It might not happen this year but we are growing.”
Kashman said the UNH team is also getting a different perspective this season, being coached by a female as opposed to male bench bosses in her earlier years at the school.
“It’s like a different experience now,” Kashman said. “(Coach Witt) has so much experience playing and coaching women’s hockey and she can back up that knowledge.”
For the past five summers Kashman has worked as a counsellor for the city of Edmonton. During the past two years she has been a program specialist for Flying Eagle.
This drop-in program gives youngsters an opportunity to learn about Aboriginal cultures and heritage. Counsellors lead program participants through various games, crafts and other recreational activities.