Emily Clark, an alum of Okanagan Hockey Academy, has been named to the Canadian national women’s hockey team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Hockey Canada images

Okanagan Hockey Academy helped Clark pursue Olympic dream

Rookie forward on Canada's national women's hockey team spent two years training in Penticton

Penticton may soon get bumped down on Emily Clark’s favourite places to play hockey.

The former Okanagan Hockey Academy forward (2012-2014) is making her first Olympic appearance with the Canadian national women’s team at PyeongChang.

“Penticton for sure is my favourite place, well and Saskatchewan where I am from,” said Clark.

And what if the national team rookie does come home with a gold medal?

“Yes, PyeongChang will definitely be added to that list,” she said with a laugh.

Related: Okanagan Hockey Academy alum makes Olympic team

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Clark came to the Okanagan Hockey Program in Penticton after outgrowing the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA League she was playing in.

“I have a later birthday so I wasn’t going to be able to play in the female league anymore and I was working crazy hours, doing extra work. I was on the ice or gym before 7 a.m., going to school full-time and working above and beyond what my team was doing in terms of training,” said Clark. “It was exhausting and OHA allowed me to condense my day and be with players who had similar goals.”

Related: Your guide to the Okanagan Olympians and when they compete

Goals that changed from wanting to skate in the NHL to playing for the national team as her hockey heroes became the women skating in the Olympics. Inspired by another player who wrote down their dream of playing in the NHL one day and then living it out, as a young teen Clark wrote that she would one day play for Team Saskatchewan and Team Canada. She signed the promise to herself and posted it to her bedroom wall. Promise delivered.

“Times have changed. As a little girl hockey player I wanted to be in the NHL, now girls want to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and play for the national team. I remember being just six or seven years old and watching Team Canada and Hayley Wickenheiser, another Saskatchewan hockey player. Knowing she came from my home province and seeing her play at the Olympics definitely resonated with me. I remember watching the Olympics opening ceremonies and the big broadcasts on TV and that is really when I fell in love with hockey.”

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Her first taste of the national team came in 2012 playing on the U18 team at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship. She won back-to-back gold medals representing Canada. Since then, she has skated in three IIHF Women’s World Championships (winning three silver medals). For the past three seasons Clark has also led the University of Wisconsin Badgers. With her eyes on making the Olympic squad she deferred her last season to focus on making the national team.

She credits her time spent in Penticton at the Okanagan Hockey Academy as helping her grow on and off the ice.

“I was away from home, and I did receive a lot of support from my OHA billet families, but it helped me focus on growing up off the ice and on my hockey goals. My OHA coach Gina Kingsbury, who also is with us on the Olympic team as a staff member, was someone I could look up to and help me focus my hockey goals because I wanted to follow a similar path as her,” said Clark.

Kingsbury, who is with the Canadian national women’s team as the director of women’s national teams, also played for Canada, winning two Olympic gold medals and three world championship gold medals. She was the assistant coach with OHA before joining legendary coach Shannon Miller as an assistant at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Former OHA athletic therapists Heather Corliss and Christine Atkins have also helped Team Canada on the road to the Olympics.

“It just felt right to come back and work for Hockey Canada,” said Kingsbury. “Obviously, being a player before, I still have that passion of growing the game in our country. That logo still means a lot and there is still a lot of pride involved in it. For me, it was a little bit of a no-brainer that this would be the best fit.”

Clark — the youngest player on the Canadian roster at 22 years old — has spent most of her time with Team Canada since the centralization process started in May, centering an all-rookie line with Sarah Nurse (Hamilton, Ont./University of Wisconsin) and Laura Stacey (Kleinburg, Ont./Markham, CWHL).

“I definitely have been given a role since the start of centralization. I am an energy fourth line centre, we go out there to bring energy and play the structure. As a rookie line I don’t feel a lot of pressure, and we try to have fun and learn from the veterans,” said Clark.

Canada’s first preliminary competition takes place on Feb. 11 at 4:10 a.m. (PST) against the Olympic Athletes from Russia. They will then face Finland on Feb. 13 at 11:40 a.m. (PST) and finish out preliminary play against the U.S. on Feb. 14 at 7:10 p.m. (PST).

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