A few years ago, Joie Simon wasn’t sure whether or not she’d be able to continue playing hockey. Now, she’s preparing to suit up in Canada’s top university hockey league.
Simon, an 18-year-old forward who’s spent the last three years playing for the Yellowhead Chiefs in Shoal Lake, Man., has committed to play next season with the MacEwan Griffins in Edmonton. Starting next season, the Griffins will make the jump from the Alberta colleges’ hockey loop to USports, where Simon will play against the best female players Canadian universities have to offer.
Simon was stunned when she first heard of MacEwan's interest.
“I was so excited. I was like, shaking. I was so happy and I couldn't sleep that night. I was just too excited,” she said.
This season, in her last season of U18 AAA eligibility, Simon got the chance to wear the captain’s “C” with the Chiefs. Simon scored in each of the Chiefs’ first five games, leading the team in scoring.
“I went down at the start of the year and we had lots of practices. We got five games in and those five games went really well for me - I averaged a goal a game,” she said.
That was when the season was stopped - first suspended, then later cancelled - due to COVID-19 concerns.
Sadly for Simon, she’s no stranger to being on the outside looking in. Simon, who was the captain of the Norman Wild U15 AAA team, played in local house league and on northern Manitoba regional teams until she turned 15. After that, there were no more girls’ teams left for Simon to play on in the north.
To continue playing, Simon travelled to Shoal Lake and changed her game to fit the program. In the north, Simon played both defence and forward - she became solely a foreward with the Chiefs. Both moves paid immediate dividends - Simon put in 15 points in 26 games in her rookie season, followed by 40 points in 43 games a year later, including 27 goals.
Simon was also named to Manitoba’s provincial team for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship (NAHC) in 2019 and 2020 - just in time for COVID-19 to begin and the tournament to be cancelled.
With all the cancellations, Simon was worried her hockey career might have been over.
“I was super surprised. I thought I was going to have to be done hockey because scouts couldn’t see me this year,” she said.
“All the players, they had eligibility to play for one more year. I thought ‘I guess I’m taking the year off or I’m done.’”
That’s when Simon heard about MacEwan. She said the Griffins were barely on her radar until this year - a coach of hers at Yellowhead told a friend on the Griffins’ coaching staff about Simon and the Griffins liked what they heard.
“The coach contacted me and I was so surprised. I never saw it coming,” Simon said.
The commitment, for Simon, does take some of the sting out of not being able to play this season.
“I was definitely upset because I didn’t even get a final goodbye to hockey. Once I committed, I was like, ‘I don’t have to say goodbye to hockey anymore. I can continue,’” Simon said.
The Griffins are based out of Edmonton and play their games in the Downtown Community Arena, the practice rink of the Edmonton Oilers located in the Rogers Place complex downtown. MacEwan’s main campus is located less than a kilometre away from the arena. The team’s colours are maroon and white, giving Simon the opportunity to wear the same colours as the minor Bomber teams she played for growing up.
Simon, who is now back in Flin Flon, hasn’t had a chance to visit the main MacEwan campus yet, but is hopeful for next school year and next season. She hasn’t yet declared a major, but will begin in the school’s faculty of science.
“I like the program. It's fairly new in USports because it wasn’t there before - we're pretty new to this level of hockey - but I think this team that we have coming up will be really good. We'll have a good chance,” said Simon.