Most 16 year olds are focused on finding some form of normality. Hanging out with friends, texting friends, passing high school classes and maybe even learning how to drive for the first time. Not Wasyn Rice. Instead, she’s committing to Robert Morris University Division I Scholarship nearly two years before she graduates high school, and playing in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).
A lifelong dream of hers, the new reality has taken some time to sink in.
“It took a good week for me to realize that I’ve got all my education paid for and that I get to play hockey while getting my schooling all paid for,” Wasyn said.
For her, it’s step one of her dreams in her hockey career that started at the age of five in the Windermere Minor Hockey Association. The youngest sibling born into a hockey family, Wasyn spent her early years following her siblings around to hockey rinks before lacing up herself. Playing with boys while growing up through the minor hockey system, it wasn’t long before she was outplaying her friends. At 12 years old, she was already playing at the midget level — a division typically legislated for players 15 to 18 year olds.
It was then that she asked her dad to have a serious conversation.
“This was a 12 year-old-girl saying this to me, and I said, ‘OK, what about?’ and she said, ‘Well, I want to move to Cranbrook and play with the girls team’,” said her father, Rob Rice.
Wasyn remembers the move being a scary one for her.
“At such a young age, it’s just normal to get homesick,” she said. “I was scared to leave my parents but at the same time the excitement of getting better at hockey kind of took over and being so busy also I didn’t have to think about home as much, but, yeah, I did get homesick because it was my first time leaving home.”
After playing two seasons in Cranbrook on a travel team, she realized this was just the beginning for her time away from home. Her next move was to Cornwall, Ontario to attend the coveted Ontario Hockey Academy — a private school geared towards educating “gifted athletes” for sport training.
Playing in her first tournament in Ontario, she was quickly reassured that she had made the right decision to get more exposure of her talents as a hockey player.
“In my first tournament, I got interest and they (scouts) just said that they were really interested in me with my style and my defensive play,” she said. “It was crazy because I was only in Grade 10 and that’s when they started talking to me.”
Since then, she has worked tirelessly, off and on the ice, to become the best hockey player possible. At just 16, she realizes how unconventional her adolescence has been compared to her peers.
“It’s definitely really hard, especially as a young teenage girl. I want to go have fun with my friends,” she said. “I want to go to the beach and all that, but I have such a dream at such a high level of hockey that it literally just took over and that’s what helped me stay away from my fun and discipline myself to go to the gym before I had fun.”
Rob said this work ethic is one of the aspects that have made Wasyn the exceptional hockey player that she’s become today.
“She was the girl who said, ‘OK, I’m going over to my friends for a sleepover, but we’re working out tomorrow at 11 a.m. on Saturday,’” he said. “Everyone wants to put the work in on the ice, but nowadays with what’s happening is that it’s the work away from the rink that’s as important — if not more — to help your development, and she put her time in and continues to put her time in.”
That work was rewarded last month in November with a full scholarship offer from Robert Morris University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, starting in the fall of 2018. After considering the offer for several weeks, Wasyn said it was just too much of an opportunity to pass up.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Rob. “Obviously, the money factor is a big thing, especially with the American dollar right now… and I’ve always been told this is the closest a lot of these girls will get to see what pros is like, where they’ll have full-time trainers, their own dressing room, and go to mandatory workouts.”
Speaking to The Echo just after having returned from a tournament in the United States, Wasyn said she understands her future commitment means more years away from her home in Invermere.
“Not being able to see my family or just getting presents from my parents is hard because it was what I was used to back home, seeing them and celebrating my birthday,” she said. “I haven’t celebrated my birthday in the last two years.”
If Wasyn is able to accomplish her dream, though, that just might make up for it.