When Kiana Strand first put on skates, it wasn’t to play hockey. Instead, the now captain of the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Panthers Women’s hockey team, laced up a pair of white figure skates at three years old, learning to skate as part of the Canskate program.
Dipping her feet into skating first, she often found herself at her brother Trygg’s hockey games as a spectator, learning more and more about the game. By the time she was seven, her brother had convinced her, through driveway road hockey games and support, to join the sport herself.
“I always kind of looked up to my brother and I think that was part of the reason I even decided to go play hockey in the first place,” she said. “He’s always just one of my biggest fans which I think really kind of inspired me to play hockey in the first place and pursue it further.”
She hit the ice in the Windermere Minor Hockey Association, playing with boys until Bantam when there were enough girls to form their own team. By then, Strand had developed into one of the better talents on her team and was looking for a stronger challenge for her game.
Facing a difficult choice, she left her friends in Invermere to join the AAA Kootenay ice hockey team out of Nelson. For her, it proved to be just another stepping stone, preparing her for a larger move two years later to Wilcox Saskatchewan where she attended Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.
“Once again I just wanted a little more exposure because I really wanted to play university hockey,” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment at first but the set up at Notre Dame is really good at fostering that type of experience they offer and it really prepares you for university as well so it was an easy transition.”
Fortunately for her the decision paid off with offers coming from universities across the country and south of the border to play in the NCAA. While she said she contemplated the possibility of heading to the US to pursue her dream along with juggling the benefits of choosing a school close to her hometown, she eventually landed on the UPEI located over 5,000 km away.
“I’ve always been pretty adventurous and one of the reasons that I kind of decided to go here was that I’ll probably never get another chance to live in PEI so I kind of wanted to be able to experience living out here on the East Coast,” she said. “I just wanted to experience more of what Canada has to offer.”
She said that while the jump on the ice was significant, playing in the Atlantic University Sport division of the CIS, the real adjustment came in the classroom.
“Being able to balance school and hockey became even more of an important thing that I needed to do here because we have around three workouts a week and then three or four practices a week plus games on weekends so trying to make everything fit in and work is a skill that I’ve had to really get a handle on,” she said.
She said that the small size of the school allowed her to maintain a strong connection with her teachers, enabling her to carry her on-ice dominance into the CIS. With the exception of her shortened 2014-15 season, Strand increased her point total each year, peaking last season where she scored five goals and recorded 10 points over the season.
Her on-ice excellence didn’t go unnoticed either as she was named captain of the Panthers ahead of the 2016-17 season while continuing her education working towards earning a certificate in Spanish proficiency. Stepping on campus five years ago, she said becoming captain of the team was not in any way a thought that occurred to her.
“It’s been a great honour,” he said. “For me it’s been like my fifth year out here so it’s really become my home and this team has become so important,” she said. “It’s just awesome to be able to give back to the team in a new way this year as being captain so that’s pretty cool.”
Head coach Bruce Donaldson said to Jason Malloy of the Guardian that Strand’s work ethic is what helped move the needle in her direction when naming a new captain.
“She wants to work and do as much as possible to help the team win,” he said. “She’s prepared to go through a wall in order to have success.”
With this being her fifth year and final year of eligibility in the CIS, Strand said she can feel reality sinking in that she’s going to have to move on after season’s end this year. She said she hopes she will land in Europe continuing to play the game she grew up loving, but knows that may not be a reality.
“Either way I can’t complain or look back because I’ve had such great experiences playing hockey,” she said.