Nothing in sports is as decisive as a zero. For U18 Team Canada goaltender Kimberly Newell, a zero — a shutout victory against Finland Dec. 30 at the U18 women’s hockey world championship — marked her first test on the international stage. In her case, a zero means excellence.
She stopped 10 shots in the 4-0 win over the host Finns in a preliminary round match-up at the Arena Heinola in Finland.
Canada had already beaten Hungary 4-1 and on New Year’s Day shut out Germany 7-0. Jessica Dodds of London, Ont. was in net for both games and Canada registered an astounding 67 shots against the Germans while allowing only five.
Canada finished first in the preliminary round with a perfect 3-0 record and advances to the semifinal against Sweden on Friday, Jan. 4 at 4:30 a.m. Vancouver time.
Newell is the starting goaltender for the Princeton Tigers as an Ivy League freshman and was selected for the Canadian roster in August after she was cut her first time out in 2011. She graduated one year early from Holy Cross secondary in Burnaby but was living in the Kootenays at the time.
Granted a size advantage in net by her five-foot-nine frame, the 18-year-old returned a year later showing a tougher mindset and more maturity.
“She was terrific,” said Joe Johnston, a Halifax-based goaltending specialists who consults for Hockey Canada and who scouted Newell when she played for Team B.C.
“She had shown a great deal of improvement in the way that she read the play. Her patience had improved. She had spent more time developing that mental aspect of the game and was stronger because of that.”
“When I was cut, it was very frustrating,” Newell said in early December after the Canadian roster was announced. “This year, when I made the team, it was definitely an exhilarating moment. All the hard work that year paid off. I got better and they recognized that. Making the team and the realization that this is Team Canada… I’m one of the best goalies in Canada.”
Newell, who got her start skating for the Vancouver Thunderbirds Minor Hockey Association 14 years ago, is a driven athlete who doesn’t crumble or even confess to feeling pressure but instead rises to meet the opportunity in front of her.
She competed against boys her entire life and after leaving the Thunderbirds at a young age to join the more competitive Burnaby Winter Club, she went on to become the first female goaltender in the B.C. Major Midget League and played 24 games for the Kootenay Ice in 2011-12.
“Because of the atmosphere playing with the boys, the thing is that you always, always have to be proving yourself over and over,” she said. “Every single time you have to prove, again, that you deserve to be there. That mindset of consistency is just habit. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t really competitive. It’s just part of who I am now.”
How does she handle the pressure of representing Canada at the game we so obsessively call our own?
“I wouldn’t call it pressure,” she said. “Pressure is something that you feel like you have to do it. But being competitive and having to always do well every single time is not pressure, it’s just your way of playing hockey.”
She is expected to start in net for Canada in the semifinal against the Swedes.