Mackenzie McCullough is on her way to the international floorball rink.
The 17-year-old Saltfleet District High School Grade 12 student and her Canadian women’s under-19 teammates will board a plane tomorrow for Europe, where they will participate in a five-day mini camp and several exhibition games in the Czech Republic and Germany before taking part in the world floorball championships April 30 to May 4 in Poland.
“This is my first time on the team and I am so excited for this opportunity,” McCullough said before her departure. “Going to another continent will be an incredible experience and being able to represent my country there will be even better. Floorball is a newly-thriving sport in Canada and representing my city of Stoney Creek in this growth is an honour as well.”
McCullough, a goaltender, made the team’s 20-player roster in November.
A series of tryouts were held last April, May and June in Belleville, Cobourg, Hamilton and Toronto.
“I travelled over three hours to the first tryout, which was held in Belleville. After two tryouts, head coach Todd Crawford had verbally offered me a spot on the team,” McCullough said. “I never really expected to make it. I just really liked playing this new sport.”
McCullough may be a newbie to floorball, but she’s a veteran between the posts.
McCullough has been a goaltender for the Saltfleet Storm girls hockey team for two years. She ended her run in net with Saltfleet on a high note last month, picking up a 1-0 shutout win over No. 2 ranked Kingston’s Holy Cross in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA/AAAA championship in Sudbury. The shutout helped seal the Storm’s first provincial title.
McCullough said her friend, Chelsea Maclean, suggested she give floorball a shot because of her hockey experience.
Maclean is the captain of the floorball team and was a member of Saltfleet’s girls hockey team last year.
“Chelsea had played on the Canadian women’s under-19 team in 2012 and told me to come try out for it,” she said. “I had never played floorball before and only knew what the sport was because my younger brother played in a summer league a few years ago. I went to the first tryout completely in the dark, but fell in love right away.”
McCullough said most people don’t know what floorball is.
“Whenever I mention being on the team, the response is always, ‘So floorball is like indoor hockey?’ I too thought it was a variation of that, but it is a totally different game, different sets of rules, different playing surfaces and even different equipment,” she said. “I love that floorball is just starting to be introduced in Canada, as it’s mostly huge in Europe. I also love being able to be a part of spreading the word about this great sport.”
The Canadian women’s under-19 team will be among 14 countries battling it out on the rink for gold at the world floorball championships.
The team will be competing in group B, along with Norway, Germany, Austria, Jamaica and the Ukraine.
Because the players are from across Canada, they haven’t had much practice time together.
They did, however, manage to squeeze in a couple of exhibition games against the women’s national team last month.
“Both times we lost by close scores of 3-2 against women who are in their early 20s to mid-30s and have been playing for a long time,” McCullough said. “We also had a shootout against them and actually won that, so we did OK. Since our players are from all over the place and it’s virtually impossible to get everyone together, we have been training independently or with anyone that we can locally.”
McCullough said because floorball is still new in Canada and so big in Europe, she has no doubt that the competition will be “incredible” at the worlds.
“However, our team consists of some strong ice hockey players who have all been training extremely hard to make the best of this. I have seen our team in action and I think that we mesh really well,” she said. “Although we may be undermined in the competition, I feel as though we will be a surprisingly strong competitor there. We have the biggest Canadian heart and that will drive us to bring home gold.”
McCullough said no matter what, she’s looking to make the best of the opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new friends who, hopefully, I will be close with for a long time, playing a great sport that I love and just experiencing the world beyond my neighbourhood,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime experience that I am so grateful for. This is something that I will be able to look back on with many memories that will last forever.”