Manitobans making mark at Midland

From Winnipeg Free Press

By Joshua Frey-Sam


Midland University has found the winning formula for its women’s hockey team: recruit Manitoba talent.

The 10-hour drive from Fremont, Neb., north on I-29, has led Warriors head coach Jason White to a hotbed of talent and helped transform the No. 2-ranked program in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Midland is unbeaten through 25 games (23-0-2-0) this season, thanks in large part to the 10 Manitobans on its roster.

White spun his tires trying to pull American players to his program for the first few years of his tenure. After noticing an influx of Canadian talent entering the league, he turned to his friend Dean Rebeck, who was — and still is — entrenched in Manitoba’s hockey scene.

Rebeck, now the head scout for Midland, first recommended young forward Ally Rakowski of Winnipeg, a standout with the Interlake Lightning in the Manitoba Female U18 Hockey League who had been passed over by a couple of other universities. Rebeck was adamant the Winnipeg product could make an impact at the next level — and he couldn’t have been more right.

Rakowski, 21, has since built an impressive resume, with two all-conference team nods and ACHA Academic All-American and ACHA All-American distinctions. She led the league in goals last season while becoming a pillar for growing the Warriors’ culture.

“It’s really been great because when I first came down and told people I committed to Midland, everyone was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s kind of weird.’ But now, Midland, lots of players know the team and it’s become a team that people want to come to because we’re so good right now,” said Rakowski, the senior left-winger who leads the Warriors with 19 goals this season and is 13th in points (33) across the league.

There were just two other Canadians on the team when Rakowski signed, something she admitted made for a tougher transition to an American school.

“I feel like now the players who are new, they’ll just send (their question) in the chat… and there’s like 15 of us that are like, ‘This is what you need to know.’ That probably really helps them.”

It sure helped Wawanesa product Keagan Shearer, previously on the blue line of the Westman Wildcats who now eats up big minutes and anchors the penalty kill for Midland.

Shearer, 20, said it was reassuring to know a couple of Manitobans would be on the team when she joined in 2021.

“It’s definitely a weird feeling because there’s so many girls on the team now that I played with years ago or played against and now we’re all just reconvened here and being teammates,” said Shearer, adding, “It’s kind of nice because it makes it feel more like home and then it looks good for our programs and Manitoba too. We’ve produced some pretty good hockey players to all end up here and doing so well.”

Manitoba wasn’t always the place to look for female talent.

That began to change in 2006 when Rebeck started the prep program at Balmoral Hall.

“Most of the better players in Manitoba were leaving the province to find something that was better, in regards to a prep program and we didn’t have one in the province,” he said. “So when you’re losing players to other provinces because you don’t have a program that they can tap into, that’s what basically drove me to try to start something here.”

The province has added three more hockey academies since then with the RINK, St. Mary’s Academy and Pilot Mound — who all play in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League — all developing high-level female talent.

Hockey Manitoba has made sizeable efforts in recent years, as well, forming the U16 and U18 program of excellence, which Rebeck said has created a one-stop shop for university recruiters to scout the best talent in the province.

Manitoba athletes often make seamless transitions to the next level, White said. It’s an unselfish game that he’s noticed most and is convinced that could lead the program to its first national title this season.

“It’s funny that there’s such a direct correlation of where these girls come to. This is a farming community, this is a hard-working community, you find really good people and that’s what I’m finding with the families that we’re recruiting out of Manitoba. Most of them are coming from small communities and the people are genuine, they’re hard working, the kids have been raised right, they’ve got good family values, they understand hard work and they understand working within their family, which then transitions,” White said.

“They understand how to be part of a team.”

(Originally published at