VANCOUVER — The rink in her home town, which is actually too small to be even called a town, was built from scratch by families who valued the importance of having a central gathering point, a social heart they could call their own.

“On Friday we got to stay up late and play shinny with all the old guys,” remembers Jenna Carpenter-Boesch. “And every Sunday meant a breakfast at the rink and then going for a skate. It’s the place where I spent a great part of my childhood.”

For the young girl, the rink in the tiny hamlet of Gray, Sask., was like an extension of her own home.

And now, for that same girl, who brings a more full-realized vision to her childhood utopia as a fifth-year forward with the UBC Thunderbirds, it’s the place where she first learned about the special concept of teams as extended families.

“When my dad was a teenager, they wanted to keep our town going because a lot of rural communities were dying,” she says. “So they built the rink to be the centre of the community. They were all paid as labourers, but everyone donated the money back to the rink.”

It might not be your typical childhood bedtime story, but it turned on a light bulb which earlier this year, helped illuminate a pivotal personal moment.

In early January, as it travelled east from Vancouver for a weekend series against the Regina Cougars, the entire UBC women’s hockey team made the 20-minute drive to Gray for a visit the old rink, still lovingly cared for and breathing as strong as ever.

To Carpenter-Boesch, who had traded her place on the map from a tiny dot to a thriving metropolis, the event was monumental.

“Honestly, just so amazing,” she begins. “An incredible experience because to me it just brought everything home full-circle. It’s the place I started my career as a kid, and now to bring back my whole team and to have them skate on that rink. It brought back so many memories for me.”

The ‘Birds visited the rink Gray, Sask., in January. (Photo courtesy Jenna Carpenter-Boesch)

A FAMILY BREAKS BREAD

As Jenna Carpenter-Boesch was finishing high school and preparing to become a university student-athlete, she and her father Kris drove to Saskatoon to watch the two teams she was trying to pick between to begin her collegiate hockey career.

“We went to watch a game at the University of Saskatchewan, and I remember UBC lost by eight goals (9-1),” Carpenter-Boesch remembers of the game on the final weekend of the 2011-12 regular season. “On the drive home, I said to my dad ‘Maybe as a (UBC) rookie, I might get a chance to play a lot.”

The enormity of the challenge, to join a UBC team which was perennially mired at the bottom of the standings, would have scared off a lot of young players.

Carpenter-Boesch, however, was not one of them.

She elected to head west and play for a team which was in the process of welcoming a new head coach, Graham Thomas.

Five years later, coming off a trip to the national championship game in 2016 and a current season in which the ‘Birds have been ranked No. 1 for virtually the entire campaign, it was a move that seems fueled by fate.

Thomas, who has consistently fostered a family approach as the foundation of the program, couldn’t have brought in a better building block than his speedy forward, because as quickly as Carpenter-Boesch became a mainstay in Thunderbirds’ line-up so too did her immediate family, offering a show support that in so many ways has gone beyond the call.

“My mom (Ginny) is a great cook, and she’s always wanted to start her own catering business, so I guess this fills the need,” laughs Carpenter-Boesch of the home-cooked meals that a team and support staff pushing 30 is served virtually everywhere in the conference by her family, via a virtual banquet room full of steaming crock pots. “The post-game meals are like pulled pork, Korean chicken, a lot of different salads, prime rib.”

Which begs eternal questions like ‘How far will her parents travel to cater a hockey team.’

“I feel like because we’re from Saskatchewan, we’re used to driving a lot,” says Carpenter-Boesch, whose younger sister Lilla is this season a rookie with the Regina Cougars, literally dividing family loyalties when it comes to team wearing team merch. “My mom says there is no place too far, but I think the furthest they’ve driven is Edmonton. They fly to Vancouver.”

ALMOST A FAIRYTALE

She’a caring sister to her UBC teammates, but she can also be the team’s nutty aunt.

“She is the character in the room,” coach Thomas says. “She is is hilarious. She keeps everyone upbeat. On the ice, her speed, she has crazy legs and she plays tenaciously.”

Ask Carpeneter-Boesch about it and she traces that speed back to the rink in Gray.
“I played shinny against a lot of old men, and they were effective but not as fast,” she laughs. “So my skating was developed there.”

Those are the kinds of memories that came flooding back when Carpenter-Boesch had her entire team over a little shinny back in January.

This Friday, back in her adopted home of Vancouver, she will prepare to help lead her team against the same Saskatchewan Huskies she once watched from the stands as they dismantled UBC 9-1.

It’s the opening game of a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series at the Doug Mitchell Arena, her much larger and spacious new pond.

Yet at times, with those crazy legs pumping, Jenna Carpenter-Boesch goes back to being the girl with the extended Friday-night curfew at the barn in Gray who dreamed of the game taking her to far away places.

She picked a team at its lowest ebb and now is helping to insure that its crest lasts until the national championship tournament is complete.

It’s been a journey she could never have scripted.

“I feel like I have always been marked an underdog, a player sitting below the great players,” she explains. “But I have always tried to work hard. It’s what our program is built on. What I think makes us great is the belief that Graham has put out to us, that hard work can get you to the top and that we are a family.”

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