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'I feel really appreciative': Northern Ont. high school laces up all-women hockey team for first time in 50 years

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A small secondary school in northeastern Ontario, F.J. McElligott Secondary School in Mattawa, has snapped a long-lasting streak it’s tried to do for years.

For the first time in five decades, the school was able to roster an all-women competitive hockey team.

"I got to play with my friends and had a lot of fun with them," said defender Autum Webster.

For years, the small secondary school of about 120 students tried unsuccessfully to scrounge up enough girls to lace up for a women’s team. That is until now.

"I feel really appreciative," said left-winger Autumn Wilson.

"I’m really happy to be able to play on a high school team."

The school runs a hockey program led by physical education teacher and coach Cody Lacelle.

"When I think of the all-women’s team, four or five of them never played hockey before," Lacelle said. "It’s a really incredible moment for the girls to be a part of."

Webster is one of those young women who never played hockey before.

"Getting to play on an all-girls team for my first team, that’s pretty cool," she said.

Through skills development, the F.J. McElligott Voyaguers quickly found their footing, travelling to South River for a high school hockey jamboree in mid-February.

The team was able to keep all of their games tight and the scores close.

It was another history-making moment for the school, Lacelle said, because the last women’s team didn’t travel for games.

"We’re very, very lucky to have been able to put this team together," he said.

"It’s provided so much opportunity. It’s very important that women have the opportunity to play hockey in a small town."

Looking to the future, Lacelle said he knows he now has the foundation to grow women’s hockey at the school.

The players CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca spoke to said they know they are now an inspiration for younger girls growing up in the small town who are looking to don the Voyageurs jersey one day.

"Growing up, I wanted that for myself," right-winger Peyton Whalley said.

"To be able to do that for the younger ones is amazing."

Wilson’s younger sister plays hockey.

"She got to see me play and, now, she who can’t wait to go to F.J. and play," the proud elder sister said.

Win or lose, the score didn’t matter to these young women, what was more important to them was the friendships they made in a season to remember.

"I’ve grown up with these girls since I can remember," Whalley said.

"Now, to play hockey with them is another way we can bond."

Wherever their hockey careers go from here, whether they play again or not, the young women said they will be able to look back and cherish this moment in Mattawa hockey history together.

"We got to play together as a team," Webster said.

"I hope to play with them until high school is over." 

Video interviews with the team to be posted above later Friday.

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