McKenzie Carey is off to Ontario. Carey completed her senior year of high school at Canada's Ontario Hockey Academy (OHA) last year and will return for "post graduate" work.
The decision to return to OHA has been bittersweet for the 18-year-old daughter of LaNel Carey of Geneseo.
"Although I am extremely excited to be able to have this opportunity of a lifetime, it is not without a little bit of sadness," she said. I will miss friends and family so much. It is definitely a bittersweet time for me."
Hockey has part of her life since she was 13, when she began making a name for herself as the only girl on the 16-member Quad Cities Ice Eagles Bantam Hockey Team.
During her junior year at Geneseo High School, Carey skated for the Quad City Blues, the Cedar Rapids Lady RoughRiders and the St. Louis Lady Blues U-19 AAA Team. The AAA Team is the highest level of female hockey competition, below college.
She also was member of the girls' golf team and soccer teams during her junior year at GHS.
But it was off on a new adventure last year when she left to spend her senior year at OHA.
"I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to attend OHA," she said. "Last year, I played women's ice hockey with and against some of the best players in the world. The experience opened my eyes to competition I would have never seen or even known about had I stayed in the Midwest."
In addition to time on the ice, Carey also had taste of college life as it was the first time she had been away "from home" for more than one week.
"I was over 900 miles from home and living with three other girls from another country," Carey said, adding before she had always had "a room of my own."
"I ended up making amazing friends and learning a lot about myself. I learned how to depend on myself and become responsible for everything from time management to doing my own laundry."
Carey found the academics more difficult and teachers "less helpful."
"However, it made me realize it is all up to me, not someone else," she said.
At OHA, students are required to keep their grades up or they are not allowed on the ice.
"We had a grueling schedule, with from one to two hours of workout off the ice and then one to two hours on the ice every day. We also had mandatory evening study hall, and on either Thursday or Friday, we left for tournaments. Last year, it was about every other weekend, sometimes more often, but this year I don't think I will have a weekend off until December."
Page 2 of 3 - On the road, Carey said there was some time for homework, "but tournaments and meetings kept us very busy. I don't think people realize when you play a sport at a very highly competitive level, there is little time for anything else. It was even difficult to keep in touch with my loved ones at home. There were times when I did get a little homesick, but the girls on the team were all very supportive of each other when that happened.”
At 18, Carey said she couldn’t wait to graduate from OHA and go to college, but that all changed when the rare offer came for a position to stay at OHA an additional year.
“My mother and I did a lot of talking and researching what the advantages of a year of ‘post grad’ work would do for me,” she said, explaining there are only 58 colleges that offer competitive women’s ice hockey and thousands of women who play competitively.
“One more year of competitive academics along with competitive training will put me at the top of my game,” Carey said. “I want to be sure I am going to the right school. I have gotten some offers to play, but not at schools where I really want to go. Going back to OHA for another year is a perfect fit for me. It will extend my playing time one more year and will also give me an advantage to spend some time looking at the colleges where I want to play hockey.”
Carey said she hopes to be able to play hockey “a little closer to home.”
“Most of the offers I had were in New York, and I would really like to play at Wisconsin, Minnesota or possibly Michigan,” she said.
Her schedule at OHA will differ from the last school year as she will finish at the academy in March which means she has classes the first semester only and she will spend the second semester training and playing hockey. “And hopefully come home during spring break,” she said.
Another advantage for her as an OHA team member is that she will be playing in New York, Boston, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and other East Coast venues.
“My favorite place is when I had the opportunity to play in Lake Placid, N.Y. The thrill of being in one of the most famous hockey communities on earth is amazing, and breathtaking. I am also excited to play in Detroit this year, because my family and possibly some of my friends will be able to come there.”
Carey expressed her gratitude to the community of Geneseo “for all the support they have given me and to the Geneseo School District for what they have done for me as they have been behind me all the way,” she said.
Page 3 of 3 - She spent the summer working with the Geneseo School District maintenance crew and most weekends were at hockey practices in Chicago.
And now, it is off for another new adventure for Carey. “When I step on the ice, I feel like all is great. Even if I’m having a bad day, or a bad practice or game, I feel free when I am skating. There is no other feeling like it. All is right with the world when I am on the ice.”