Gerry Wilson just can’t say enough about Ryleigh Houston. The head coach of the Balmoral Hall Blazers hockey team simply thinks that two more years with Houston in his lineup can’t do anything but help the Blazers win.
“She’s just a gifted offensive player,” said Wilson, shortly after his team dropped a 3-0 decision to Calgary’s Edge School for Athletics at the 2014 Female World Sport Challenge at MTS Iceplex.
“She’s just such a natural talent that I wish I could teach her more than she already knows. It’s amazing that she’s just 15: She’s only in Grade 10. She has college scouts all over her. She’ll get her choice of schools, including Ivy League Schools. You have to have outstanding marks to get to the Ivy League and she has the marks. She’s a remarkable young player.”
How remarkable? In mid-March, during the North America-wide Junior Women’s Hockey League playoffs in Vancouver, Houston was named JWHL Offensive Player of the Year and also received JWHL All-Academic honours. It’s been an incredible season for a 15-year-old who carries an 85 per cent average at Balmoral and is only in her second season with the Prep Blazers.
This past season, Houston had 27 goals and 53 points in 28 regular season games. She was second in JWHL scoring and back in February, was named a First JWHL All-Star Team.
“She’s a nice complete package,” said Wilson. “She’s also the type of player who makes her teammates better. The way I run three lines, it’s given everyone a chance to play on a line with her and that’s given a lot of kids a chance to score some goals. This is a 15-year-old who is dominating a strong Under-19 league — maybe the strongest Under-19 women’s league in the world. It really is amazing.”
What makes it even more amazing is Houston herself. Up close, she’s just your average15-year-old. She likes all kinds of music, doesn’t really have a favorite entertainer and absolutely worships Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
She’s also about 5-foot-4 and couldn’t weigh 130 pounds soaking wet.
“She’s pretty small and does have to build up her physical strength,” said Wilson. “But she’s doing it. We’re working on it. She’ll get bigger and stronger and when she does, she’ll be a contender for a spot on the national team. Those international players are a lot bigger than Ryleigh, but I think she has the skills to play at that level.”
Not surprisingly, Ryleigh herself admits to being “a little overwhelmed” by all the attention she’s getting. Especially from the big time college scouts.
“Because of all the attention I’ve been getting, I’ve already started thinking about where I’m going to go to school when I’m finished high school,” she admitted. “But it’s really been overwhelming for me.
“They can’t call me, the NCAA won’t allow that, but they call Gerry (Coach Wilson) and they send me letters. I’ve been contacted by quite a few schools, but I haven’t made any decision. I think I’d like to take Kinesiology and I’ll probably got into Medicine. But I’m only in Grade 10. I’ll change my mind a few more times.”
Not only that, she’s only played girls hockey for the past three seasons.
“I played boys hockey all the way up until I was 12,” said Houston, who started playing hockey when she was five. “I played my minor hockey in the neighborhood, in Riverbend, with the guys. I played with (Team Manitoba U-16 star) Vince Loschiavo when we were younger. I liked playing boys hockey.”
Playing with the boys was a great way to get a head start in the game. The speedy, skilled Houston might not be very big, but she has no problem with the physical aspect of the game. In fact, that might be her favorite part.
“I love hockey,” she said with a shrug. “I like how I can go out there and take out all my anger and emotion when I’m out on the ice. I just really like it.”
Wilson is just happy Ryleigh chose to play at Balmoral.
“As good as she is now, she’ll only get bigger, stronger and better,” said Wilson. “For Ryleigh, the best is yet to come.”