Small Towns Play Big Role in Hockey Player's Success

Samantha Ridgewell took to the ice to play hockey in Conquest at the age of 5 and her skates are now taking her to Stockholm, as a goaltender for the Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.

Samantha is the oldest of four children of Jody and Jennifer Ridgewell. She describes her roots as being a hockey family and was impacted by her uncle Charlie who she enjoyed being on the ice with, and her grandpa Ken Fox who is a head scout with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. “We were always around hockey and talking hockey,” she explained.

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Her playing days began in Conquest and then Outlook, where the boy’s team needed a goaltender. In grades 8 and 9 she played in Elrose. She was also a member of the Coteau Hills Coyotes, a roster of girls from different towns formed for a provincial team. Although she took her rotation as goaltender, unless she was busy in net she preferred to play other positions. But as a grade 10 student Samantha joined the Saskatoon Stars, a AAA team, where she focused on goaltending and began garnering the attention of coaches, including one who encouraged her to seek out a higher level of hockey so she could be ready to play south of the border.

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In what was a very difficult decision, Samantha went to Notre Dame for grade 12, having to give up the dream of graduating at LCBI where her mother was a teacher and where she had many friends. But it’s one she’s glad she made because by Christmas she committed her university years to playing at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. Since their hockey program was launching the following year, Samantha played another season at Notre Dame and took a college class prior to joining the Merrimack Warriors.

Samantha quickly demonstrated her skill with the Warriors. Her impact on the team earned MVP honors in her freshman year and that success continued. Despite having to sit out part of her second season due to concussions, she was the Warriors go-to goaltender again in year three. But it was this past year she says was her best. “It was definitely my most successful season,” she remarked. “I was very confident this year. I went into it thinking, ‘no one else is older than me, no one else has more experience than me. This is my year.’” And it certainly was. Samantha was again named MVP, as well as Top Defensive Player, league second team All-Star for Hockey East, and Female Athlete of the Year. Off the ice she exceled as well, earning her degree with a major in general health sciences and a minor in chemistry, and is looking at applying to medical schools.

Prior to that though, her career in hockey will turn professional after signing with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Women’s Hockey League. “My Czech roommates at Merrimack helped me navigate the websites and told me which leagues had the best hockey. I reached out to teams in Sweden and Switzerland and I got lucky. They can only have two imports and a team in Sweden still needed a goaltender.” Another Merrimack Warrior, Dominique Kremer, has also signed with the team so these friends are looking forward to being teammates again.

Samantha leaves for Stockholm later this month and will begin a 40-game season in a league she knows will be intense. To prepare she has been working hard on her training. “I’ve been skating twice a week to not lose skating legs and then doing little goalie sessions to keep sharp on the things I’ve worked on all year.”  She has been inspired by Darcy Kuemper, Saskatoon resident who plays goal for the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL. “He trains at the gym that I train at and watching some of the stuff he does motivates me to push myself harder when I see what type of training he is doing. I know I’ll never be at that level but I have to push for that level.”

Her earlier reluctance to play goal has been replaced by a love for the position. “When I was younger I actually liked playing out more. I liked playing goal if it was a game where we were getting peppered with shots but I never enjoyed the games where the play was down in the other end the whole time. Now I love playing goal.” She thrives under the pressure. “I like the feeling that the team is relying on you. There’s only two spots on a team for a goaltender so you have to be good at what you do to get to play. I like that challenge. I’ve always tried to be the best.”

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Samantha’s family has been a key part of this hockey journey and she is thrilled whenever they can travel to see her play. She seems to have a particularly good game when grandpa Fox is in the stands. “He’s always kind of been my good luck charm. I’ve always played well when he’s there. Maybe I’m trying to impress him. Everybody notices it too, and Mom and dad will say, ‘You always play better when grandpa is there.’” It’s a relationship she is thankful to have. “He knows the game so well, so most of what we talk about is hockey. It’s really nice to have someone I can call and talk hockey to; his team or mine.”

The dreams of this hockey player are certainly coming true and she credits many communities and coaches. “I’m thankful for all the small towns that were a big part of it. Getting to play in Conquest, Outlook and Elrose, I remember all the coach’s names. I’ve had so many throughout the years and I love it when they reach out to me and say how proud they are. Dreams definitely come true. You’ve just got to work hard.”

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