Saskatoon goalie first girl to make elite provincial hockey team for prestigious Edmonton tournament

·9 min read
Honor Arcand-Vandale at work in her office. (CBC - image credit)
Honor Arcand-Vandale at work in her office. (CBC - image credit)

It's the Code of Honor, a pre-game call to arms that Honor Arcand-Vandale came up with talking hockey with her dad.

Duane Vandale says he and his daughter were going back and forth about games and tactics and teammates. It was getting complicated in the way it can sometimes get with fathers and daughters and sports, so Duane just stopped and asked her a simple question.

Scroll to continue with content

"What do you do?"

He laughs now, remembering how exasperated the question made her, how she popped back the answer.

"Stop pucks."

Two words. Her battle cry. The Code.

Duane knows the game well. He has the miles and the scars to prove it. What Honor said next showed him a flash of the steel it takes to be an elite goaltender.

"She looked at me and said, 'Unless you're a goalie, don't try and tell me what I'm supposed to do.' She does it respectfully so I can't get mad at her. And I was never a goalie, so.…"

Honor Arcand-Vandale is nine years old.

First Period

The Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament has been a big deal for 33 years and counting, drawing the cream of under-10 hockey players from Canada and the U.S.

The teams — six Canadian provinces and seven American states, including one team made up of kids from all across the Western U.S. — play for a week at the West Edmonton Mall at the end of June.

Jamie Arcand
Jamie Arcand

Honor landed a spot in net for this year's Saskatchewan team. She'll be the first girl to play for the Saskatchewan team in its two decades-plus history at the tournament.

"It's a big deal for her to be involved in that," Duane says.

It's exciting and nerve wracking. Honor's oldest brother Cash has already played in the Brick and her other brother, Nixxon, is a rising star in his own right. But Duane says watching them is a different experience because of the positions they play.

"They play forward and D for the most part, so there's always somebody else to blame," he says. "You know, they blame the goalie if something goes wrong."

So how did a nine-year-old who stands 4'10" and weighs 86 pounds end up backstopping Team Saskatchewan?

"I think growing up with Cash and Nixxon, you knew that she was going to be tough," says Hugh Hamilton, her coach on the Junior Blades, an elite spring hockey team drawn from players around Saskatoon.

Jamie Arcand
Jamie Arcand

Hamilton has known Honor's parents Duane Vandale and Jamie Arcand for a decade — their oldest boys are the same age — and he's watched Honor develop every step of the way.

It started with gladiator school on the driveway with her brothers.

"They don't take it easy on her. So you can see where her determination and never give up comes from," Hamilton says.

Duane shakes his head at the memories of the driveway games.

"The boys are aggressive and they want to win, and her being that much younger than the both of them, and it's always two versus one, so the boys would never give her a chance," he says.

"Interesting to watch? It was, until sticks started being thrown and pucks started being thrown at each other. You should see the garage doors."

Todd Ripplinger knows all about the Arcand-Vandale driveway training school. He's the general manager of the Team Saskatchewan Brick squad and coached Honor's brother Cash when he played on the 2019 team.

"You can just tell by the way she competes," he says. "I can just imagine her on the street with tennis balls bouncing around and her trying to catch everything."

Ripplinger says upwards of 100 kids aged 10 and under from across the province compete for a spot. That gets winnowed down to 40 players, then the final 17-player roster, which has two goalie spots.

"She was head and shoulders above a few other goalies and we just needed to take her. She stood on her head," he says.

"She really competes hard. She's athletic. She's got really good hands. She's just good with her blocker, good with the glove. But ultimately, like during her trials and what we watched throughout the year, her will to compete is off the charts."

Second Period

Honor is putting her own twist on the archetypal Canadian hockey story, the stuff young kids grow up dreaming about.

The elements are as familiar as the sound of steel blades slicing across fresh ice. The little kid who straps on skates before they can walk, plays on a team before they can spell their own name, rises through the ranks, their skill such that they're always playing with bigger, older, faster kids.

The grainy home movies from rinks. The collection of jerseys. The scars.

But while many young players hockey dream of streaking on a breakaway, scoring the cup winning goal in overtime, Honor is on the other side of the coin.

She is the implacable warrior in the mask, standing tall between the pipes, facing down all comers. The odds-flipper, the one player who can single-handedly turn an overmatched team into a contender.

Consider a recent tournament. The Junior Blades were in Edmonton in early April and ended up playing Team Alberta three times in a row. By game three, Hugh Hamilton says it was clear that the Junior Blades were outgunned.

"They got better each game. On the last game we played, it was on Sunday, the score was 6-1. I think she faced around 58 shots — and stopped 52 of them," he says.

"It was pretty exciting to watch her make those saves and the team rally behind her, even though they were losing."

Jamie Arcand
Jamie Arcand

Duane says Honor started skating before she was three years old. She played on her first team, in Dalmeny, when she was four. It wasn't until about two years ago that she shifted to playing net.

Soon after that, both he and Hugh Hamilton noticed a quantum leap in her development.

"It was probably maybe 14 months ago," Duane says. "I think the hand-eye co-ordination, the movements she has from side-to-side in the net — it looked like a goalie."

Hamilton says the first word that comes to mind is agility.

"When a forward or a player is skating around the net, and they're going to wrap that puck around the net, she's always in in the right spot," he says.

"There's a lot of those young goalies, the wraparound is a good play because they just simply can't get there fast enough. She's always there, she never gives up."

Third Period

For all the attention, Honor is not especially comfortable talking about herself. Off the ice, her competitiveness turns into the shyness of a nine year old.

At a recent Junior Blades conditioning practice at the Canlan Arena in north Saskatoon, the arena is packed with parents and kids. CBC is taking footage and the skaters are playing it up for the camera, preening as they whoosh by with pucks.

But not Honor. She's dialed-in on keeping the net free of rubber.

After practice, with her parents standing off to the side, she deflects questions as deftly as she does shots.

What does she like about playing goal?

"It's fun to block shots."

Can she explain more?

"Robbing people, blocking the shots and sometimes getting shutouts."

Who is her favourite goalie?



"Because he's a good goalie."

In the end, it doesn't matter that she doesn't want to talk about herself. Her teammates are more than happy to.

Deklan Volk plays centre. He says having a good goalie can inspire the entire team.

"She really, like, pumps the team up. When we need her, she makes really good saves," he says.

Left winger Grayson Fraser echoes the sentiment.

"When she does really good we get pumped up and play better."

Both have gone one on one against her in practice, and they agree, "she's pretty tough to score on."

Fraser adds, though, that he has a go-to move.

"I think I'd go top corner on her blocker side."

"Why's that?"

"I feel she's little weaker on her blocker."

"Have you told her?"

He laughs.


In the stands, Duane and Jamie are with the other parents watching the practice. They show the easy banter of a couple  used to ferrying three kids to a shopping list of sports and school activities. There's a lot on their plate —  the next day Honor will backstop the Muskeg Lake Blades, from her Mom Jamie Arcand's home First Nation, in a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations tournament.

At one point, Duane's hockey background comes up. He climbed through the ranks, from the Saskatoon Blazers, to North Battleford and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, to finally a stint in the East Coast Hockey League and then seniors' hockey.

Duane Vandale
Duane Vandale

Jamie suggests with a sly smile that it would be a good idea to search "Duane Vandale" on YouTube.

The first five results show Duane on the ice, but his gloves are off and the captions are all variations on "Duane Vandale vs. (insert player name)."

This prompts Duane to wonder exactly where his daughter acquired her netminding skills.

"I'm not sure where she got it from."

Then, another memory, this time from 2019 when Honor was five and in Edmonton watching her brother Cash competing in the Brick. Jamie remembers her at ringside decked out in a head-to-toe red outfit.

Jamie Arcand
Jamie Arcand

There was a team from Detroit with a girl in goal.

"Honor would not take her eyes of this girl that was playing for Detroit. The play could be at one end of the ice but she's watching what the girl was doing, the movements and the stretching and stuff," he says.

"At the end of the game she said, 'Dad, I think I'm going to play in the tournament when I'm older, or old enough.'"

Duane was supportive, but admits he brushed the comment off.

"She wasn't a goalie at the time," he says.

"So, it's pretty exciting that she got the call saying that she made the team."