Ashley Messier stepped out of her comfort zone when she joined the Saskatoon Stars, but it’s turning out to be one of the best decisions she has made in hockey.
In the summer of 2016, Messier was living in Wilcox, Sask., and enrolled at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame for the upcoming school year. At that time, she had only played hockey on boys’ teams during the winter season and girls’ teams during the summer.
Messier found out that one of her good friends, Chace Sperling, was heading to an open fall camp for the Stars, the defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champions at the time.
At the urging of her mom, Kim, Messier decided to give the Stars camp a try.
“I didn’t know anybody (except Chace),” said Messier. “In spring hockey I played against Grace (Shirley) and Joelle (Fiala) and Grace Tam. That was very different, but obviously now, they are all best friends of mine.”
Messier made the Stars from that camp as a 14-year-old under-age player. In her rookie campaign, she posted three goals and eight assists in 28 regular-season games and added six assists in nine SFMAAAHL playoff games as the Stars fell in the league final.
Her performance had already caught the attention of university scouts. In September 2017, at age 15, she committed to joining the Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team for the start of the 2020-21 National Collegiate Athletic Association season.
She had 26 points in 28 games last year and was named to the league’s second all-star team. The Stars then won the league title and the Western regional playoff to advance to the Esso Cup national tournament.
At the Esso Cup last April in Bridgewater, N.S., Messier picked up a goal and six assists in seven games for the Stars, helping them advance to the event’s championship game for the first time in team history. The Stars fell in the national final 2-1 to the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash.
Messier was named the top defender at the Esso Cup.
This season, as a 16-year-old, Messier piled up five goals and 27 assists, helping the Stars finish first in the SFMAAAHL with a 27-1 record, which was the club’s best ever regular-season mark. Messier helped the Stars win the prestigious Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in December in her hometown.
She said her game has changed a lot since she started with the Stars, which includes making better decisions on the ice.
“My skill set has gotten better, because we work a lot of skills here,” said Messier, who picked up the nickname “Mouse” due to standing 5-foot-3. “It is not just systems and positions.
“It is a lot of other stuff, so that has really improved my knowledge of the game.”
Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian said Messier has been a joy to coach. Messier has billeted at the Slobodzian household since the start of her sophomore season.
Slobodzian said Messier is always asking questions of him or assistant coach Curtis Leschyshyn. Slobodzian said Leschyshyn, who is a former NHL defenceman, has done a lot of working helping Messier with her game.
“She is a real special player,” said Slobodzian. “She is an excellent skater, has really good vision.
“She is starting to learn how to control the game. I think that is what we are trying to instill in her, is that whole concept of not pressuring the game but reading it.
“When it gives you something, you take it.”
It should come as no surprise because the Messier family is well connected to the game.
Her 18-year-old brother, Max, had stints this season at centre in junior A for the Swan Valley Stampeders in Manitoba and junior B with the 100 Mile House Wranglers in British Columbia.
Father Joby played 25 regular-season games scattered over three seasons for the NHL’s New York Rangers from 1992 to 1995. He currently scouts for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
Uncle Mitch appeared in 20 NHL regular-season games scattered over four seasons from 1987 to 1991 with the Minnesota North Stars.
And cousin Mark won five Stanley Cup rings as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990 and a sixth Stanley Cup rink with the Rangers in 1994. He is the third all-time leading scorer in NHL history.
“Sometimes I get asked, but not so much about my dad, but about Mark,” she said. “I’ve never met him. I wouldn’t say he is a super-close relation.”
Still, Messier is carving out her own star reputation in the game. With her mom growing up in Flint, Michigan, Messier attended training camp last summer with the United States under-18 women’s team and played in a three-game exhibition series against Canada.
“That was really exciting,” said Messier. “It was just a new experience, and that was the main thing.”
At the moment, Messier said she wants to play in the Olympics one day, but is undecided if she will pursue those hopes through the national team system in the U.S. or Canada.
The skilled defender believes her team can have another special season.
“I want us to again go to nationals,” said Messier. “I think we can. I think we will. I want us to keep playing consistently like we are right now.”
(You can see more of Darren Steinke’s work in his online blog stankssermon.blogspot.ca).