ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Red Deer is calling.
Lower West River, Antigonish County hockey player Landyn Pitts has been chosen to represent her province at the Canada Winter Games which take place Feb. 24 to March 2 in the centrally located Alberta city. She joins fellow local players Ella and Kara MacLean on the Team Nova Scotia roster.
After two seasons with the Mike Stewart-coached Nova major bantam program, the skilled forward is skating with the Northern Subway Selects Midget ‘AAA’ team this season, as that team looks to defend their Atlantic Canada title. Ella is also a teammate on the Selects while Kara is playing this season for Shattuck-St. Mary’s after suiting up for the team last season.
“From 60 in June, to 40 in July, down to 25 for the tournament over the Thanksgiving Weekend and then down to 20,” Landyn said of the team’s selection process, guided by Kirk Tomlinson, a veteran coach at various levels from Halifax.
The tournament Landyn referred to was the U-18 Atlantic Challenge Cup which took place in Moncton in the fall, where she and her Nova Scotia teammates captured gold. She noted 25 players were still on the roster for the competition which acted as a final try-out.
“It ended on Monday and the coach called on Wednesday,” Landyn’s mom Tracey said, as both agreed it was a stressful couple of days knowing that tough decisions were being made by the coaching staff.
With its roster now finalized, the team took advantage of players who compete outside of the area, such as Kara in Minnesota, being home around the holidays for a four-day camp, which took place in Dartmouth and included exhibition games versus AUS opponents.
Asked about feedback she has received from Team Nova Scotia coaches as far as positive attributes which helped her earn a spot, Landyn said they noted her size and the fact she is willing to use it to win puck battles and be a presence around the opposition net and in the corners.
“I’m taller than a lot of the girls I play with and against; and that I play as well away from the puck as I do with it,” Landyn said, crediting the second attribute to strong coaching she received while participating in the Antigonish Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) and with the Novas.
She also credits a power skating program organized by St. F.X. X-Men head coach Brad Peddle as playing a significant part in her development and the role X-Men assistant coach Dave Stewart played in motivating her to be the best player she could be.
“I’ve always had coaches who pushed us to do our best and to be at our best,” she said of the supportive environment provided by the volunteer coaches in AMHA and the other programs she participated in.
“So it has always kind of been the mindset, to do our best.”
As for a part of her game the Team Nova Scotia coaches want her to work on, Landyn noted they want her to be more aggressive looking for shot opportunities.
“I told them I was more of a passer and playmaker than scorer and the response was I could be both,” she said. “So I’m working more towards the scoring because I kind of shy away from shooting and pass more.”
Landyn talked about her attraction to Canada’s sport, noting at first that it was an opportunity to be with friends.
“I’ve always been able to play hockey with my best friends so a lot of it has been that,” she said. “I love playing the sport, obviously, been then it has been more fun to be playing with my best friends.
“It started to get really serious when I decided I wanted to play major bantam; it was the first big step, when I decided I wanted to play there. That is when it became serious, and knowing the Canada Games was coming up was also in the back of my mind.
“It seemed to happen fast but slow at the same time, because you just want it to happen.”
A favourite hockey memory for Landyn comes from her time as a pee wee ‘AAA’ Bulldog, for the 2015-16 season, when the team went on a run to the provincial final.
“We just managed to sneak in the semis and then beat Acadia, who we weren’t usually beating,” she said. “We scored with 3.5 seconds left, something like that, that was exciting.”
Another special memory was winning another Atlantic Challenge Cup title in 2016, in the U-16 division.
“It was all new to me; being on Team Nova Scotia was a new feeling,” she said. “And it was closer matches that year, whereas we won in the final this year 7-1.”
As she reflects and looks forward to the Canada Games later this winter, Landyn does so with a strong sense of gratitude.
“I’ve been lucky to have coaches like Mike and Dave Stewart and be raised by you guys,” she said, gesturing towards mom Tracey and dad Brian sitting, with pride, nearby.
“They’ve taught more than just how to pass a puck, how to shoot a puck; they’ve taught me things like good character and how to be coachable, because that doesn’t just come from me. I have to be taught by people and see people do it, and I’ve had good coaches and a family at home who have taught me all of that.
“That has helped me a lot. There are things you have to experience to learn, but there is also so much I’ve learned by having good coaches and a good family … that’s a big part of it.”