By Herb Garbutt • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Canada has a long history of delivering memorable hockey moments, from Paul Henderson, to Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby. The country’s past alone would be enough to inspire hope in any player wearing the maple leaf on their chest.
Kristin Gilmour, of Millgrove, had even more reason to believe, even as the clock in Finland’s Heinola Arena told a different story.
Just being there, she had overcome a situation in which all hope seemed to be lost.
So despite the fact Canada trailed the United States 1-0 in the final minute of the championship game of the World Women’s Under-18 Hockey Championship, Gilmour never thought about anything other than having a gold medal draped around her neck.
“Honestly, you play games where you doubt you’re going to win,” she said, “but I never had a single doubt that we were going to win that game.”
Gilmour’s faith was rewarded when Catherine Dubois tied the game with just 12 seconds remaining. Then just a minute into overtime, Canada capped its improbable comeback when Karly Heffernan scored sending Gilmour and her teammates leaping over the boards to celebrate.
It was the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum than where she found herself months earlier. The 17-year-old defenceman had attended the under-18 team’s strength and conditioning camp in May, but passed out on the ice. Forced to leave the camp early, she was later cut.
The problem persisted until she finally received a diagnosis just before her season with the Oakville Hornets of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League was to begin. Gilmour had neurocardiogenic presyncope, which prevents oxygen from getting to the brain during physical exertion.
Brought under control with diet and breathing exercises, Gilmour enjoyed a strong start to the season with the Hornets and Hockey Canada scouts noticed. In November, she was named to the Canadian team for the world championships.
Gilmour, who will attend the University of Maine next season, was determined to make the most of her second chance, but she was in for a bit of a surprise. Facing Hungary, which was making its debut at worlds, the Waterdown District High School student was not expecting such a high level of play.
“I felt like I underestimated them,” she said. “I had to get used to the speed and physicality. They were better than the best PW(HL) team.”
Gilmour would make the necessary adjustments, though, as Canada followed up with shutout victories over Finland and Germany.
Playing Sweden in the semifinals, Gilmour made an immediate contribution. Three minutes into the game, she took a pass from Halli Krzyzaniak, and fired a wrist shot past the Swedish goalie. Her first goal for Canada opened the scoring in a 7-2 Canada win.
“She gave me a perfect pass and I saw an opening low on the blocker side so I took a wrist shot,” Gilmour said. “Honestly, I didn’t even know it went in. All my teammates started celebrating, they said, ‘You scored!’ I had no idea.”
Less than 24 hours after receiving her gold medal, the Canadian team’s plane touched down in Toronto. Gilmour grabbed her hockey bag, sprinted through the airport and went directly to a Brampton arena. Arriving just before warm-ups, she quickly dressed and joined her Hornet teammates on the ice and contributed an assist in a 3-3 tie.
Afterward, she got to share her experience, one that a few months ago, she thought may have passed her by.
“Having this opportunity,” she said, “it shows that dreams do come true.”