Cvar eyes Games podium finish for Manitoba

Balmoral Hall Blazers captain Olivia Cvar will be competing in the Canada Winter Games as a member of the Manitoba under-18 female hockey team in Red Deer, Alta. Nathan Liewicki / Interlake Spectator

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WINNIPEG — Olivia Cvar has been a member of the under-18 Manitoba female hockey team each of the last two seasons. This year, however, the five-foot-seven forward will be looking to lead the buffaloes to a podium finish at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta.

Cvar, who grew up in Gimli but moved to Stonewall a couple of years ago, was one of two players (Winnipegger Sarah Dennehy being the other) named to Manitoba’s U18 squad for a third straight year when it was unveiled by Hockey Manitoba on Jan. 9.

“When I found out I was going to be able to play on the team again this year it was really an honour and a privilege, and being one of the older girls I think I can be a leader and I can help the younger ones,” Cvar told The Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times. “The Canada Games is kind of like a mini Olympics you could say, so it’s kind of like a dream come true, and it’s just going to be a good experience all around.”

In addition to Cvar and Dennehy, Manitoba’s 20-player roster features netminders Raygan Kirk (Ste. Anne) and Julianna Thomson (Winnipeg), both of whom attended Hockey Canada’s U18 women’s national team camp last August, with Kirk going on to represent Canada at the U18 women’s world championship in Osaka, Japan.

Cvar, who is in her fourth year playing prep school hockey, the last three of which have been with the Balmoral Hall Blazers of the Junior Women’s Hockey League’s major junior division, believes she has developed a more well-rounded game this season.

“Personally, I think this has been my best year in prep hockey,” she said. “jJust watching myself develop over the years and in summer, taking time to get that extra strength and conditioning is really awesome, and I feel like I’m really dominant this year. Knowing that I’m in Grade 12, I feel like I have a dominance over other players and it gives you more confidence to go on the ice and be able to try new things.”

During her three seasons with the Winnipeg-based Blazers, Cvar has recorded 93 points (34 goals, 59 assists) and 74 penalty minutes in 68 regular-season games. In 22 games this season, Cvar, who turns 18 years old on Feb. 23, one day before Manitoba opens Pool A action versus Saskatchewan, has tallied a team-best 30 points (16g, 14a) to go with 22 penalty minutes.

“I’ve got a big body compared to most girls my age and I use that to my advantage — sometimes not in a good way,” the big-bodied forward admitted. “I have a really good shot and most girls they don’t know how to shoot the puck (don’t put their weight into it and don’t have a quick release). I found my dad and my brother helped me with that so I feel like I have that advantage over some people.”

She will not be the only member of the Blazers off to Red Deer either, as defencemen Kennesha Miswaggon (Cross Lake) and Rebecca Thiessen (Morris), forward Karine Sandilands (Winnipeg) and head coach Sarah Zacharias (Winnipeg) are also on Team Manitoba. Zacharias is serving as an assistant coach at the Games.

“It’s going to be easier, since it’s like having a sister at home,” Cvar said of having her Balmoral Hall teammates in Alberta with her. “You’re going to be travelling with them again and more comfortable. That’s just going to have a better effect while you’re there.”

Cvar is already looking forward to the next chapter of her hockey career —  in November, she signed her letter of intent to play NCAA Division 1 hockey with the St. Cloud State Huskies in Minnesota — but right now her goal is doing whatever it takes to give Manitoba a chance to reach the medal round.

In addition to Saskatchewan, Manitoba is grouped with New Brunswick and Quebec in one of three preliminary pools.

“I think we have a pretty good pool to be in,” she said. “I think the first three games, we’ve just got to skate fast and get the puck deep and get some quick goals. And after you get that keep the defensive side strong. It’s going to be hard but it should be manageable.”

From there, teams will compete for quarter-final positioning, leading up to the semifinals and the two medal games. Cvar would love the opportunity to play for a medal for her province, especially gold.

“That would be amazing,” she said. “You think about it when you are a little girl and you look up to people that played on Team Manitoba or Team Canada and that would be the kind of feeling it would be, just awesome.”

The U18 female hockey competition runs from Feb. 24 to March 2.