It's been a year of new sights and accomplishments already for Portage's Danika Botterill.
The 17-year-old hockey player moved out to Toronto this season to further improve her game in the Ontario Women's Hockey Association's (OWHA) U22 Elite League. Botterill is competing against athletes that are up to four years older than her but she notes she's been up for that challenge.
"It's very, very high-paced, competitive, and highly skilled," Botterill explains. "I think it's super great to play against people that are this skilled. Even playing with teammates that are a bit older than me helps me get better. It gets me ready to play at the university level."
Botterill says her goal for next season is to get a scholarship to play university hockey. She believes this move from the Central Plains Capitals to the Etobicoke Dolphins was the perfect stepping stone to reach that aspiration.
"It was an easy decision to pick where to go in Toronto. The team I'm with, it's a great program with great coaching and staff," Botterill continues. "They helped so much with the transition. The family I'm living with is actually members of my family. They've been really supportive and have helped me out a lot."
She's been living with her dad's cousin, three-time Olympic Gold Medallist Jennifer Botterill. Jennifer was a part of Team Canada's Women's Olympic Hockey Team four times and put up 15 points during the 21 games she played while wearing the Maple Leaf.
"That has really helped. It just feels like I was meant to come here and play. It's very inspirational," says the Portager. "Her husband, Adrian Lomonaco, was a skating coach for Team Canada, and I've skated with him on the ice, and he's helped me a lot. He teaches me a lot of new things, which has been super helpful."
Danika says of one the most important things Lomonaco has taught her this season is to shoot more, even when she isn't in a prime position. Botterill says they will watch back her games together and believes his pointers have been very valuable.
She has scored 16 points in 24 games so far in Etobicoke and is currently gearing up for the playoffs and provincials that are just around the corner.
Botterill also had the opportunity to represent Team Manitoba a few weeks ago at the Canada Winter Games. She says this was her first time in Prince Edward Island and adds the experience was extraordinary.
"It was really cool, and there were a ton of fans. We had a game that was sold out, and the energy in the arena was ecstatic. It was really cool to be able to play in front of thousands of fans," says Botterill. "They even had to turn away some people at the door. It was amazing. We had so much energy on the bench. It was the experience of a lifetime."
Team Manitoba didn't end up placing as high as they would've liked at the games but Botterill says that game alone made it all worthwhile. She adds the environment of the entire event was unique as well, noting the boxing matches were a spectacle to see in person.
The OWHA playoff weekend kicks off on Friday, and Botterill will be looking to put her best skate forward as she tries to help Etobicoke earn a spot at the provincial championship.