For Airdrie’s Codie Cross and Hannah Hudson – who were classmates at Muriel Clayton Middle School before they began high school – playing hard is a part of life.
The two strikingly similar 17-year-old girls, both 5-3 tall and about 120 pounds, excel at the sports of their desire.
Codie Cross is a defenceman with the Warner Hockey School Warriors, who led the north division of the Junior Women’s Hockey League as of late January.
Hockey may traditionally be considered a male-dominated sport, but Cross is witness to the changing times.
“I haven’t really faced what maybe girls had say like five, 10 years ago,” she says, adding that she has heard from Olympians a decade her senior that the sport wasn’t as developed when they were in their teens. “More talented girls are growing the game.”
Cross started the sport with co-ed teams, but has been playing elite hockey with female teams since she was 12 years old. Her path took her to Calgary’s Edge School for Athletes for Grades 9-10, and to Warner, southeast of Lethbridge, for the past two seasons. Last November, she signed a full-ride, five-year scholarship with the highly ranked Northeastern University Huskies in Boston, Mass., to play in the National Collegiate Athletics Association.
Among her achievements, in January 2016 Cross won silver with Team Canada’s U18 team at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Under-18 Women’s World Championship in St. Catharines, Ont. She hopes to climb the ladder with Team Canada, all the way to the Olympics, which has been possible since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1998.
“I know lots of kids talk about the path. There’s only a few [who] understand what it takes
According to Cross, her father, Tony Cross, always instilled in her that hockey is important to commit to, but schooling is primary, and she has dreams of pursuing hockey all the way to the recently formed four-team National Women’s Hockey League – following a degree in business.
Tony says that he identified the competitive edge in his daughter, the middle of three children, at about four years old while she was racking up goals playing Timbits soccer and to this day Codie puts in the extra effort, in practices and games, that it takes to pursue the elite hockey dream.
“It’s the path that she wanted to go down,” Tony says. “I know lots of kids talk about the path. There’s only a few [who] understand what it takes.”
Seeing a league develop that pays its athletes, albeit a fraction of what their NHL counterparts make, is a positive for Cross, who has had her fair share of sacrifices pursuing her dream.
“For me the travelling part is a lot more than what the guys would face, but that’s what I have to give,” says the elite athlete, who has lived away from home for much of the last four years.
Hannah Hudson began playing organized football with the George McDougall High School Mustangs in Grade 11, but she wasn’t a stranger to the sport, having played with her brothers at home.
She earned a starting role as wide receiver with the team last season.
“I had to continue and work for the spot because there were others working to get starting roles,” says Hudson of her time with the Rocky View Sports Association team.
For the teen, football has helped her developed friendships with people she otherwise may have never talked to, and deepened her relationship with her brothers Hunter, her twin, and Christian. (Christian has reached local fame since winning the Calgary Stampede Talent Search last summer, and Hannah played part of last season with Hunter, before he dropped the sport to focus more on his studies.)
Hannah started three games last fall and saw playing time in all games. Mustangs coach Chris Glass affirmed that she earned the role and overcame sexism, maintaining a positive attitude. “She has never asked to be treated different. She’s one of our Mustangs and that’s the be all and end all of it,” says the coach, noting that she made key blocks for Mustangs’ running back Jordan Baldwin on a couple of his touchdowns.
Glass notes Hannah is the third female player he has coached in 17 years, and she has been the most successful. She will continue playing football this spring in the Calgary Rage in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.
Glass helped open the door, inviting his friend and Rage head of recruitment Esther Hong, to a practice last year. “I wanted Hannah to see that it’s not just a novelty, but she should be working towards a goal if she wants it,” says Glass.
Hong, a 35-year-old receiver for the Rage, is happy to have Hannah play with her team, which started training on a more regular basis in February for the regular season to start in May with home games at Shouldice Park.
According to Hong, Hannah’s youth and experience in the game will benefit her.
“She’s definitely the future for the Rage,” says Hong, adding that many of the women on the team, including herself, come into the roster without previous experience.
Looking within, Hannah has discovered plenty about herself in the last two years of taking to the field in a sport dominated by her male peers.
“I found out that I’m more determined than I thought I was,” she says. “I just realize that I can overcome a lot of fear, intimidation, that I didn’t know I could.”