Right now, 46 of the best in the nation are meeting in Calgary for Hockey Canada’s women’s under-18 summer development camp. Among that group is blueliner Ella Belfry, who brings some of the most unique experience possible to the proceedings.
“I am so excited,” she said. “This is something I’ve dreamed of since I was little.”
And since she was little, Belfry has grown up in one of the most elite hockey environments around: Her dad, Darryl Belfry, is one of the top skills coaches in the world and a player development consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Darryl didn’t want to pressure Ella or son Easton into hockey, but gave the two the chance to explore the game and seek their own paths. For Ella, hockey was indeed the ticket.
“It was a really good opportunity to spend a lot of time with her 1-on-1,” he said. “I would take her out of kindergarten, take her to the rink and we would skate, then I’d take her back to school. I think initially the Tim Horton’s hot chocolate was the biggest sell, but she developed a real passion for hockey.”
Along the way, Ella got a chance to share the ice with some pretty remarkable names.
“I’ve been the passer for Auston Matthews, which was a stressful but really exciting process,” she said. “I’ve really taken some thought-pieces from him. Also Patrick Kane; my dad has worked with him since he was little, so I’ve had close access to him. I’ve had really good experiences with Nathan MacKinnon, too.”
As for Belfry herself, she does her damage from the blueline, where her mobility allows her to make an impact in all three zones.
“She skates very well,” Darryl said. “What we’ve tried to do over the past few years is to attach her skating to everything she does: a lot of her defensive play was about how she used her skating and offensively she does a lot off the puck. She moves into great spaces and uses her skating to get into the rush and to get into areas of the ice that other players might only go if they have the puck on their stick.”
While having a parent involved in your passion can go one of two very different ways, it’s been a huge positive for the Belfrys. Darryl believes the process is even more fun than with his non-blood clients because he sees Ella every day and that brings more insight into what each other are thinking.
“We try to establish a pretty good separation between work and home,” Ella said. “But I find our relationship both on and off the ice is pretty strong, whether we’re talking about hockey or not. We’re really good at communicating with each other and we think alike. So even without hockey we really connect.”
One of five members of the Oakville Jr. Hornets to make Canada’s under-18 camp, Belfry plans on returning to the club team in the Toronto suburbs next season. She has already committed to NCAA Colgate for the future and the school ticked off a lot of boxes for the defender.
“The coaches are absolutely amazing, I have a really good relationship with them,” she said. “They really foster my style of play and I love that it really is a program – there is a full system and a style they play; a complete structure that suits my game. I feel like it’s a really good place for me to flourish and take my game to the next level. And the academic program is amazing so I’m excited to get the best education I can when I’m not at the rink.”
Right now, Belfry is leaning towards classes in psychology, potentially with a minor in creative writing. Given all the experiences she’s already had in the hockey world, she could probably write a pretty good paper on what goes on inside the mind of an elite player now – and no doubt she can add even more details after her sojourn with the national program in Calgary.
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