Belle Jacobs may have played the last four seasons with female hockey teams, but she’s no stranger to sharing the ice with boys.
The 17-year-old played the majority of her minor hockey career on male teams, before making the change and suiting up for all-female clubs in her bantam and midget seasons.
Despite her success in the female ranks, Jacobs has turned her attention to a new challenge — playing Division 1 high school hockey in Cape Breton.
Jacobs will make Sydney Academy history this season when she suits up for the Wildcats boys’ hockey team, becoming the first female to play for the club.
“I think girls can play for guys' hockey teams,” said Jacobs. “You just have to have your mind set on it and follow what’s in your heart and that’s what I’ve done this season.”
The defenceman began her minor hockey career with in the Sydney Minor Hockey Association. Along with playing for her hometown Steelers, Jacobs also represented minor hockey
associations in Glace Bay, Cape Breton County and on the Northside.
“I started playing hockey when I was seven years old because I would always watch my brother (Reed Jacobs) playing the sport,” said Jacobs. “I really liked watching him and I really wanted to play, so it went from there.”
Jacobs played boys hockey until bantam age.
From there, she suited up for the Glace Bay Miners female bantam ‘AA’ team, before joining the MacIntyre Chevy Panthers of the Nova Scotia Female Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League.
“We were all just like sisters on those teams and we were one big family,” said Jacobs, recalling playing on female teams, noting she will have her own dressing room this year.
“I’m going to miss not being in the dressing room with my teammates as far as memories are concerned, but I think it should be a fun season.”
In 20 games last season with the Panthers, Jacobs recorded 10 assists along with 10 penalty minutes.
Former teammate Lauren Barrett wasn’t surprised Jacobs cracked the Wildcats' roster this season, noting the Sydney product had talked about playing with the team last year.
“We never really tried to hold her back from playing high school hockey,” said Barrett, a defenceman, who at times last season was paired up with Jacobs on the blueline.
“She deserves to be playing there and I’m happy for her and the decision she made for not caring what anyone thinks.”
Jacobs, a Grade 12 student at the Sydney school, wanted to focus on her studies, which is one of the reasons she decided to play with the Wildcats team.
“The Panthers took up a lot of time, so it was really hard,” said Jacobs. “When you’re playing with the Panthers you miss a lot of school activities and I thought it would be a really good idea to play here this season.”
In the female midget league, body-checking isn't allowed, something Jacobs knows she will have to adjust to in the high school league, where body-checking permitted.
“It’s just another day on the ice for me,” said Jacobs. “I know I’m going to get rocked around a little bit, but I’m also going to be throwing some hits — I know if anything bad happens my team will stick up for me.”
Jacobs admits she has heard both positive and negative comments concerning her decision to play boys' hockey.
“I’ve heard some comments so far from other teams,” said Jacobs. “They’re not going to take it easy on me and that’s fine because I’ll do the same back.”
Jacobs said she has heard from several female hockey players since making the team and is grateful for the support.
“I hope little girls look up to me as a role model and know if they want to play boys high school hockey when they’re old enough, they can do it,” she said. “It’s going to be a fast-paced league this year and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Although she’s believed to be the first female player to suit up in the Division 1 Cape Breton High School Hockey League, she’s not the first female player to play male high school hockey in Cape Breton.
A number of female players have played in the Division 2 league in the Cape Breton West High School Hockey League over the years, but none are believed to have played Division 1.
Jacobs and the Wildcats will open their Cape Breton High School Hockey League schedule on Tuesday when they take to the ice for their home opener at 7 p.m. against the Memorial Marauders at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
• Hometown: Sydney
• Age: 17
• Position: Defence
• Team: Sydney Academy Wildcats (CBHSHL)
• Previous team: MacIntyre Chevy Panthers (NSFMAAAHL)
• • •
CAPE BRETON HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY LEAGUE:
• There are four teams in the league (Glace Bay Panthers, Riverview Redmen, Memorial Marauders and Sydney Academy Wildcats)
• Each team will play 18 games this season — nine home games and nine road games
• The Mae Kibyuk Memorial Green and Gold Tournament, hosted by Memorial, will be played Nov. 7-10 at the Emera Centre Northside in North Sydney
• The Panther Classic, hosted by Glace Bay, will be held Dec. 5-8 at the Canada Games Complex on the CBU campus
• The Sydney Academy Blue and White Challenge is slated for Jan. 9-12 at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre
• The Red Cup, hosted by Riverview, is scheduled for Feb. 6-9 at the Cape Breton County Recreation Centre in Coxheath