After a fantastic 2016-17 ECHL season that was full of exciting firsts for the Brampton Beast, this week’s Free Agent Camp provided a new, ground-breaking milestone for the hockey club.
As she took her first strides on the ice at the Powerade Centre on Friday night, 19-year-old Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin native Rachel Dickinson became the first ever woman to attend the Beast’s annual pro tryout camp.
Currently living in Nashville, Tennessee, Dickinson wasn’t fazed in the least when submitting her application to attend the club’s summer tryouts.
“A few months back, I asked myself what do I want to do with my life,” Dickinson said.
“I wanted to do something I’m passionate about. I loved hockey so I said to myself that I should try to do it. Just give it a shot.”
A self-described versatile and energetic player, Dickinson started skating at a young age but didn’t find the game of hockey until her teenage years, when a free ticket to her local American Hockey League team fell into her lap.
“I didn’t get into hockey until I was 17,” she admitted.
“The school I went to didn’t have a very good hockey program. One day, I got free tickets to a Milwaukee Admirals AHL game and I went to it and said ‘whoa this is so cool’. So I found a place to play in Milwaukee with some cool people. That’s how I started. I then moved to Tennessee and started playing there as well.”
Dickinson was among the first registrants for the Beast’s Free Agent Camp when registration opened in early 2017. She spends her time on the ice around the Nashville area, playing in multiple rec and adult leagues, often with more experienced players, which she admits helps with her development.
When asked if she had any reservations about attending a competitive camp against young men, some of who have been playing at a competitive level for many years, she laughed and simply shrugged it off.
“I feel like my personality, I’m good just getting along with different types of people,” she said candidly.
“I have a little more of that courage aspect in myself. I don’t get intimidated. I’m a human being. We’re all humans. Hey, maybe we can all play together.”
As of mid Saturday afternoon, Dickinson is two games into her four-game camp and has more than held her own. Found patrolling the blue line, Dickinson wasn’t afraid to go for the big hit and didn’t shy away from stirring the pot during stoppages in play.
“It’s been really good,” she said of her Brampton Beast camp experience.
“First coming in, I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never done anything like this before. Initially, it was chaotic because there are no lines or anything. Everyone was thrown out there. But everybody’s been awesome. Everybody has been super cool and they treat me like a real person.”
It would be a challenge to predict how her fellow players would react to sharing the ice with a female, but Dickinson’s shining, positive, can-do attitude has made the change a lot easier for her new teammates and opponents.
“I feel like it’s been pretty equal,” she said of the intensity of play. “I feel like they have been fair toward me. They hit me, I just hit back.”
Beast Assistant Coach Peter Goulet has been running the club’s Free Agent Camp for the last two seasons and was admittedly impressed with Dickinson’s play thus far and was quick to praise her for her ability to compete with men who may be bigger, stronger and more experienced than her.
“You know something, I think it’s awesome,” Goulet said.
“I think everyone deserves an opportunity and I commend her for signing up. I don’t think it’s easy coming out into a situation like this. She came from a long ways away from Nashville to be here. It’s good. We’re happy to have her here. I give her a lot of credit for being here.”
Whether or not Dickinson earns herself a ticket to the club’s main training camp in September, she will continue to pursue a future in the game she loves.
“I want to get as much as I can out of the game of hockey,” she said with a smile.
“If I can play here, that would be awesome. Whatever happens happens. I just want to try to do something with the game I love.”