They often say that the early bird gets the worm, but what they don’t say is just how that bird came to acquire said worm in the first place. Take 22-year-old Cecilia Lopez for instance. A strong AA Bantam career with the Winnipeg Twins led to an opportunity with St. Mary’s Academy, where she played for the prep squad for three years.
Playing within the CAHS for Larry Bumstead, Dave Chell and Co., Lopez put up spectacular numbers offensively. With the Flames, she chipped in with 17 goals and 32 points in 49 games in 2014-15, before upping her totals to 23 goals and 42 points also in 49 games the following year, which placed her third in league scoring.
But it’s after her minor hockey/high school career where the tale starts to get interesting. Following her attendance in one of Harry Rosenholtz’s college hockey scouting showcases in Florida, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound forward was recruited to play Division I for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Although setting herself up for a long-term sporting commitment in the USA, Lopez only stuck with Dartmouth for 2016-17 and part of the 2017-18 season, as certain aspects within her area of study began to clash with her hockey commitments. Always maintaining a keen focus on her education (as noted by her honour role academic status through junior high and high school) Lopez managed to fulfill her degree this past June, graduating from Dartmouth with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in women’s gender and sexuality studies, modified with English.
With the hockey dream put on the back-burner midway through the 2017-18 season as the main focus had shifted to schooling, Lopez recalls her state of shock upon receiving a rather peculiar email from the seemingly ever-present Rosenholtz.
“It came right out of the blue,” she said. “He asked if had any Spanish ancestry, which I did, as my grandfather was born in Spain and my grandmother gained Spanish citizenship and lived there for as well. Harry told me he had just been appointed as the head coach of the Spanish Women’s National Ice Hockey Team and invited me out for a camp. Obviously, I was a little out of practice, but I had played hockey all my life, so it was all muscle memory.”
Despite a few minor inconveniences – including lost luggage and the need to use borrowed equipment – the 2018 camp went well for the then 20-year-old forward. While maintaining her education, Lopez has been working with a number of coaches and officials within the Spanish Ice Hockey Federation to sort out a way to continue pursuing hockey from Spain.
“They told me that if I live in Spain for 240 days and play there for a season, I would be able to transfer my international eligibility rights,” she said. “The end goal is to get Spanish citizenship and play for Spain in the World Championship or even the Olympics. As far as I’m aware, Spain needs to win a few groups before qualifying for the Olympics. I don’t believe it’s too out of reach and it’s really encouraging to see the development in process right now. Spain is putting in lots of work and resources and you can tell how badly everyone wants to get there. Personally, I will be trying to get citizenship over the course of this next year in order to be able to play, however until I do, I’ll still be participating in the camps and helping out.”
Having just completed the process of applying for a VISA in order to live/play within Spain the coming year, Lopez has officially agreed to suit up with the Granada Grizzlies for 2020-21, where she also will assume some coaching duties.
“Everything in the past few months has moved exponentially fast,” she reflected. “During the year there I will begin the process of applying for citizenship. Getting Spanish citizenship would be a dream. I would be able to live and work in the EU and I feel as though it would connect me to my roots. In terms of hockey, I would be able to play for a national hockey team, which was always a dream of mine. I never expected to play for Canada, as quite frankly, I’m not at that level. However, being able to represent another country and playing in the World Championships or even possibly the Olympics would be a true honour.”
Now joining the Grizzlies (based in Granada, Spain) Lopez is set for a new experience – one that she knows will provide her with much opportunity to learn and grow.
“I’m very excited to live and play in Granada,” she said. “The coach, Steven Gonzalez, has been so supporting in this process. I‘ve heard a lot of good things about him from Harry and it’s been a pleasure working with him to get this transfer underway so far. I understand the team is a mix of women of all ages, with some 16-year-olds and some 40-year-olds, and I know that they also have some other foreign players as well. I am just very excited to bring a taste of Canadian hockey to them, while sharing in an exchange of knowledge and passion for the game.”