Photo by: Brenden Cowan
Brock women’s hockey captain Kaitlyn Colonna never expected to be playing competitive hockey for this long. For many young athletes, playing sports at the university level is a lifelong goal. The dedication and hard work required to reach this level is immense and for those who achieve it, the journey can be filled with challenges, triumphs and personal growth.
Colonna grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, where she first started playing hockey. She played on house league teams for the first few years of her journey before transitioning to rep hockey in grade six.
Colonna went on to play for a competitive hockey club, as well as her high school team, but that’s where she thought things would end. She never thought of continuing her career after high school until a couple of her teammates mentioned that they were having scouts come to games from different universities.
“They mentioned that they had scouts coming to watch from different universities and I thought that would be cool. So that is when I got in contact with universities and decided to extend my career to be more competitive,” explained Colonna.
“Some coaches reach out to you, other times I reached out to them. So I sent a bunch of emails out to different schools just introducing myself and I would attach my highlight tape from back then. From there the conversations would continue over email, sometimes phone calls and you would also go out on tours.”
But for Colonna, Brock was always one of her top choices: “I never had an interest in going to play in the States at all so the main schools that I was talking to were Brock, York and Western. They were all in and around Mississauga but still a decent distance away. I wanted to be able to live on my own but also have my parents and family come to watch games. They were also close enough that I could go home when I wanted. Then out of those three schools when I came to Brock I saw the campus and I kind of chose it immediately. The undergrad I was going into, kinesiology, was great. I loved the location and the team, everything just seemed like a great fit for me.”
Her first year was an adjustment. Colonna recalls being nervous in her first experiences with the team:
“I think that most first-years on any team are,” she said. “You grow up typically playing with players that are one or two years older than you and I was coming in as an 18-year-old and that year we had someone that was 26. I just came in and tried to work hard, try my best and was not really expecting any playing time at this point but throughout my time I found my place on the team.”
Although she found her footing pretty quickly it was not all good when it came to the culture of the team when she first started at the university.
“There were older players that I could look up to, however, at this time our culture was very rough and throughout my years I have worked to change that whole aspect of the team from when I started in my first year to now my seventh. The dedication to the sport just wasn’t there and I think that there were some different players that I could look up to and take parts of, but it was really hard because there were not a lot of people that loved the sport as much as the younger ones did.”
And the challenges in the room would not be the only ones that Colonna would have to face in her first few years at Brock. In the 2018-19 season, she suffered a health concern that would eventually keep her out for an entire season and de-rail not just her athletics, but also her everyday life.
“It was the end of September when it started. I got to play one exhibition game with the team and the following weekend I had a bacterial infection, an abscess behind my eye of this bacteria, so I was in and out of the hospital for a couple days. Sent home for a couple of days. Went back, had some more scans. Turns out it was worse than they thought. They rushed me to Hamilton General to have emergency surgery. So after that, I was living back home in Mississauga, so from the beginning of October for the rest of the semester. So it was a pretty serious health scare,” said Colonna.
She also spoke about how the time away affected her.
“I was taken away from the team, dropped two of my courses, so I was only taking two online courses from home. I had to see a home nurse every day. I was taken away from the life I had in St Catharines. Couldn’t play hockey, couldn’t go to school, couldn’t see my friends. So that was definitely tough mentally. Kind of had to stay positive and knew that I was gonna eventually overcome the illness and was gonna be able to be back.”
The setbacks did not stop Colonna from getting back to the team; she came back and was named captain for the 2019-20 season.
“I talked about our culture being poor in my first couple of years, last year it was the complete opposite. It was the best team culture we could’ve had. We were a family. We enjoyed being together on and off the ice. We would be together 24/7 and we all still appreciated each other’s presence.”
In fact, the culture change that Colonna helped create led to a very successful season in 2021-22 that saw them take down the undefeated Waterloo Warriors on Feb. 22, 2022, which was the eventual turning point of the season. The Warriors were undefeated in regulation. Brock on the other hand, was down three goalies, with one sitting out due to health concerns, one sitting out due to COVID-19 concerns and one having left the team earlier that year.
“We went in with the mindset of let’s stay on them, let’s be relentless and just see what happens. We ended up handing them their first loss in regulation. We beat this team that so many other teams couldn’t beat and realized that if we put in the work we are a very solid hockey program. So we did and that was definitely the turning point of the season.”
That moment would spark the team’s eventual run to the OUA Championship. They beat Guelph and Western in their first two playoff matchups, advancing them to the OUA Championship game where they defeated Nipissing 3-1 to win the McCaw cup.
“Going into playoffs, it was a single knockout because of COVID. So we went into every game believing in ourselves and believing in each other. We just know that if we went out and performed the way we could perform it was going to be, not easy, but we were going to come out with the win… and the feeling was absolutely amazing, you can’t actually describe it in words.”
After seven years at Brock as a student-athlete, Colonna reflected on her time in St. Catharines.
“If I were to give some advice to others: enjoy it. Playing hockey at Brock is definitely a privilege and should not be something that you take lightly. What I learned in my third year with the health scare and again in the COVID year was that it could be taken away from you so quickly. So what I’m going to take away from it is enjoy your experience, enjoy your time and the relationships that you build with your friends and definitely don’t take anything for granted,” she said.
Colonnna has made a massive impact on the Brock community, leading the culture change within the women’s hockey team and helping lead the way to their first provincial championship. She looks to continue impacting the community as she works with the St Catharines’ Jr. Badgers as a lead development coach. She will also return to Brock to pursue her teaching degree at the junior-intermediate level. Colonna is an amazing person with a positive outlook on life despite some of the struggles she has endured. She is a prime example that hard work and dedication to your craft will pay off in the end.
Fun Fact Questions with Kaitlyn Colonna:
Dogs or Cats – Cats
Waffles or Pancakes – Waffles
Favourite TV show – Friends
Favourite Friends character – Monica because she is the mom of her friend group
Favourite place travelled – Italy
Favourite restaurant – Somewhere she can get a nice steak
Hamburger or hotdog – Hamburger
Favourite thing to do in your downtime – Hang out with friends
Favourite animal – Fox (nickname)