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Photos: Coquitlam world champion credits success to grassroots girls hockey programs

What's next for Jordan Baxter, who was honoured for her back-to-back gold medals with photo-ops, autographs and even federal recognition.

What if the Tri-Cities didn't have its own dedicated female ice hockey association?

Who knows if Jordan Baxter would've been able to accomplish all that she has up until this point in her young career. 

Would there be two gold medals with Canada's national under-18 women's team? A captaincy with a top-tier female prep school program? A scholarship to play NCAA hockey this fall?

Baxter said the Tri-City Predators female hockey program has been the catalyst for her considerable accomplishments on the ice. Tuesday (Jan. 24) she had the opportunity to talk about her latest conquest at an official "homecoming" event after she helped Canada's national U18 team win gold at the recent world championships in Sweden.

Dozens of family, friends and supporters were at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex to congratulate Baxter, see her her world-champion hardware, maybe even try it on, and ask questions about her hockey journey. Many in attendance were young girls wearing the very same Predators colours she wore when she started playing hockey.

"Growing up with girls and being in the program with girls all through my years really helped me connect, make better friendships and find that love for my game," Baxter told the Tri-City News.

"I would credit [my success] mostly to the friendships and connections I made."

Baxter was able to put smiles on those young athletes' faces as she answered questions about obtaining the skills to be successful on and off the ice. She also posed for photos and signed autographs.

Baxter was even presented with a federal "congratulatory certificate" from Port Moody—Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo for her inspirational example for the community.

Baxter's second world championship came just seven months after she'd won her first, in Wisconsin, after COVID-19 public health restrictions wreaked havoc with the international hockey schedule.

Baxter said the championship may open many more doors as she continues to pursue her dream of representing Canada at the Olympics.

But for that, she'll have to make the leap to the senior national women's roster, a tall order for a 17-year-old.

Currently the senior squad's youngest players are 21 years old; that's how old Baxter will be when the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics take place in Italy.

She said she believes now is the time for officials to organize a women's equivalent of the under-20 world junior hockey championship to showcase the talent that's up-and-coming in Canada and around the world.

"I think, considering the world juniors for men is probably the biggest tournament that they [the IIHF] have, it would be a really good idea for females to do that," Baxter said.

"There is an under-22 team, but they do not get to go to a world championship. They have a camp in the summer and they play an exhibition game against the Olympic team, but that's about it."

In the meantime, Baxter said she's looking forward to growing her game at North America's highest level of collegiate sports.

She heads to Ohio State University this fall to play NCAA Div. I women's hockey. The Buckeyes are the reigning national champions and the team's roster includes Port Moody's Jenna Buglioni.

Baxter said her experience with Canada will play a big part in helping her transition to the university game.

"Just coming together as a team with people from across the country, obviously, at a really high talent, sets me up for Ohio next year because I'll be entering the school with a lot of different players I haven't played with before."

As of this publication (Jan. 25), Baxter has recorded 18 goals and 31 points in 18 games as captain of the Delta Hockey Academy's under-18 female prep squad in the Canadian Sport School league (CSSHL).

During her two international stints with Canada, she totalled four points in 11 games.

Baxter will also represent B.C. on the provincial women's hockey team at the 2023 Canada Winter Games from Feb. 18 to March 5.

The homecoming event Tuesday was organized by The Gamar Foundation and its Let Her Lead initiative, which showcases women in "positions of power and influence," as well as the Tri-Cities Predators and Coquitlam Express.