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Deer Lake’s Jolena Gillard enjoying life as a Panther in her quest to be her best


She never had to cook any meals. She never had to do her own laundry. She admits to being somewhat spoiled by her parents and never did without anything within reason. 

Jolena Gillard
Jolena Gillard

She will miss watching her seven-year-old brother Caleb hone his hockey skills in his first year of minor hockey in her hometown.

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Deer Lake native Jolena Gillard left all the comforts of home behind her to write the next chapter in her life as a rookie goal scorer with the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in the Atlantic University Sport varsity women’s hockey league.

“This is something I’m definitely going to do for five years. There’s no backing out of this that’s for sure,” Gillard said earlier this week of her decision to head to Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Gillard, 17-year-old daughter of Darren and Angie Gillard, is settling into her new place and getting acclimatized to a hectic grind of hockey and psychology studies as the Panthers begin a new season.

She is renting a house in Charlottetown with Kaitlin Coles, a friend from Deer Lake, and two of her new Panther teammates — Maria Clinton and Shelby Foran.

It’s different than home because she doesn’t have mom and dad around to fend for her, but she’s really enjoying getting used to a new setting with a home full of friends instead of her brothers and sisters in the room.

It’s a challenge trying to get used to getting the most out of a day with hockey and academics taking up so much of her time, but she hasn’t found it too bad really so she’s pretty excited about becoming more independent and it has given her a better appreciation of everything her family did for her before she pulled up stakes.

Gillard showed why she was the scoring champion in the provincial AAA female midget hockey league one year ago by racking up seven goals and a couple of helpers in exhibition play.

She’s loving the hockey atmosphere and loves how the team has a number of skilled players around her to help put wins on the board. It’s a place she knows will help her develop as a player.

Gillard has never hid her enthusiasm for the game or her desire to be one of the best female players in the country. She has always focused on finding her way to a Team Canada jersey and she’s still determined to make that happen.

Her mom and dad, with siblings Sarah, Caleb and Jake in tow, drove her to Prince Edward and helped get her settled in for the year.

It was an emotional moment, all hands knowing what the goodbyes were about, but Gillard said her family knows how important hockey is to her and they want to best for her so they have always been by her side to help in any way.

Her parents left her with some encouraging words before they parted ways.

“They said to work hard and focus on school because this is your dream so I should do it to the best of my ability,” she said.

She never shed any tears. She’s a tough kid.

She knows her family will be there when she gets a break from school and returns home for some of that spoiling she left behind because she had a dream to stride towards.

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