Birkby has had a great start to the 2021-22 season
The path to university hockey is not the same for every athlete, and for Katherine Birkby, it was not something that seemed realistic.
Starting her career in the small Ontario town of Ayr, Birkby is now playing her third season in the garnet and gray.
Without access to a girls hockey league, Birkby had her start playing ringette. At seven years old, Birkby played out of Cambridge before coming back to Ayr and playing with the boys. After a couple of years, a girls league formed, and Birkby was able to play in that.
“Honestly, looking back at my minor hockey career, I find it pretty crazy that I’m in the position I’m in today,” Birkby said.
Going into grade ten, Birkby was playing midget BB girls hockey out of Ayr.
“Playing university hockey wasn’t something that seemed realistic or obtainable for me at the time.”
In the next few years, Birkby’s career took some major steps. In grade eleven, she made the jump to AA for the Cambridge Roadrunners. From there, she was offered a spot on the Cambridge Rivulettes Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) team.
At this point, the thought of playing at the university level crossed her mind.
“Hockey was always a sport I strived to be the best in because I had so much love for it and it was easy to dedicate myself to it,” Birkby said. “It was just a lot of fun for me.”
Coming from a small anglophone town, Ottawa was a big change for Birkby.
Gee-Gees head coach Chelsea Grills says Birkby has excelled with the change.
“Birkby is one of these players that comes from a small town and has really excelled in the lifestyle and energy that the city Ottawa brings,” Grills said. “The players on our team come from many different areas and provinces around the country. This brings a lot of diverse experiences and roots to our program and allows our student-athletes to grow and develop themselves as individuals.”
The team’s diversity has offered Birkby a different environment.
“There’s so much diversity and you have girls coming to play from all over, it’s a completely different environment from what I’ve been used to,” she said. “The girls on the team are great and the Gee-Gees community, in general, has a lot of awesome people and amazing athletes that I’m so happy I’ve gotten to know over the years.”
“I’ve definitely made a lot of lifelong friends by being a part of this program and I’m super thankful for that.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted Birkby’s university hockey career, and she and the Gee-Gees were unable to hit the ice for competition in the 2020-2021 season.
“I found it hard at times to stay motivated, when we could practice we were on the ice everyday but without a season it didn’t feel as if I was working towards anything,” Birkby explained.
The changing restrictions throughout this point in the pandemic were not easy, but things were looking up as the Gees were able to take the ice in November of 2021.
“The pandemic just made me miss the sport more, game days especially so coming back was particularly easy and exciting for me,” Birkby said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking playing for the first time in over a year, but everyone else was in the same boat.”
In the 2021-2022 season, Birkby has contributed six points in eight games.
“Birkby has had a great start to the season. Her experience has been a key element to the growth of our program, she brings a lot of experience around collegiate hockey, which is vital when you have a young team like we do,” Grills said.
“She plays with a lot of passion, tempo, and she creates a lot of scoring opportunities.”
Birkby is now in her fourth year studying health science, and while she is getting to the tail end of her university hockey career, she is sure to stay involved with hockey somehow.
“I plan on playing another season with the Gee-Gees, taking a fifth year,” Birkby explained.
“I definitely want to stay involved with hockey after I graduate whether that be coaching or playing… Hockey’s something I don’t think I’ll ever lose passion for, so I know I’ll stay involved in some way.”