In any normal hockey season, Crystal Wale would be able to go to a place like Dakota College at Bottineau and be able to come back home for weekends, or have family come down to see her play.

It is, after all, only about a five-hour drive to Bottineau.

But while being tantalizingly close to home geographically while pursuing post-secondary schooling and hockey, the 18-year-old Wale is helping to start a women’s hockey tradition at the school, which is putting a women’s team on the ice for the first time.

Last weekend was the Ladyjacks’ first-ever regular-season games with the Dakota College at Bottineau, as they play in the American Collegiate Hockey Conference Division 2. Wale had spent the last three seasons with Swift Current of the Saskatchewan female U18 AAA Hockey League.

“I wasn’t planning on playing hockey, but once the recruiter called me, I got really excited, and the expenses weren’t too much of a difference if I’d stayed in Sask and not played hockey, and I really did want to play hockey after (U-18),” Wale said.

Wale scored 16 goals and 24 assists in 86 regular-season games with Swift Current for the past three seasons.

Wale is taking nursing at the school in her class time. The Ladyjacks lost a close couple of games at North Dakota State.

“We have a lot of work to do. But the team played very well last weekend, given the limited time we’ve been together … We lost our first game 2-0 and lost the second game in overtime 4-3,” she said. “Which, honestly, I didn’t think that was that bad at all with the circumstances that we’ve only been together for a few months and these other teams have been playing together for years and practicing a lot longer than we have.”

Wale said the Ladyjacks are getting a lot closer and feels they're going to have a good season.

With the pandemic, though, it’s a bit different.

“When we go back to Canada, we have to quarantine for two weeks no matter what,” she said. “It’s pretty difficult not having my family here with me, especially not being at my first game, and not being able to come to my games no matter what. The support of my family has gotten me far and my parents are very supportive with the decisions I make. I’m hoping the borders will open up at some time.”

Games are going to be livestreamed, so they will be able to watch her, as she plays against Minot State University this weekend in non-league games.

“Our team and North Dakota State University (in Fargo) are the only teams in our league that are playing right now,” she said. “We’re just playing Minot next weekend just to get some games in and more practice, and the weekend after that we play North Dakota State University two more times.”