BEMIDJI, Minn. - Bob and Shirley McElhinney did all they could to keep their daughter Alana out of the crease when she started playing hockey at the age of 10. But there wasn’t much they could do to prevent her from following in her brother’s footsteps. See, Alana’s brother Curtis was a goaltender, and as much as she has always hesitated to admit it, Alana wanted to become a goalie just like her older brother.
“My parents told me I had to be a forward or defeseman for a year before I could take home the goalie equipment and I think I brought it home maybe second practice,” Alana said. “The coach called my parents and said ‘we are so glad Alana volunteered to be goalie for the rest of the season.’ I think everybody knew that I became a goalie because of Curtis even if I wouldn’t admit it.”
Since their youth in Calgary, Alberta, Alana’s brother Curtis has gone on to become an All-America selection at Colorado College which helped pave his way to a career as a goaltender in the National Hockey League where he currently plays for the Phoenix Coyotes. Curtis has also played for the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators during five seasons in the professional ranks.
“It is nice to be able to watch him and see how much work really goes in to it,” Alana said. “When he gets his chance in the limelight it is even better to see him take advantage of it. I’m glad he is doing really well and it is very cool to be able to say ‘that’s my brother out there’. I’m very proud of him.”
Alana has relied heavily on her brother to learn how to handle things on and off the ice as she has treaded her own path as the back-up goaltender for Bemidji State University the past three-and-a-half seasons.
“I have had my chance to get on the ice with Curtis but I think it is more about what he has taught me from an outside standpoint on how to handle things,” Alana said. “You can have as many coaches as you want on the ice but it is just as important how you take things off the ice. Especially for a goalie, I can mentally handle it. He has really helped me with that.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Alana, who has found herself behind three-time All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association selection Zuzana Tomcikova during her time at Bemidji State. However, Alana has become a leader on and off the ice and has earned the respect of her teammates despite not seeing the ice as much as she would like. McElhinney was selected as a team co-captain prior to the start of the 2011-12 campaign, a rarity for a goaltender, let alone a back-up goaltender.
“It was obviously a big honor to be named captain,” Alana said. “It meant a lot to me to know that I haven’t been out there every game making the headlines but that my teammates still thought I possessed those qualities necessary to be captain. I think it’s the off ice stuff that you do that matters just as much as what you do on the ice. I try to practice hard and keep the girls motivated and just do whatever I can. One of the jobs I have tried to do off the ice is work as hard as I can to push Zuzana because if I keep trying to get better it’s going to try to make her get better as well.”
In addition to the pressure of being a Division I hockey player, Alana has decided to attend law school once she is finished which has added even more responsibilities to her already full schedule.
“I’ve always had an interest in the law. I kind of inadvertently ended up dedicating the past four years to my political science degree and I kind of always knew this is what I wanted to do when I graduated. I spent last year preparing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the test you have to take to get into Law School and then the past few months have been spent filling out applications. I am just starting to hear back from some of the schools I applied to now.”
It just so happened that her date to take the LSAT’s meant missing a Bemidji State home game against No. 10 Providence College Oct. 1.
“It was the hardest thing being away from the team. The test was in Minneapolis so I listened to Kelly Schultz’s radio broadcast on the way down to the take the test, so that helped keep me in the loop.”
Alana passed her LSAT’s and is currently trying to decide where she will pursue her law school ambition. She has been admitted to several schools back home in Canada but is still awaiting the decision from other schools she applied to before she makes a final decision.
Though Alana’s hockey career probably won’t go as far as her brother’s, she has made a name for herself at Bemidji State as an outstanding leader, student and one of the best back-up goaltenders in the country. So it is probably a good thing Alana defied her parents oh so many years ago and decided to try to emulate her brother as a netminder. The coaches and fans at Bemidji State are definitely thankful.