Feature Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Action Photo By Xavier Bonner
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of sports and Canada?
Chances are, you just said ice hockey or any number of professional hockey players who hail from America’s northern brethren. However, what if I told you that Canada is far more than hockey or any number of winter sports for that matter. The country is a melting pot for athletics with basketball, baseball and many other sports gaining popularity. Another one of those sports is soccer. When you think of soccer and Canada, the two are an antithesis of one another. It is cold in Canada, so why play a game outside?
However, young Canadian athletes still do. Sophomore midfielder Danielle Algera is one of those athletes and she has thrived in one of Canada’s most unlikely of games. Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Algera saw Canadian soccer as not the country’s most popular game. However, young kids are encouraged to play the sport (and all sports) thanks to community implemented programs.
“I wouldn’t want to say it’s popular. I feel like it’s really popular when we’re younger, we have this Timbits thing and it’s really popular then. I even noticed when I was growing up through age 13 to 18, people just kept dropping out and dropping out. My team was super small by the time I got to 18 and it’s really not as popular. That’s why when I was looking for universities, I didn’t want to be in Canada,” Algera said. “It’s not a crazy popular sport, but it’s decent. Everyone really likes the winter sports because you can train those more of the year. So hockey and ringette and I know so many people from my high school that love snowboarding. I went to a small high school, there were 200 of us, but only a handful of kids actually played soccer seriously.”
If you were to Google “Timbits” as Algera describes, the result you will find is the Canadian version of a donut hole, popularized by Canadian giant Tim Hortons. However, the cafe and bake shop chain also sponsors youth sports programs, also called “Timbits”. These programs are for young kids ages four to eight and places emphasis on learning various sports and building friendships.
Despite the valiant efforts of Tim Hortons, soccer still remains relatively unpopular throughout the country, as Algera indicates. The logic seems simple enough, why train for soccer, a sport that only gets outside in the spring and summer when you can train year-round for hockey? Yet, that did not deter Algera from thriving in the game. The lack of popularity in Canada also gave her the motivation to look to America for her collegiate career. “I did actually want to come to the States because the level is higher and it is a little better,” she said.
That was when she discovered a school not so far from her hometown of Winnipeg when head coach Mark Cook and North Dakota State came calling. As soon as Algera took a visit to North Dakota State, she knew it was the place for her. “I just loved the campus so much. Even comparing it to our popular schools in Winnipeg, it takes a half hour to walk from one side to the other. I loved that you can be 10 minutes away from everything. Even just the sports centers and comparing those to other schools, I know at South Dakota or Minnesota you have to drive to your practices,” she said. “That just wasn’t nice or convenient and I love the campus. When I visited I loved the team and everything. I’m an introvert and just kind of a shy person and they made me feel so welcome and I really loved that. The environment has allowed me to grow into a different person.”
Part of that comfortability came full circle for Algera once she joined the Bison for the 2017 season. North Dakota State has a host of Canadian players on their roster. That fact made the transition much easier for Algera. Heading into the 2019 soccer season, the Bison roster will feature seven Canadian players. “It does help just because our American teammates like to poke fun at us about how different we are, so it’s kind of nice to have a couple of people. Just the words we say, like I say ‘pencil crayons’ instead of ‘colored pencil’ and it’s just small things like that where it’s just nice to have other Canadians around so I don’t feel out of place,” she said. “So it was a lot nicer and there is one other girl from Winnipeg and I hadn’t met her before and I came here and met her. So even just carpooling and stuff is super nice. Just the feeling that there is someone who gets you a little bit more than maybe an American would.”
As for her performance on the pitch, Algera was a revelation for Cook and the Bison in her freshman season. She led the Bison with four assists and had one goal on the year. Algera was also named to the Summit League All-Freshman Team thanks to her performance in the 2017 season.
Over the course of that offseason, the soccer program saw transition as Cook, the coach who recruited Algera, resigned. Mike Regan has since taken the helm of the team and has made an immediate impact on his players, Algera included. “Our practices are totally different and he just wants more energy and it gets you more excited to play. He is a coach you definitely want to play for and I think that is such a big aspect in a coach. You have to want to play for a coach and he gets you excited about our practices and games,” she said of Regan. “Also, his relationship with you, he is not only invested in your athletic life, but you’re personal life and he genuinely wants to know how you’re doing. That makes it so much easier to play the sport.”
In her sophomore season, the program’s first under Regan, Algera played and started in 15 of NDSU’s 16 matches. Though she did not record a goal or an assist, she was able to put 11 shots on goal. While some may look at those stats and wonder what happened, Algera, her teammates and her coaches know it’s not necessarily her job to stuff the stat sheet. Although, she would like to score some goals come her junior year. “I would like to score some goals this year, I didn’t get any last year,” Algera said, laughing. “I’ve been told that I play a thankless position, I’m almost like a fifth defender so I didn’t really get those opportunities to do that. I played a lot of minutes and I do love my position, but I would like to score, that’d be nice.”
Algera did indeed play a lot of minutes for Mike Regan in 2018, logging 1,334 minutes on the pitch. She is sure to play a similar amount of minutes (or even more) come the fall. Because of that, she wants to become more of a vocal leader on the field. Especially after the Bison graduated five seniors this past season. “Having more of a voice on the field because a lot of players are looking towards my position. I’ve been playing the past two years and a lot of the midfielders coming in have not played at all,” she said. “So telling them what to do and being confident in myself and confident that I do actually know what I’m doing and that they can trust me to tell them what to do.”
Regan will field a very young team in 2019. The five seniors who graduated after last year played over 7,000 minutes combined last year. While North Dakota State welcomes back some key players, including Algera, it will be a new look roster come fall 2019. For Algera and the team, she knows that it is vital for people to step up this offseason if the team wants to succeed this coming year.
“Even though we only lost five seniors, I feel like our whole team dynamic has totally changed. When I go to practice, it feels like an entirely different team. I really think the biggest thing for us is that a lot of people need to start stepping up and becoming leaders because a lot of the players who are coming back haven’t gotten a lot of minutes,” she said. “People and myself included just need to start stepping up and becoming leaders and not waiting for someone else to do their job. We’ve been talking about that at practice, there is no room to hide anymore. We just need to come together and I think people just need to step up and grow more.”
Danielle Algera and Bison soccer know what needs to be done to succeed come 2019. However, the fact that Algera is even playing for North Dakota State is remarkable. Coming from a country that does not see soccer as a popular sport, she still thrived and was noticed by American coaches.
From Timbits to North Dakota State University, Danielle Algera has continued to succeed in an unlikely Canadian sport. Only a sophomore, the future only looks bright for the Winnipeg native.