For years, the Canadian university level has been the end of the line for the careers of many women's hockey players.

Someone like Western Mustangs alumna Katelyn Gosling might have finished playing seriously had she graduated 15 years ago.

Enter the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), now in its 10th season. The world's premier stage for the women's game outside of the Olympics, the league has provided Gosling a place to continue her hockey career beyond U Sports (formerly CIS). 

Gosling plays for the Calgary Inferno, one of five teams in the CWHL. Last Saturday, she and six of her teammates took the ice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for the third annual all-star game in front of 8,122 fans. 

As a member of Team Blue, Gosling shared the ice with some of the legends of women's hockey. Her own team was captained by Canadian Olympians Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson.

The opposing Team White featured names such as as four-time Olympic gold medallist Caroline Ouellette and Marie-Philip Poulin, commonly known as the "Sidney Crosby of women's hockey" for her overtime heroics at the 2014 Sochi games. 

"You could say it's a dream come true to play in this league, to be able to play with and against some of the best players ever," Gosling said.

As a rookie, Gosling has flourished with the Inferno. This season, she has nine points as one of the team's top defencemen, staking her claim as arguably the most successful rookie to come out of U Sports. 

Adjusting to the CWHL hasn't been easy, though. Until this year, she's never been away from her hometown of London for long. Now, Gosling lives miles away on the other side of the country in Calgary. 

"You go from driving everywhere to having to fly everywhere," she said. "Moving out there was a great push for me personally. The team's great out there, the staff and support are fantastic, so I couldn't have asked for a better transition." 

Gosling was picked by Spooner and Mikkelson at the Frozen Fantasy event on Friday night, where the all-star captains selected their teams. Master of ceremonies Sami Jo Small, a pioneer in the growth of women's hockey, called Gosling's name when she was picked, saying that she's "one of the best ever" players to come from a Canadian university program. 

In her career with the Mustangs, Gosling certainly racked up the accolades to deserve that epithet. She was twice named a CIS All-Canadian and she helped lead Western to two CIS championship appearances, including the Mustangs' first-ever national title in 2015. Just days before suiting up in Toronto, Gosling returned from captaining Team Canada to a silver medal at the 2017 Universiade in Kazakhstan.

"It's been a pretty remarkable couple years for Katelyn," said Gosling's dad Brian. "It's still pretty surreal."

Seen at the CWHL All-Star game sporting his black Mustangs hockey jacket, Brian Gosling clearly has a soft spot for Western, where both Katelyn and her sister Cassidy played. He still works with the Mustangs women's team, too, as a manager. 

"He wears the jacket everywhere," joked Katelyn. 

Back in August, Gosling was the first U Sports player taken at the 2016 CWHL Entry Draft, going 10th overall to Calgary. A pair of her Mustangs teammates, Brittany Clapham and Kelly Campbell, were also drafted by the Brampton Thunder. 

In all, 25 of the 59 players drafted last summer came from a Canadian university. 

"It's definitely a different path," said Gosling about going the U Sports route. "I think it's more of a popular decision now than it used to be, you can see with some of the players that are choosing to stay in Canada, the quality of the hockey is getting better." 

U Sports has grown into a major source of talent for the CWHL. The Canadiennes de Montreal have 13 players from Quebec universities like McGill, Concordia and Montreal. Two of Gosling's Inferno teammates played at the University of Calgary. 

Players like Gosling have shown that the NCAA is no longer the only option for female hockey players looking to keep playing at a high level. 

The CWHL's success has finally given young girls in hockey a goal to aspire to. The league has grown tremendously over the years, and plans are in place to pay players in the near future. 

Nobody describes the success of women's hockey quite like Marie-Philip Poulin, a legend in her own right. 

"All the girls out there have a passion for the growth of the game," she said on Friday night. "A lot of skills, a lot of heart, I think that's what women's hockey is all about." 

Charlie is a second year student in Media, Information and Technoculture, and is a first year sports editor for Volume 110 of the Gazette. Follow him on Twitter @charliejclarke or contact him at charlie@westerngazette.ca

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