When we first got in touch with Outlook native, and current goaltender for the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation Samantha Ridgewell, West Central Online was looking to feature her as part of our slate of stories for International Women’s Day. The timeline didn’t work out to get that story in time, and then when we got in contact the second time, she was back home in west central helping out students at her alma mater of LCBI just outside of Outlook, as well as a bit of goalie coaching on the side.

After months of nothing but a loose plan to speak with Ridgewell, it took a shout-out from Premier Scott Moe to get the newly re-signed goaltender back in our news cycle.

She was given the special congratulations while home for the off-season, and made time for our phone call during her busy week as the public relations/recruiter for LCBI High School. Ridgewell’s mother is the principal at the school, and LCBI has always been a big part of her life as she was a student there until needing to move away for hockey out of necessity.

The transition out of Outlook was just the first of many moves in Ridgewell’s hockey journey as she attended her Grade 12 year at Notre Dame to pursue hockey, sparking a four year collegiate career at Merrimack College near Boston playing some high level hockey. That time in net spent developing her game led to a professional opportunity in Sweden, with that turning into her stint back in North America with the Toronto Six.

Looking at the past year for Ridgewell, it included making her debut in the Lake Placid bubble that would unfortunately end up compromised, and some playoff minutes as her team was upset in the playoffs that were put on in continuation of the bubble just a few months after. Fast forward to this season following her new contract with the Six, and she has made nine appearances with two being starts, to the tune of a 0-1-1 record and a .905 SV%, and 3.64 GAA. Toronto’s staff committed to giving Ridgewell her opportunity, as the team sits in first place, and she saw time in relief in every win, and unfortunately her two games started resulted in the teams only two losses so far this season.

She was enticed to come back home in part due to familiarity, but also because of the uncertainty of the COVID situation across the world. As seen in her stats above, her single year playing in the SDHL should have been enough to warrant an extension of her time in Europe if desired, but COVID is ultimately what brought her back to North America where she seems to have rooted herself once again.

Ridgewell was eager to talk about her time in Sweden, as it was initially her friends and family, as well as a few of the Europeans on her Merrimack team that convinced her to leave the continent and go pro.

"I was talking with a (North American) team at the time, but everyone from my friends and family group said ‘why wouldn’t you travel, and see Europe, and get to play in Sweden’,” recalled Ridgewell, who has her teammates in college to thank for even opening her eyes to the opportunity, “The only reason I really knew about it was because we had two Europeans on our Merrimack team, who guided us in the right direction to reach out to those teams and find where the good hockey is.”

Ridgewell was looking to play and experience a high level of hockey, and she got that full experience and more playing in the hockey crazed Scandinavian state. Her club at the time, Djurgården, is a well respected team that made a decent run during Ridgewell’s only year. Her decision did put her behind one of the leagues most talented net-minders, but she was able to secure some playing time.

“You have to weigh the pros and cons of everything, and you also have to check and see what they have for goalies,” said Ridgewell, who knew she was taking a risk with the move to Sweden, “They had their veteran goalie who had played there seven years, so I went in knowing I might not get to play, but that it would be a great experience and I would learn lots.”

Ridgewell took in lots from her goalie coaches, and the senior goaltender herself during her time with Djurgården. Unfortunately the starter went down with an injury, but Ridgewell was able to step in and get her chance to eventually finish the season with a 14-6-0 record, and five playoff appearances as the team could not get past a tough match-up that went down to the final game of the series. Without knowing it the loss would soon enough put an end to her time in Sweden, though she didn’t miss any hockey, but just a few extra weeks of travelling.

Sam Ridgewell Sweden Jim Stankiewicz/Merrimack College AthleticsPhoto via Jim Stankiewicz/Merrimack College Athletics

For anyone who knows womens’ hockey, the game is growing in North America, but it’s most talented and competitive leagues are certainly in Sweden. A recent announcement by the PHF should lead to more lucrative paydays as well as opportunities for the equally as talented players. When Ridgewell made her decision it wasn’t to chase the upcoming league, or the possibility of its expansion, but more so because Canada seemed to be the more “open” option at the time when it came to actually playing hockey.

If that was truly her motivation, well, she was wrong.

“It was tough at the time. Europe was really bad, and Canada was starting to open up. I thought for sure Canada would get to have a season, and it ended up being vice-versa as Sweden ended up getting to play most of their season normal last year,” explained Ridgewell, “We ended up having to do a lot of eight person practices, and struggling through it until they found a way to make a bubble happen for us.”

The benefit far outweighed the risk of potentially being trapped in Europe with the threat of an outbreak, as the pandemic certainly played a big role in Ridgewell’s ultimate decision.

“Toronto did seem like a safer travel option as well.”

With the league looking to capitalize on the buzz that usually surrounds their sport following its main event at the Winter Olympics, the announcement earlier in the week that a commitment from the PHF Board of Governors for an investment of over $25 million, and also plans to increase the leagues salary cap over time were coming, along with a pair of expansion teams is more than tremendous news. The leagues main issue has been finding its footing among other professional leagues, but this move along with the increased exposure of games through TV and streaming platforms should prove critical.

According to it’s current website, the former National Womens Hockey League announced its name change and introduced a new logo on September 7, 2021, as “PHF”, or the Premier Hockey Federation, re-defines the brand based on the skill and talent of its athletes as opposed to their gender. That step taken is just another one of the critical decisions made over the past few years to market the women's game that struggled to have a home. The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association was created as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of professional women's ice hockey, and represented a look into what we could do to get some of most talented women to play in North America.

Perhaps she will return one day, but Ridgewell actually just recently departed the PHF for another opportunity in Sweden.

Special events upcoming to help promote the women's game aside from the Beijing Olympics, actually sees the Toronto Six in the spotlight. She won't be the starter following her move back to Sweden, but it will be Ridgewell’s former squad taking on the Buffalo Beauts from “Riverworks”, an outdoor spot in Buffalo that is no stranger to high level hockey.

Expect a full follow up with Ridgewell as soon as she settles back into Sweden.