For as long as Marissa “Mullsy” McMullan can remember, she always wanted to play professional hockey.
From the time she was two years-old in her hometown of Haileybury, Ont., her father would make an ice rink in their yard for her and her younger brother, Tristan, to play the game.
“As soon as it snowed, my dad would take out the Ski-Doo out and start driving it back and forth on the front yard to pack it down,” McMullan said.
“And then he would go walk it to get rid of the Ski-Doo tracks, then he’d start flooding it, and within two weeks we'd have a nice flat rink.”
Her father would hang flood lights from the trees to shine onto the rink so they could play every night and through the weekends.
“We had to hang a tarp up so we didn’t hit the neighbours house,” she said, laughing about how she would dress up her younger brother as goalie and take shots at him.
Fast forward to today, McMullan is representing Team Canada on the international stage at the World Ball Hockey Federation Championships in Moscow, Russia.
The ball drops on June 12.
It's been a dream of hers since moving to the Niagara region, when she first discovered the game.
“It’s exhilarating, you run as hard as you can, and you shoot the ball – it’s way harder than ice hockey.”
Growing up, her dad would drive her two hours south to North Bay to play ice hockey.
By the time she was about to start Grade 10, McMullan moved away from her family to live with her uncle in Brampton to play competitively at the midget level for the Brampton Canadettes.
“I wanted to go somewhere,” she said, explaining that her high school in Haileybury didn't have a hockey team.
“The goal was to make it to university hockey, because nobody would recruit up there … nobody would come see you.”
In her last two years of high school in Brampton, McMullan played for the Mississauga Junior Chiefs hockey team of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) and was recruited to Buffalo State College where she played four years while studying a Bachelor of Science in health and wellness.
“I went to university to play hockey, not for the school,” she said.
“It was time consuming, a full-time job on top of being a student.”
During college, McMullan practiced two hours on the ice four days a week that was followed by weight training and extra conditioning and stick work. Two game nights were scheduled on weekends with only one day off.
“It’s five hours essentially, every single day,” she said.
When she graduated, McMullan got drafted to the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), but chose instead to attend Canisius College in Buffalo, where she pursued a Master of Science in health and human performance.
“They didn't have hockey and I aged out,” she said, not knowing she would be representing Canada in years to come for ball hockey.
“I looked to my future for once and thought it would be better for my career.”
After graduating with her masters, McMullan moved to Niagara Falls and is now a certified personal trainer for Niagara Fitness and Rehabilitation.
But her love for hockey didn’t stop.
She continued playing, this time senior AA competitive ice hockey for the St. Catharines Jets of the Golden Horeshoe Women’s Hockey League (GHWL), a professional league that extends around southern Ontario at the highest level under the CWHL.
Looking for a way to keep up with the sport during the summer months, McMullan gave ball hockey a try because of its popularity and her teammates who had been suggesting it to her.
“When I started, I didn’t take it very seriously, it was a good way for forced exercise,” she said.
“I had the hardest time transitioning from running with the ball, from skating with a puck — it's so light, and you have to keep your feet moving or you just wipe out … you have to use your own momentum to get you going.”
McMullan soon found herself a tryout with the women's national ball hockey team after one of her ice hockey teammates who plays for Team Canada thought she would make a good fit.
“One of their players was injured so there was an open spot, I got a tryout and made the team,” she said.
Team Canada was preparing for the world championships in Pittsburgh at the time in 2015 and McMullan was determined to make the team.
“It was a regular practice for everyone else, I wanted to stand out, so I came in with a good attitude and hard work,” she said.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to Pittsburgh and I’m going to play there.’”
A defence-first playmaker, McMullan is known for her “speed, grit, and shot blocking,” she said. She plays left wing.
McMullan has won the world championships with Team Canada every tournament she has played for them, including the 2015 tournament in Pittsburgh, U.S., and the 2017 tournament in Litomerice, Czech Republic, in which she was awarded most valuable player in the gold-medal game.
“The girls are unbelievably good,” she said of both her team and their competitors.
“At the Czech tournament, all their (competitors) girls were Olympic ice hockey players — they're huge and skilled, so we just out-worked them.”
“Every game is a fight,” she said, noting you “can't take a shift off” at the international level.
“To be the best you have to beat the best.”
McMullan hopes to take home the trophy for a third time this year.
The 2018 World Ball Hockey Federation Championships run from June 12 to 17 in Moscow, Russia.