Thursday, 26 September 2013

New logo signifies new beginnings as CWHL gears up for 2013-14 season

With the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames having provided assistance to the CWHL, it was only fitting that the both franchises entered the season with a new outlook. While Calgary has undergone a complete and total makeover, the new look signifies what should be a new era of hockey.

For a team that is looking to return to the Clarkson Cup finals for the first time since 2011, the support of the Maple Leafs shows that the team has a future. Despite the absence of Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston, Jennifer Wakefield and captain Tessa Bonhomme at Canada’s Centralization Camp (in anticipation of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games), the new logo sets the tone for the new faces and new hope arriving for the blue and white.

Selecting Katie Wilson second overall in the 2013 CWHL Draft should inject a winning attitude for the blue and white as she comes into training camp with an NCAA Frozen Four title. In addition, Wilson already helped make CWHL history. With her Minnesota-Duluth teammate Jessica Wong selected first overall by Calgary, it marks the first team that two NCAA teammates went first and second in the CWHL Draft.

Although players like Spooner and Wakefield are impossible to replace, there are some other worthwhile picks that should help ease their loss. Holly-Carrie Mattimoe was consistently a top scorer with the Syracuse Orange program.

Defender Sasha Nanji becomes the first person of East Indian heritage selected in CWHL Draft history. Her ability on the offensive side of the game should also help ease the loss of Bonhomme. Jessica Vella, who played at the NCAA level with the Providence Friars was the first player to declare for the CWHL Draft.

Another Furies draft pick with a unique backgrounds helps to define the spirit of the new-look Furies. Alyssa Baldin was the only CWHL Draft pick that had played at both the CIS and NCAA level. After the Wayne State Warriors program folded, she returned to Canada and finished her career with the Windsor Lancers.

Across the country, the Calgary Inferno are also looking to begin a bold new era. Their first two seasons in existence resulted in last place finished. Donning beautiful blue and gold jerseys, they were simply known as the Alberta Hockey Club.

While the blue and gold had shown great signs of improvement in their second season, the franchise wanted to make a bold statement. With the possibility of parity becoming the theme of the 2013-14 CWHL season, an ambitious Alberta franchise needed to build some momentum.

The first piece of the puzzle came with the selection of Jessica Wong as the top pick in the 2013 CWHL Draft. Although her career shall be eternally defined for having scored the most famous in NCAA Frozen Four history, a triple overtime tally against Cornell’s Amanda Mazzotta, there is much more depth.

A coachable player who served as team captain with the UMD Bulldogs, she brings great versatility. Having competed at both forward and defense, she will prove to be a great asset for a franchise facing the loss of its top three defenders to Canada’s centralization camp. 

She will be joined by several other new faces that are hoping to bring the franchise its first berth in the Clarkson Cup playoffs. Goaltender Delayne Brian helped Canada win the gold medal at the World Ball Hockey Championships in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

One of her teammates on the Canadian contingent, Jessica O’Grady is also a new member of the team. Having played her university hockey with the Carleton Ravens, O’Grady once scored three goals in a shootout. Fans are hoping she can provide that impressive scoring punch at the CWHL level.

Defender Peggy Wakeham, the only Newfoundlander selected in the draft comes to the squad with unique credentials. She played for current coach Tim Bothwell when he was bench boss with the NCAA’s Vermont Catamounts. Familiar with his coaching style, she should be an anchor for a defense that is quickly emerging as the finest in the league.

Of note, some toughness was also part of the equation in the draft plan. A pair of women’s football players from the Western Women’s Canadian Football League was nabbed in the draft. Georgia Moore, a competitor with the Okotoks Lady Outlawz and Julie Paetsch, a three-time WWCFL champ with the Saskatoon Valkyries are looking to extend their hockey careers in the CWHL.

There is also an added intrigue to both players. Moore was born in Australia, making her the first Aussie ever selected in the CWHL Draft. Paetsch and fellow draft pick Julie Stone played together with the Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team. With CWHL veteran Chelsea Purcell a Huskies alumnae, it should provide remarkable chemistry for the budding franchise.

The coming out party for the franchise came on September 23, 2013. Prior to the Calgary Flames vs. New York Rangers exhibition tilt, defenders and franchise players Kelsey Webster, Meaghan Mikkelson, Jocelyne Larocque and Tara Watchorn came to center ice for the ceremonial face–off.

Although these four remarkable players are highly deserving of the big league recognition, their jerseys were the star of this event. Donning the brand new Calgary Inferno jerseys, one could see the pride bursting from the players faces.

Paying homage to the Calgary Flames, the Inferno adopted their red, white, yellow and black colors for the new jersey along with their unique striping pattern. With other teammates in attendance, the brand new uniforms provide an injection of confidence and a significant boost to the morale of this third year franchise.

While both franchises are looking to be in the upper echelon of the league like Boston and Montreal in recent years, the offseason has displayed that the right steps are being taken. Under strong leadership, a winning and exciting era for women’s hockey in both cities should reach its golden age very soon. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Women’s hockey players also deserving of postage stamp treatment

With Canada Post having released a series of NHL stamps for 2013, women’s hockey fans are left to wonder when will the hockey heroines be subject to the stamp treatment? As the sport has grown by a quantum leap since the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, there are many women from the game who are more than worthy of their own opportunity to be immortalized.

From the outset, Canada Post could certainly recognize the women that are part of the Hockey Hall of Fame and IIHF Hall of Fame. Angela James, Geraldine Heaney and Danielle Goyette (only in the IIHF Hall) were part of the sport's rebirth and established themselves as world class superstars.

In addition, Cassie Campbell, the first female recipient of the Order of Hockey in Canada would be a suitable choice as well. The first modern day superstar in the sport, Campbell captured the hearts and minds of young female fans a generation ago. 

After the successful 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, a great opportunity to feature various medal winning athletes on stamps (such as gold medal goal scoring hero Marie-Philip Poulin) was squandered. Considering it was the first Olympics on Canadian soil in this century, such a project would have been a highly fitting tribute.

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Despite the fact that Canada Post has never featured a women’s hockey player on a stamp, there are certainly three upcoming milestones which provide them an opportunity. The year 2014 shall mark the centennial of Hockey Canada. Although a stamp with the governing body’s logo would seem all too obvious, it would be a unique opportunity for Canada Post to capitalize on the emotion of the anniversary with a series of stamps recognizing some of the great hockey heroes. 

Another anniversary that will present the chance to feature women’s hockey heroes on stamps would present itself in 2017. Celebrating the sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) of Canada, the chance to recognize some of Canada’s greatest citizens on stamps is an ideal concept. Said concept could include the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, another hockey heroine who has transcended generations.

Lastly, the year 2018 shall mark the tenth anniversary of the Clarkson Cup. Quite possibly Adrienne Clarkson’s greatest contribution to Canadiana, it is one of the most prestigious sporting trophies in women’s sport. While it is recognized as the Stanley Cup of women’s hockey, a stamp honoring its decade long existence would bring a remarkable awareness to it.   
Back in 2000, Canada Post had a series of six postage stamps featuring the greatest hockey players of the past century including Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. The popularity of the series prompted Canada Post to create five more series, ending in 2005. For 2018, a series of six stamps recognizing some of the greatest women to have competed in ice hockey at the Winter Games would be a fitting tribute.

Of note, 2018 also plays host to the tenth anniversary of the Clarkson Cup. Quite possibly Adrienne Clarkson’s greatest contribution to Canadiana, it is one of the most prestigious sporting trophies in women’s sport. While it is recognized as the Stanley Cup of women’s hockey, a stamp honoring its decade long existence would bring a remarkable awareness to it.    

Far too neglected, women’s hockey has made a significant impact in Canada’s sporting and cultural landscape. One of the fastest growing sports of the last 25 years, the greatest legacy of women’s hockey may have been the doors it opened for girls to participate in sport.

While the NHL continues to be part of the larger sporting conversation among hockey fans, the upcoming anniversaries provide Canada Post with an opportunity to level the playing field. Although calling it a moral obligation would be strong, there is a responsibility to recognize Canadiana and its changing influence.

NOTE: These stamp designs are not recommended or endorsed by Canada Post Corporation

Photo credits: Natalie Spooner (Hockey Canada Images), Montreal Stars (Brandon Taylor), Livestrong Jerseys press conference (Nike/AP Photo), Charline Labonte (Obtained from Flickr: and Meaghan Mikkelson (Dave Holland)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Expect Ann-Sophie Bettez to emerge as face of CWHL in upcoming 2013-14 season

With the upcoming CWHL season facing a shortage of stars due to the impact of the Sochi Winter Games, a new player will have to assume the mantle of being the face of the CWHL for the 2013-14 CWHL season. If any player is able to rise to the occasion and make her mark on the game, it is the amazing Ann-Sophie Bettez.

Selected tenth overall in the historic 2012 CWHL Draft, she was part of a Stars draft class that included All-World goalie Charlie Labonte, Frozen Four champion Carolyne Prevost and CIS all-time leading scorer Marieve Provost.

Last season, Bettez led all CWHL rookies in scoring with 33 points, while ranking second overall among all players (13 points behind scoring leader Meghan Agosta). In addition, her 17 goals tied Hilary Knight as the league leader among CWHL skaters. Selected as the 2013 CWHL Rookie of the Year, she would help the Montreal Stars qualify for the championship game of the Clarkson Cup.

During the previous season, Tessa Bonhomme had emerged as the face of the league. Appearing on the cover of The Hockey News and having recently earned an endorsement with McDonald’s, she became the most marketable star in women’s hockey.

As Bonhomme is among more than 20 competitors from the CWHL competing at their respective countries Centralization Camps, CWHL rinks will be looking for new hockey heroes this winter. Although many women’s hockey fans could argue that Bettez should have been at the Hockey Canada Centralization Camp for Sochi, her talent and scoring touch make her next in line to be the league’s premier superstar.

(Left to right: Meghan Agosta, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Carolyne Prevost during the 2012-13 CWHL season. Photo credit: Agence QMI)

With her winning smile and friendly demeanor, she is likely to emerge as one of the fan favorites this season. Hard-working and dedicated, she is one of the most successful women’s hockey players to come from Quebec in the last decade. Having helped the Canadian Under-22/Development Team win the MLP Cup, along with a stint on the senior women’s team, she would end her storied McGill career by claiming the 2012 BLG Award.

Despite the fact that the Stars roster has been decimated by the loss of nine players to centralization, including offensive stars Meghan Agosta-Marciano and Caroline Ouellette, they remain the most talented team in the CWHL. Bettez will anchor an offense that still features Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson, Noemie Marin, (Dangerous) Dominique Thibault and Sarah Vaillancourt. 

The drafting of players such as Fannie Desforges and Camille Dumais helps to add depth to a high-powered offense. By season’s end, it should come as no surprise if Bettez emerges as the league’s scoring champion and the recipient of the Angela James Bowl. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Amanda Mazzotta extends glorious career in coaching role with Western Mustangs

Photo credit by Jim Rosvold

The winningest goaltender in Cornell Big Red history, Amanda Mazzotta is returning to hockey. Sharing her expertise as a coach, she shall embark a new chapter in her storied career.

She first rose to prominence in 2007 when she was named Top Goaltender at the Canadian Under-18 Nationals. With the famed Team Ontario Red program, she led the club to a golden finish. The following year, she found herself as a member of the Canadian contingent that participated in the first-ever IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Hockey Championships.

Despite winning a silver medal, the event would mark the beginning of a remarkable run that saw her eventually graduate from Ivy League Cornell as the program’s all-time wins leader.

A member of the Red Key Athlete Honor Society at Cornell, Mazzotta would have her best season in 2009-10. Having compiled a remarkable 21-8-6 record, she led the Big Red to the championship game of the Frozen Four. In one of the most classic games in women’s hockey history, Mazzotta made a game-best 61 saves in a triple overtime loss.

Selected in the historic 2012 CWHL Draft by the Brampton Thunder after her Cornell career reached its climax, Mazzotta never had the opportunity to compete for the squad. While the club had returning goalie Liz Knox (the first rookie goalie to start a Clarkson Cup championship game), Florence Schelling (who helped Switzerland win a bronze at the 2012 IIHF Worlds) was loaned to the Thunder. Unfortunately, Mazzotta was not part of the roster and fans were cheated out of seeing a superlative goaltender.

Enrolling at the University of Western Ontario in autumn 2012, Mazzotta is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, with a specialty in Coaching. While there is an element of classroom studies, Mazzotta will gain some practical experience this season.

As the newest member of Chris Higgins coaching staff with the Mustangs women’s hockey team, Mazzotta is joining a team that has a solid 2012-13 record of 23 wins and 10 losses (complemented by a sparkling 13-3 road record). Of greater benefit to the Mustangs is that she spent part of her summer participating in Hockey Canada’s National Women’s Program Goaltending Camp.

Serving as the group leader of the eight Under-18 goalies in attendance, Mazzotta had the opportunity to work with the likes of Hannah Baker, who led the Whitby Wolves to the PWHL championship in 2013, Kassidy Sauve, the first girl to play in the OHL Cup and Taylor Crosby, younger sister of Sidney Crosby.
Mazzotta’s acumen and leadership will be essential to a club that had a breakthrough in the 2013 OUA Playoffs. After eliminating the famed Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks in the OUA Semis, the Mustangs competed against the Queen’s Golden Gaels in the conference finals.

Led by the dynamic duo of sensation sisters Cassidy and Katelyn Gosling (like Mazzotta, they both played for the London Devilettes), the upcoming season promises to build on the momentum from the prior. Brittany Clapham is a tough defensive forward while Stacey Scott ranked fifth in the OUA in goals scored.

Of the three goalies on the Mustangs roster, all should see their game improve and their skills sharpened under the tutelage of Mazzotta. Olivia Ross is the veteran, as she enters her fourth season.
Kelly Campbell will be competing in her third season, while sophomore Katie Jacobs, another Devilettes alumnus, is the youngest. Campbell was the top goaltender this past season, as she posted a 15-6 mark, a .942 save percentage and the sixth best goals against average in the OUA with a 2.01 number. Hailing from St. Thomas, Ontario, Campbell will likely earn the starting nod this season.

As the OUA conference is the most competitive in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey, it will be another uphill climb for the Mustangs to return to the OUA championship finals. Elite teams such as Guelph, Laurier, Queen’s and Toronto will all be looking to make a statement in the championship picture.

Regardless of the outcome, one assurance for the Mustangs is that the presence of Mazzotta will ensure a very strong performance between the pipes. Adding another valuable piece to the Mustangs ambitious championship puzzle, it is great to see Mazzotta back in the game. 

Hockey heroines Duhamel and Lipscombe give humanitarian assist with cleanup of High River

While the aftermath of the damage will results in years of healing and adjustment, two members of the courageous crew had links to the CWHL. Mandi Duhamel, a former member of the now-defunct Ottawa Lady Senators franchise is currently the Manager of Female Hockey Development for Hockey Canada. Although Duhamel has been a resident of Calgary for less than a year, the outpouring of support and friendship in the community has made an impression,

“Those also who have volunteered countless hours since the event have had an incredible effect. Though I am new to the city, I have quickly gained an appreciation for it and the people within. I had not been to High River prior to our volunteer day but you could easily see the affects the flooding had on this community. ”

In addition, Kristen Lipscombe, a former player with the Laurier Golden Hawks is a member of Hockey Canada’s Communications department. She is also pulling double duty with the CWHL as a member of the editorial staff. Having volunteered for many causes such as Oxfam, she was moved to take part in the clean-up.

“Starting the day at Highwood Golf & Country Club was a labour intensive, tiring experience, but then you look up and see the employees of the golf course and other volunteers that have been there day in and day out since the flood, for hours each day, working on the course that they refer to as a “pivotal part of the community” and it really makes you think, I’ve only been doing this for an hour, they’ve been doing this for weeks,” noted Duhamel.

Armed with rubber boots, face masks and gloves, Duhamel and Lipscombe were among the thousands of volunteers during July 2013 that assisted in the cleanup.  After the Highwood River burst its banks, homes in the vicinity became mud-caked and damaged beyond repair as hundreds of millions of litres of water covered the landscape. On June 20, a state of emergency was declared in High River, and residents were forced to evacuate.

The initiative towards organizing the clean-up was actually spearheaded by a former Hockey Canada employee. Duhamel explains how the humanitarian gesture took shape,

“The former Manager of Female Development, Trina Radcliffe, and her new company Deliver Good, (a company that builds efficiencies into the charitable giving process by connecting charities and non-profits who need stuff with people and companies who have stuff, have been organizing volunteer days for local companies for the past few weeks.

Just like Hockey Canada they have organized the employees of various companies in Calgary to gather together and volunteer a full day in High River. It is very honourable the amount of time and effort the employees of Deliver Good have dedicated to the cause, and the amount of people they have given the opportunity to help out.” 

Upon entering the first house, it was an eye opening moment for Lipscombe. Watching the aftermath of a natural disaster eradicate a family’s history was an engulfing occurrence.

“When my group walked into the first home that we helped, we were in a basement full of muck that had been left behind by the flood, with thick layers of mud covering all of the family’s belongings, from children’s toys and Christmas decorations to books and old photo albums. Everything was destroyed and nothing was salvageable.

Duhamel holds a spot in the hearts and minds of many Ottawa sports fans when the city hosted the CIS National Championships. After her legendary shot blocking performance with the Ottawa Gee Gees preserved a comeback win against St. Francis Xavier in the event, the captain was applauded. Her efforts in High River would only reinforce what makes her such a character person.

“Though the damage and visuals were shocking, I wish everyone in High River the best and can only reiterate my awe of their spirits.”

During the clean-up, she would find her own inspiration. While working in a house that had been soiled with mud, Duhamel would meet the daughter of the homeowner. Helping her gave the cause a whole new meaning for Duhamel, as she saw the human toll of the damage.

“We came in with a group of nearly 30 and only made a small dent in what needs to be done so you can only imagine the effort that the employees have put in each day. It was a privilege to work alongside them.  I also spent the latter half of the day emptying out the basement of a house filled with 2 feet of solid mud. The owner had not yet been allowed to return to the home and her daughter was leading the efforts to repair it.

For Lipscombe, a compassionate individual who has given generously to other charities, the volunteer experience in High River was a labour of love.

“My most rewarding and satisfying work comes from helping others, so it’s an easy choice for me to get involved in volunteer work. Reaching out to Alberta communities in need after unprecedented flooding has been important to me because I know others would do the same for me if needed.

There is a strength of spirit that has shown itself within Calgary and across southern Alberta in the wake of these terrible floods, and I am both happy and proud to contribute whatever I can to keep up this positive momentum, as there is still so much work to be done in recovery efforts. Many hands make light work, as they say, so I encourage others in the area to get involved as well!” proclaimed Lipscombe.

Duhamel added, “Regarding helping out, all I can really say is I hope I helped make a difference where I could and I admire those that are working day in and day out to continue to do so. I have such respect for those that lost their homes, businesses or were affected by the flooding as they have not sat back or wavered. They are keeping hope and forging ahead and I am proud to have helped keep that alive.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Merger between CWHL and WWHL may help make women’s hockey more viable

As women’s hockey struggles to be part of the larger sporting conversation, two rival leagues could benefit from working together. Currently, the Western Women’s Hockey League is on life support. Having shrunk to a two-team league (featuring the Manitoba Maple Leafs and the Minnesota Whitecaps), there is no indication that the WWHL has an opportunity to survive.

While the Whitecaps are a talent-heavy squad (featuring the likes of Olympian Jenny Potter and Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award winner Winny Brodt-Brown) that could survive as an independent (the squad has played many exhibition games in its history), the sad reality is that the WWHL is wasted talent. If the growing Canadian Women’s Hockey League were to absorb the league, there could be so much potential.

The not-for-profit Canadian Women’s Hockey League has benefited from an increase in corporate sponsors (such as Bauer and Kraft Canada), which indicates the league has a chance to not only survive, but grow. As there continues to be more talent in women’s hockey (which is evident at the collegiate level in the NCAA and in Canadian Interuniversity Sport), eventually the league will need to expand to accommodate the talent. With Minnesota and Manitoba already established, there is no headache of having to find people to run the franchise, hire coaches or hold an expansion draft.

In addition, the CWHL has been fortunate enough to have earned the sponsorship of two NHL franchises. Based on this momentum, if Manitoba were in the fold, it would be a strong selling point to attract the Winnipeg Jets. Of note, the Minnesota Wild has also been a supporter of women’s hockey (such as their involvement with Minnesota’s Ms. Hockey Award). Therefore, the Wild sponsoring the Whitecaps would seem like an ideal fit.

The reality of absorbing the WWHL is that it may help boost the morale of the CWHL’s struggling Team Alberta franchise. Although Alberta’s leadership structure features several remarkable individuals that can boast of affiliations with Hockey Canada (such as General Manager Chantal Champagne and head coach Tim Bothwell), it has struggled miserably in the wins department, finishing with the worst record in the league two straight seasons.

In the current configuration of the CWHL, Team Alberta sticks out like a sore thumb. With four teams in the East (Toronto, Brampton, Montreal, Boston), there is no rival whatsoever for Alberta. The absorption of the WWHL would certainly provide Alberta with two sorely needed rivals.

A Western Division could be formed with Alberta, Manitoba and Minnesota (and there is enough talent in Wisconsin to create a fourth team). In an effort to control travel costs, there could be no inter-divisional play (except in the Clarkson Cup postseason as all contests are in the same location).

This might be a blessing for Alberta as they won only one road game (and two home games) during the 2012-13 season. The thought of having to fly across Canada to be continuously beaten will only lead to a frustrated team with continuous turnover.

One of the motivating factors in starting the CWHL in 2007 was giving players an opportunity to play after university. With due deference to the league, it is convenient for a player that lives in an area where a CWHL franchise exists.  Considering the level of talent from Minnesota that competes in the NCAA, a CWHL team in the state would extend (rather than extinguish) many talented careers.

The 2013 CWHL Draft was somewhat frustrating as many eligible players from the Midwestern United States did not register. Stars such as Noora Raty, Megan Bozek, the Lamoureux sisters (Jocelyne and Monique) and Brianna Decker did not register. To be fair, those players are preparing for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games but they would have been great insurance picks for clubs willing to wait an extra season.

The absorption of Manitoba and Minnesota would help create a foundation in the West for players who are not willing to relocate to the East to play for one of the CWHL franchises there. While the 2012 CWHL Draft provided the league with a new generation of stars, the priority should be to ensure that these stars are part of a league that is truly coast to coast.