Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Inferno on fire as several new scoring standards set to be established in weekend series vs. Stars

With a playoff spot in sight, the red-hot Calgary Inferno are heading into their weekend series with the first-place Montreal Stars hoping to build on their momentum. No longer a last-place team, the chance to play for Lady Clarkson’s coveted Cup has strengthened morale and increased confidence. Adding to their motivation is the fact that several franchise scoring records could soon fall.

From the outset, Jenna Cunningham has tied Sam Hunt’s franchise record for most points in one season with 14. Cunningham also has the opportunity to surpass her own franchise record for most goals scored in one season. Having scored 10 goals in the 2010-11 inaugural season, which is also a franchise rookie record, Cunningham enters the Montreal series with eight goals. With three games against Montreal, the chance to register three goals and set a new mark is feasible.

Heading into the weekend series, Cunningham sits sixth in the CWHL scoring race. On pace to be the first player in the history of the Alberta/Calgary CWHL franchise to hit the 50-point mark, Cunningham currently has 35 career points.

Considering rookie sensation Danielle Stone has 13 points, she also has an opportunity to surpass Hunt’s mark. Should Stone bypass the 14-point mark, it would set the new franchise record for most points scored in one season by a rookie (of which Hunt also owns the mark).

Along with fellow rookie (and former Saskatchewan Huskies teammate) Julie Paetsch, both have eight goals this season. Both are only two goals away from tying Cunningham’s rookie record of 10 goals in one season and building a strong case as rookie of the year candidates.

While Lundy Day’s single season mark for most goalie wins in one season shall fall, it shall be a monumental task for it to take place against the top-ranked Montreal Stars, owners of an eight-game unbeaten streak. One player Calgary must focus on in their three-game set with Montreal is Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson. Less than six points away from the magical century mark, she may reach the milestone in Calgary.

Currently, Day holds the franchise record with four wins in one season. Kathy Desjardins and Delayne Brian have already set the franchise single season record for most combined wins by a goaltending pair with six. As each holds three wins each, both are looking for an opportunity to set the new standard. As a side note, Jessica Wong, the first overall pick of the 2013 CWHL Draft, is on pace this season to break Meaghan Mikkelson’s franchise record for most points in one season by a defender.

Although any victory against Montreal shall certainly be a hard-earned one, the ever improving Inferno are one of the true feel-good stories of the 2013-14 season. Considering that the conversation surrounding the franchise is about competing and setting new records, these are exciting times.

Optimism is certainly the buzzword in Calgary these days. After two difficult hard-luck seasons, the scoring trio of Cunningham, Paestch and Stone have certainly helped turn the corner. Complemented by the arrival of Jessica Wong and the acquisition of Shannon Szabados (plus the eligibility of Western Canadian star Christine Bestland in the 2014 CWHL Draft), playoffs may consistently be part of the lexicon. Following in the footsteps of legendary female hockey teams such as the Calgary Regents and the Calgary Oval X-Treme, the remarkable progress this season is testament to the commitment on part of players, coaches and management in writing a new chapter that all Calgary hockey fans can be proud of. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Flag bearer honor for Hayley Wickenheiser a fitting tribute to superlative career

While it is a great moment for women’s hockey, one cannot help but wonder if the appointment of hockey hero Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer for the Winter Games marks the closing of a chapter in the sport’s history. Along with teammate Jayna Hefford, they are the only two women to have played in every women’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Games.

As Wickenheiser has battled injuries over the last few years, would a gold medal at Sochi serve as her swan song? Fans cannot help but wonder if this is mirroring Bobby Orr, whose last great moment with Team Canada, after years of knee injuries, resulted in a championship and MVP honors at the 1976 Canada Cup.

Former teammate Danielle Goyette was selected as Canada’s flag bearer for the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Marching behind Goyette, Wickenheiser would tease her, telling her not to trip. While she now has the honor bestowed upon her eight years later, it may also yield a result similar to Goyette’s.

Although some athletes believe that being the flag bearer is bad luck, Goyette proudly carried the flag, while contributing to Canada winning its second gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games. It would also mark the twilight of her career, as she retired from competitive hockey one year later.

Of note, Wickenheiser has ambitions to become a doctor and at 35 years of age, hockey may quickly become part of her past. In addition, she will be running for election in the hopes of gaining one of two spots on the International Olympic Committee. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, American women’s ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero was successfully elected.

Despite the honor of being selected as Canada’s flag bearer, there is a slight sting of irony to the appointment. A few days ago, Wickenheiser was stripped of her captaincy, demoted to alternate captain. Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen appointed Caroline Ouellette as Canada’s new captain. To be fair, Ouellette has played with the Canadian team for 14 years and had never served as captain once.

Unfortunately, it is just a case of strange timing as the last few months have reflected a sullen series of events, leading to a winter of discontent for some hockey fans. Starting with the decision to release Tessa Bonhomme from Canada’s centralization camp, it would follow with the resignation of Dan Church. With due deference to Dineen, he has never coached female hockey, therefore, his hiring caught many off guard.

Hopefully, Wickenheiser’s appointment as flag bearer will turn the page and lead to better times ahead. Should Canada manage to claim its fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s hockey, the bumps and bruises along the way shall be soon forgotten and the legend of Wickenheiser as Canada’s great cornerstone and ambassador for the female game shall be solidified.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Acquisition of Bailey Bram by Sweden’s Linkoping a revolutionary step in women’s game

While the world of women’s hockey is dominated in international play by Canada and the United States, the borders in the global game are slowly dissolving. Last season, All-World goaltender Florence Schelling spoiled Canadian hockey fans by competing with the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder. In January 2014, Sweden’s LHC Dam (also known as Linkoping) has reciprocated by bringing Bailey Bram into the fold.

Truly a historic signing, it recognizes the value that women's players from North America mean to the growth of the game globally. Ironically, Bram was Schelling’s teammate with the Thunder for the 2012-13 season.
The sojourn to Sweden represents the third country where Bram shall play competitive hockey. In addition to her native Canada, she played four years of collegiate hockey in the United States with Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. Reputed as a great team player and a friendly personality, Bram is the perfect ambassador for the game in Sweden.
Having played for the Canadian national women’s team from 2011 to 2013, Bram was one of the last players released from Canada's centralization camp, in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. In 2013, she played in a total of 18 games for the national team, accumulating two goals and four assists. She would earn a silver medal at the 2013 IIHF Worlds along with gold at the Four Nations Cup. 

She certainly left her mark on Canadian women's hockey history by becoming the first player from Manitoba to compete on Canada's Under-18, Under-22/Development and National Women's Teams. With all three teams, her cumulative statistics include 62 games played, 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points.

No stranger to competition in Europe, she would compete with Canada's Under-22 squad at several MLP Cup tournaments in Germany. The 2012 MLP Cup would see her play with younger sister Shelby. Her IIHF debut at the 2011 Women's Worlds was contested in Switzerland while she grabbed a silver medal at the 2012 Four Nations Cup in Finland.

The migration of Canadian and American players to Europe has started to pick up steam. Switzerland was one of the first countries to establish a competitive league for women, welcoming many Canadian and American stars to its ranks. While Bram is the first Canadian national team alumnae to play in Sweden, other countries have started to welcome North American players.

Jessica Solis, a star with the Guelph Gryphons in Canadian Interuniversity Sport is now competing in Austria. 2013 CWHL draft pick Jess Jones (a teammate of Bram's at Mercyhurst College) spent the 2012-13 season in Belarus. Of note, she would help her squad to become the first Belorussian team to claim a European title. In the autumn of 2013, Clarkson Cup champions Cherie Hendrickson and Kelley Steadman (also a Mercyhurst teammate of Bram) joined Lokomotiv in Russia.

Although Bram certainly raises the level of competition for Sweden’s top female league, it would be unfair to expect her presence to increase attendance or provide Linkoping with a championship. Her January 25 debut will likely show fans the magic that she is capable of, but there are adjustments to the style of play and the culture to consider.

Considering that many players are jumping from leagues throughout the world – Danijela Rundqvist from Sweden has not only played in her homeland, but in Canada and Russia – this is a period in the history of the game where global growth is still taking place. For many of these players, the chance to play elsewhere is not only a time for personal growth, but an opportunity to appreciate the game in other parts of the world. 

Pernilla Winberg's 200th career game for Sweden sets positive tone for Sochi

Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the Swedish national women’s team has strong momentum. Prior to Christmas 2013, legendary Swedish forward Pernilla Winberg participated in her 200th career game in the famous gold and blue Swedish jersey. The 200th game for Sweden sets the stage for what hopes to be an even more improved 2014.

Along with Kim Martin, Winberg is one of the most recognizable and famous faces from the Swedish team. After a disappointing seventh place finish at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa, Canada, where Sweden played in the relegation round, Winberg’s milestone game could not have come at a better time.

The magical milestone occurred during Sweden’s participation in a 4-nations tournament in Orebro from December 11-15, 2013. Competing against other European nations that shall take part in Sochi 2014, including Russia, Germany and arch-rival Finland, Winberg helped Sweden to a second-place finish. 

Depsite a 3-2 loss in overtime to Finland to end the tournament, Winberg was recognized as player of the game for Sweden.  In addition, Swedish goaltender Valentina Wallner participated in her 100th international contest. 

For Winberg, the milestone game helped to bookend a year of several personal milestones. Having graduated from the famed University of Minnesota-Duluth program in 2013, where she played for legendary coach Shannon Miller, she finished her stellar NCAA career with over 100 points. Ironically, Miller was a mentor coach for Russia at the 2013 Women’s Worlds.

Obtaining the values of leadership and teamwork from Miller, it has not only improved Winberg’s already impressive game, but transformed her into a true All-World player. Of note, her final assist in NCAA play with the Bulldogs came on January 25 versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. The final goal (and point) of her NCAA career came on February 10 against the MSU-Mankato Mavericks. 

Other former Bulldogs that shall represent Sweden at the Games include a healthy Kim Martin, appearing on her fourth team and reliable defender Elin Holmlov. As Sweden is one of the youngest teams on the world stage, Winberg, who is not yet 25, is considered one of Sweden’s veterans. 

Hardcore fans will remember that the 2006 Torino Winter Games was her coming-out party, as her game-winning goal against the United States comprised the biggest upset in the history of the sport. At Vancouver 2010, Winberg registered five goals in a fourth place finish for the blue and gold.

With Winberg is on the ice for Sweden at Sochi, she brings an air of confidence to a team that is entering the world’s biggest hockey tournament as an underdog. Although injuries played a significant role in Sweden’s performance in Ottawa, Sochi represents the beginning of a new chapter.

Having continuously proven in her storied career that she is capable of making the big play, the thought of Sweden flying under the radar and sneaking their way into the bronze medal game would come as no surprise. As the consummate professional, her business-like approach and dedication to the game is testament to the continuous improvement of women’s hockey in Europe. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Ann-Sophie Bettez holds hot hand as scoring streak extended to 13 games

Heading into her second season with the Montreal Stars, there was no question that Ann-Sophie Bettez would be an impact player for their decimated roster. With scoring sensations such as Meghan Agosta-Marciano and Caroline Ouellette answering the call to compete for the Canadian contingent in Sochi, the 25 year-old native of Montreal has managed to lead a high-powered offensive attack that is setting the standard for the rest of the CWHL.

In every game this season, Bettez has recorded at least one point. Teammate Cathy Chartrand (a teammate of Bettez at McGill University), who inherited the team captaincy from Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux opened her season with a point in 12 straight games. Her streak would be snapped on January 19 in a road victory over the Boston Blades.

Complemented by talented scorers such as Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson, her former teammate at McGill University, multiple Winter Games gold medalist Sarah Vaillancourt, Marieve Provost, the all-time leading scorer in AUS play, Emmanuelle Blais, an NCAA Frozen Four champion, and Dangerous Dominqiue Thibault, Bettez and the Stars have developed into an offensive juggernaut. Currently atop the scoring race, Bettez is poised to become the fourth Stars player in franchise history to claim the Angela James Bowl.

Her impact on the scoresheet has resulted in a winning streak of eight consecutive games, placing the Stars firmly entrenched on top of the CWHL standings. While their rivals, the Boston Blades, battled with them for first place during the first half of the season, they have been unable to maintain any momentum in the second half.

During her monumental 13-game scoring streak to open her sensational sophomore campaign, the Stars boast an 8-0-0 mark in every game where she has registered at least two points. Her best performances this year were a pair of four point efforts, of which both were in January 2014.

A 9-2 whitewash of the Brampton Thunder on January 12 resulted in two goals and two assists. A crucial road win against the Boston Blades just six days later resulted in her first hat trick of the season as Brittany Ott allowed seven goals in a 7-4 loss.

Several scoring milestones have also been reached for Bettez during the sensational scoring streak this season. The 20th goal of her CWHL career was scored on December 14 versus Calgary, while number 25 was reached on January 18 versus the Blades. A December 16 affair with Calgary would provide Bettez with the 25th assist in her CWHL career, while the 50th point would come on January 12 versus Brampton, taking only 34 games to reach the mid-century mark.

The brilliance of Bettez may very well be seen on special teams play. Although she has logged only one goal on the power play, she has responded with six assists. When the Stars are shorthanded, she has contributed with four points (two goals, two assists). Of her 11 goals this season, four were game-winning goals, first among all CWHL skaters.

Her contributions on the ice have resulted in a remarkable on-ice chemistry which sees four Stars players occupying the top four slots in the CWHL scoring race. While Bettez sits atop with a league-best 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 assists, Vaillancourt is second with 22.

Following them is Chartrand at third, ranking tops among all CWHL defenders with 16 points, while Davidson also boasts 16 points. As of January 20, 2013, Davidson and Emmanuelle Blais are each less than 10 points away from reaching 100 for their career.

Should Montreal maintain this scoring prominence into the postseason, it shall provide the franchise with a favorable opportunity at redemption. With the franchise having suffered a stunning loss in the 2013 Clarkson Cup finals, a championship in 2014 would help heal those wounds. For players such as Bettez and Chartrand, who have experienced the jubilation of CIS national titles and MLP Cup victories, the chance to hoist Lady Clarkson’s coveted Cup would validate their hard work and scintillating scoring results.

Photo credits: Marc St. Pierre

Sarah Davis contributes three points as Minnesota Golden Gophers capture first game of 2014 Hockey City Classic

For a Minnesota Golden Gophers squad that has made its share of NCAA women’s hockey history, January 18 marked a new milestone for the proud program. Competing at TCF Bank Stadium, the Golden Gophers competed in their first home outdoor game. It was also the first NCAA Division I outdoor game ever held in the state of Minnesota.

With an attendance of 6,623 fans, it was the largest attendance for a home game since November 2, 1997, the first game in program history (an 8-0 win against Augsburg). Of note, the Golden Gophers played in one other outdoor game, a January 29, 2011 contest on the road versus the Wisconsin Badgers. Attendance for that event was 10,668 fans, the highest attendance for a road game in program history.

Playing against fellow WCHA rivals, the Minnesota-State Mankato Mavericks, the Hockey City Classic marked what fans hope can become an annual tradition. Improving their mark to 21-1-1 on the strength of three points by Sarah Davis, the Golden Gophers have not missed a beat since their upset loss to the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

While Kingston, Ontario’s Amanda Leveille only required 19 saves in order to earn her seventh shutout of the year for Minnesota, it was a different story for the opposing goaltender. MSU Mankato’s Danielle Butters faced 51 shots in a valiant performance that saw her club vanquished by a 4-0 mark. Of note, both goaltenders would don tuques in order to keep warm during the outdoor event.

At the 5:24 mark of the first, junior Meghan Lorence scored on the power play (Lauren Barnes was serving a checking penalty), with assists being credited to Sarah Davis and Rachel Bona. It would prove to be the last goal for 30:36 of play as the arctic-like conditions made every skating stride a monumental effort. Evidence of the impact of the cold was seen in the fact that only three penalties were handed out in the entire game.

As the breath from the players on both teams was highly visible, among the backdrop of the fans in attendance, it may have been the most physically demanding contest of their NCAA careers. While the distractions of participating in a historic event and the concerns over weather lingered, Minnesota head coach Brad Frost emphasized keeping things simple; applying pressure when needed, defending well, and scoring enough goals to win.

Although Lorence’s goal would prove to be the game-winning tally, the Golden Gophers would manage to add to their lead. With two minutes remaining in the second stanza, Rachel Bona scored on Butters. Haley Northcote of the Mavericks would be called for interference 43 seconds after the goal, providing Minnesota with its third power play.

Only 71 seconds later, Davis would manage to score as her shot deflected off the crossbar and past the goal line, resulting in her third point of the game. Kelly Terry and sensational sophomore Hannah Brandt would earn the assists. Of note, the goals for Bona and Davis signified their 13th goal each during the season. During the stanza, the Mavericks only managed four shots on net.

Fatigue began to set in during the final frame as the extreme cold made it even more difficult to skate. With 67 second remaining in the contest, Jordyn Burns managed her first goal of the season, with Red Wing, Minnesota native Paige Haley logging the helper.
Finishing the game without one penalty called against them, it marked the third time in Golden Gopher history that the feat was reached. The last game without a penalty for the program came on November 30, 2003 versus North Dakota.

With the loss, the MSU-Mankato Mavericks suffer their 16th loss of the season. Butters would accumulate double-digit saves in every period (17 in the first, 16 in the second, 14 in the third), while Tracy McCann and Melissa Klippenstein led the Mavericks with four shots each. Maryanne Menefee led all Gophers skaters with eight shots while Sarah Davis topped all skaters as she won 18 faceoffs.

Images obtained from: http://www.gophersports.com/view.gal?id=153669

Calgary Inferno on fire with weekend sweep of Brampton elevating them to third place

As the Calgary Inferno continue to push towards qualifying for their first-ever Clarkson Cup, a key component is succeeding on the road. A weekend road swamp of the beleaguered Brampton Thunder is helping to make that postseason dream a reality.

Since the arrival of 2013 first-overall pick Jessica Wong last weekend, an air of confidence has surrounded the squad. Fittingly, Wong would get things started in the January 18 contest at Brampton’s Cassie Campbell Centre. At the 7:09 mark, she would put the biscuit in the basket against workhorse backstop Sonja van der Biek for the 1-0 advantage.

Rookie sensation Julie Paetsch would assist on Jenna Cunningham’s power play marker at the 12:43 mark to extend their lead over the home team. Special teams played a huge part in the successful first frame for Calgary. Cunningham’s goal was scored on the only power play opportunity for Calgary in the period. Despite Brampton enjoying three power play opportunities, DeLayne Brian nullified them all.

A scoreless second period resulted in penalty problems for both sides as six penalties were called. Sixty seconds into the period, Brampton captain Tara Gray was called for head contact and a game misconduct. It would set the tone for a physical period of play as neither club was able to score.

With the first half of the third period also scoreless, Brampton would eventually solve Brian and get on the scoreboard. Brampton rookie Danielle Skirrow scored at the 11:29 mark with the assist going to fellow rookie Jess Jones. Less than two minutes later, Calgary’s Jacqui Pierri was sent to the penalty box for holding, providing Brampton with a power play.

CWHL veteran Lindsay Vine would score as the assists were credited to newly acquired Sasha Nanji (who began the season with Toronto) and Mallory Johnston. As a side note, Brian and Johnston were teammates at the 2013 World Ball Hockey Championships for Canada.

Despite outshooting Calgary by a 12-5 mark in the third period (31-20 overall in regulation play), Brampton was unable to break the 2-2 deadlock. A costly interference penalty with 40 seconds left would haunt Brampton. Heading into overtime, it was Calgary that would take the reins as Danielle Stone would set up Tegan Schroeder for the game winning tally on the power play. Of note, seven different Inferno players would register points in the 3-2 overtime triumph.

Century Gardens would serve as the backdrop for the January 19 contest. In the first two goals that Calgary would score in the opening frame, five different Inferno players would earn points, displaying the type of versatility that is defining the team’s improving offensive attack.

Erin Duggan would open the scoring at the three minute mark with assists credited to Karolina Urban and Laura Dostaler. Three minutes and one second later, Julie Paetsch found the back of the net for the 2-0 advantage. Danielle Stone and Duggan earned the assists as Calgary outshot Brampton 11-8 in the first period.

Unlike the previous campaign, Brampton would not tie the game in the second period. Instead, Calgary added to its two goal advantage as Danielle Stone scored on Brampton goalie Jamie Miller at the 8:08 mark. Jessica Wong would earn an assist, giving her points in the first three games of her CWHL career. Cunningham was credited with the other helper. During the second period, DeLayne Brian would be solid between the pipes, as she nullified three Brampton power play opportunites.

Although Calgary would be sent to the penalty box twice in the third period, Brampton would be unable to mount a comeback due to four costly penalties. Brampton’s Danielle Boudreau would be called for a penalty just 62 seconds into the period, setting the tone for the black and red.

While Miller played valiantly to prevent Calgary from scoring on the power play, she could not prevent Paetsch from scoring on her at the 6:14 mark. Cunningham and teen phenom Madison Haller earned the assists as Brampton faced a four-goal deficit.

Opportunity seemed possible for Brampton when Danielle Stone was called for interference just six seconds after the Calgary goal. Despite their best efforts, Brampton was simply unable to mount a sutiable offensive attack to capitalize on the power play. With only two seconds remaining on the power play, Brampton’s Dania Simmonds would be called for a body checking penalty.

Any chance at a comeback for Brampton was all but finished at the 15:55 mark of the third. Laura MacIntosh, one of the squad’s most talented players on offense, was called for head contact. This was followed by a misconduct call, ejecting her from the game. Boudreau was called for unsportsmanlike call, sending her to the showers as well.

After the calls, it would take Calgary only one second to take advantage. Emily Berzins would score on the power play for the 5-0 lead. Assisted by Duggan, it was her third point of the game. While Lindsey Vine would score for Brampton before the game expired, the 5-1 loss proved to be costly for Brampton. Five points out of the final playoff spot, the squad has eight games left in the season.

With the weekend sweep, Calgary has leaped over the defending Clarkson Cup champion Boston Blades into third place in the standings. This accomplishment is a first in franchise history, testament to the coaching of Tim Bothwell, who is making a strong case for CWHL Coach of the Year. As their final three games this season involve Brampton, the three-game set shall likely decide which one qualifies for the postseason.

Photo credits: Jess Bazal

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Winter Games block party in Banff a morale booster for national women's team

In the aftermath of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the changeover from Vancouver to Sochi shall take place very soon. Despite the fact that the national women’s hockey team, along with the rest of Canada’s athletes shall be far from home, the Molson Canadian Block Party in Banff, Alberta was a fitting send off and a remarkable way to boost athlete morale while meeting fans.

While not all of Canada’s athletes were present, the national women’s hockey team made its presence felt. Greeting fans and making new ones, the event provided joy for rookie and veteran alike. Even Canadian head coach and NHL veteran Kevin Dineen joined in the celebrations. The January 11 event saw smiles all around as feelings of friendship and jubilation encompassed the event.

Accompanied by musical performances from The Sheepdogs and The Arkells, TV personality George Stromboulopoulos (there could not be a jersey big enough to fit his name on the back of one) was the Master of Ceremonies. Former Alpine skier and Crazy Canuck, Steve Podborski, serving as Canada’s chef de mission for the Winter Games was also in attendance. With Canadian flags waving, complementing the majestic background of the Rocky Mountains, Canadian patriotism was the theme of the day.

Decked out in the official Hudson’s Bay gear for Canada’s Winter Games team, the players were all smiles. Each player was adorned in the red jacket, with the large white letters spelling out CANADA across the front. Tuques with multi-colored pom-poms on the top were complemented by equally multi-colored scarves.

Perhaps the most popular accessory was the gloves. With red as the predominant color, primarily in the middle, the inside features a white maple leaf. Therefore, when a player waves hello, the maple leaf is highly visible. 

Hayley Wickenheiser, along with Jayna Hefford, shall be competing in their fifth Winter Games hockey tournament for Canada (a record in the women’s game). Should Sochi result in gold, they will be two of the first-ever group of women, teammate Caroline Ouellette would be the other, to win four gold medals. In speaking to the media, she was quoted as saying that this is a picture perfect postcard.

The Lucky Loonie, which was part of hockey lore for Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, was commemorated as a 2014 circulation coin by the Royal Canadian Mint. Officially unveiling the coin at the event, three Canadian athletes were on hand; Oluseyi Smith (4 X 100 meter relay, London 2012), Jason Mysslicki (Nordic, Vancouver 2010) and Jeff Christie (2010 Vancouver 2010). Of note, every athlete competing in Sochi shall receive a Lucky Loonie as a good-luck charm. 

One of the heartwarming events during the block party was captured by Jeff McIntosh of the Canadian Press. Natalie Spooner, making her debut for Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, was photographed with 13-month-old Madison Armet. Perhaps Armet is a future hockey player? Armet was donning a Hockey Canada jersey with her father, who was all smiles.

Of note, Spooner is the first woman in Canadian hockey history to compete at the Under-18, Under-22 and National levels. As a rookie in CWHL play last season, she would break the Toronto Furies record for most goals in one season. Her opportunity to compete at the Winter Games is testament to her prodigious talent.

While Spooner is one of several Winter Games rookies, her enthusiasm and national pride was truly beaming on this magical day. Fellow rookies such as Laura Fortino, Brianne Jenner, Genevieve Lacasse and Jennifer Wakefield took it all in, excited to be a part of it.

Although Canada will not benefit from home ice advantage as they did four years ago, their hearts were filled with a tremendous outpouting of support. Although the pressure to win a fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s hockey is nothing short of tremendous, the Banff Block Party displayed the amazing amount of support for Canada’s hockey women, let alone all of Canada’s athletes.

Photo details:

Left to right: Hayley Wickenheiser, Meghan Agosta and Laura Fortino (Image obtained from Facebook)

Natalie Spooner and Shannon Szabados with a group of fans in the background (Image obtained from Facebook)

Left to right: Charline Labonte, Jayna Hefford, Meaghan Mikkelson and Melodie Daoust (Photo credit: Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency) 

Natalie Spooner (left) high fives Madison Armet. (Photo credit: Jeff McInotsh/The Canadian Press) 

(Left to right): Winter Games rookies Melodie Daoust, Jennifer Wakefield, Jocelyne Larocque and Brianne Jenner (Image obtained from Facebook)

Doubleheader at Montreal's Concordia University offers the finest in CWHL and CIS talent

Concordia University in Montreal held its own super Sunday for women’s ice hockey. Ed Meagher Arena would serve as the backdrop for a doubleheader featuring some of the finest talent in Canadian Interuniversity Sport and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Generations intersected at the arena as Concordia holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of the many remarkable women that graced its frozen surface.

Three-time Clarkson Cup champions, the Montreal Stars hosted the Brampton Thunder in CWHL play while the defending CIS national champions, the Montreal Carabins were the visiting team against the Concordia Stingers.

Of note, many Stars players have polished their game at the renowned university. Stars founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux led the Concordia Stingers to the CIS championship as a player. She would follow it up by becoming the first captain in CWHL play to win three Clarkson Cups. The night before, she would even log the 100th point of her distinguished CWHL career.

Through it all, Breton-Lebreux has also managed to serve on Concordia’s athletic staff as a trainer and even had a few seasons as an assistant coach to Les Lawton, the first North American coach to win 500 women’s hockey games.

Stars legend Nathalie Dery and current Canadian Winter Games member Caroline Ouellette have also contributed to Lawton’s staff. With the Stars competing in the first half of the doubleheader, it would serve as a remarkable homecoming for Emilie Bocchia. Having graduated in 2013 from the same program that featured the likes of Karen Bye, Delaney Collins and Cammi Granato, Bocchia has been part of a promising rookie crop for the Stars.

Donning number 62, Bocchia recorded a solid +2 rating in her homecoming. A convincing 9-2 triumph over a beleaguered Brampton Thunder squad helped the Stars extend their first-place lead over the rest of their competitors. 

Brampton’s Natasha Fryer would open the scoring merely two minutes into the contest. Despite the early lead, it would prove to be their last. Casandra Dupuis, who was part of the Carabins’ 2013 CIS championship team would tie the game 68 seconds later with an unassisted tally. With Thunder rookie Jess Jones serving a body checking penalty, Emmanuelle Blais would capitalize as the Stars enjoyed their first lead of the afternoon.

At the 6:16 mark, Ann-Sophie Bettez, the 2013 CWHL Rookie of the Year logged a shorthanded tally. Stars captain Cathy Chartrand (who was also a captain with Concordia rival McGill) was called for roughing after the whistle. Just 12 seconds after the goal by Bettez, Alyssa Cecere would put the puck past Sonja van der Bliek for two of the quickest goals scored all year.

Ashley Pendleton from Brampton would reply 17 seconds later with a power play tally as three goals were scored in an astounding 29-second time span. While the fans were treated to a generous amount of scoring, the remainder of the period would prove to be a stout defensive match filled with numerous penalties.

Despite their best efforts, Brampton could not reduce Montreal’s lead in the second stanza. Defined by physical play, there were several altercations. Fannie Desforges and Pendleton would be called for roughing at 6:17. After two Brampton penalties past the 15:00 mark, Vinny Davidson and Brampton’s Mallory Johnston also engaged in a physical confrontation.

Montreal would outshoot the black and red by a 13-8 count in the second as van der Bliek allowed two more goals. McGill alumnae Bettez and Chartrand each contributed goals in a 92-second time span to add to their already insurmountable lead.

The final frame saw five more penalties as sloppy play and fatigue seemed to set in for some of the players. With Brampton captain Tara Gray serving a penalty for tripping at the 5:55 mark, Stars rookie Stacie Tardif capitalized on the power play as Carly Hill contributed her second assist of the game. At the 15:07 mark, Dupuis would earn the first multi-goal game of her career as she buried the puck past a dejected van der Bliek for a six-goal advantage.

In what would be the final penalty of the game (Mallory Johnston called for tripping), Fannie Desforges would light the lamp for Montreal. Of note, Desforges also played in the QSSF with the Ottawa Gee-Gees, resulting in three players from rival schools (McGill, Montreal Carabins, Ottawa) scoring goals in the 9-2 victory. Bettez, Dupuis and Blais were named the game’s Three Stars. 

The second half of the doubleheader featured the host Concordia Stingers challenging the defending CIS national champion Montreal Carabins. Proving why they are one of the elite teams in CIS play, the Carabins took advantage of special teams as they converted five power play opportunities into goals. 

Ariane Barker would contribute four power play markers, while Maude Gelinas registered five assists. It was part of an offensive attack that featured eight unanswered goals by the Carabins. Katherine Ricahrd would open the scoring a mere 49 sdeconds into the contest for her first of the campaign.

Two of Barker’s power play goals would close out the third period as the Stingers faced a three-goal deficit. Early in the second stanza, Barker would add another on the power play for the 4-0 advantage. Marion Allemoz, a native of France, and Audrey Gariepy scored twice, as Stingers netminder Blair Bache was overwhelmed by the powerful Carabins attack.

Bache would continue to have her problems with Barker in the third as she found the back of the Stingers net once again. In addition to her four goals on the day, she would score at least once in every period. The second hat trick of her career also signified the sixth in Carabins program history since joining CIS play.

Facing an 8-0 deficit, Audrey Morand spoiled the shutout attempt by the Carabins to get the Stingers on the scoreboard. Carabins backstop Marie-Pier Chabot only faced 12 shots on the day while Bache allowed eight of the 24 shots fired at her.

As the CWHL and CIS have engaged in a partnership, the doubleheader signifies the start of what hopes to be a prosperous relationship in helping to advance the female game. With three of the clubs participating hailing from Montreal, they are spearheading what is emerging as a golden era in one of the world’s greatest hockey cities. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Lifetime of memories for Montreal Stars sensations at Bell Centre

After a convincing 5-2 victory over the Boston Blades launched 2014 on a positive note for the Montreal Stars, another memorable event would soon follow. January 5 would provide four Stars competitors with an opportunity to grace National Hockey League ice.

As one of the signature franchises in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the Stars were privileged to have Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand, Fannie Desforges and Dangerous Dominique Thibault as special guests during the Montreal Canadiens fan practice, sponsored by Provigo.

It would prove to be a memorable Sunday morning for this fantastic foursome of women’s hockey heroes. Bettez is not only a former member of the Canadian national women’s hockey team; she is the all-time scoring leader in McGill Martlets history and the 2013 CWHL Rookie of the Year.

Another former national team member, Chartrand holds the rare honor of having served as team captain for the Martlets and the Montreal Stars. Heading into the 2013-14 season, Stars captain and team founder Lisa-Marie Breton relinquished her captaincy and bestowed it upon Chartrand.

Of note, Desforges and Thibault are familiar with each other on another frozen surface. Both have competed in the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships. Desforges claimed the world title in 2012, the first Canadian to obtain the honor. Thibault, a two-time Clarkson Cup champion, would follow her in 2013.

Joined on the ice by several Canadiens players, the opportunity to grace the ice in front of a packed house at Montreal’s Bell Centre was truly one to be treasured. As CWHL crowds tend to average close to 1,000, the more than 10,000 fans at Bell Centre provided the Stars players with the chance to display their skills (and possibly gain new fans) in a much larger venue.

Considering that the CWHL has held games at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome (in commemoration of a landmark sponsorship agreement), it would be exciting if the entire Stars roster could compete in a game at Montreal’s NHL venue. As the Montreal Carabins captured the Canadian Interuniversity Sport title in 2013, an exhibition match between the two prior to a Canadiens match on Bell Centre ice would provide fans with two of the best-kept secrets in hockey.

While sponsorship from the famed NHL club would be more preferred, (the Maple Leafs and Flames have committed $30,000 per annum to the CWHL until 2018), every small victory is one that deserves to be celebrated. The Sunday morning practice certainly represented one of those victories.

Of note, said victory was more than just the opportunity to share NHL ice with Canadiens players. It was the fact that these amazing pioneers in the female game provided the young women in attendance with the chance to realize that dreams do come true. For the lives they may have positively impacted on that Sunday morning, they have certainly gained their gratitude. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Milestones galore as Provost logs first CWHL hat trick with Stars launching into 2014 with win

As the first CWHL game of 2014 marked a crucial matchup in determining if the Stars could maintain their stranglehold on first place, two players contributed with key performances. Marieve Provost, the all-time scoring leader in CIS history, has found her scoring touch in a sensational sophomore season. Recording the first hat trick of her career, it would prove to be the difference in a convincing 5-2 victory.

In addition, McGill Martlets legend Stacie Tardif and 2013 CIS National Champion Casandra Dupuis logged the first goals of their CWHL careers. The milestone was enhanced by the fact it was scored on the power play (Blake Bolden was called for bodychecking). Her marker opened the scoring at the 9:02 mark as Emmanuelle Blais earned the assist. While Blades rookie Jillian Dempsey buried the puck past second-generation star Catherine Herron with less than two minutes remaining in the opening frame, the game would not stay tied for long.

Merely 94 seconds into the second stanza, Marieve Provost beat Brittany Ott to regain the lead. Assists were credited to 2013 CIS national champion Casandra Dupuis and Dangerous Dominique Thibault. While both sides played a stout defensive game for the remainder of the period, the third would tell a different story.

Although Kelly Cooke tied the game at 3:41 of the final frame, she would not be able to shift the momentum in Montreal’s favor. Penalty problems would plague the Blades for the remainder of the contest as Montreal capitalized. As Xialoin Ding, the first native from China to play in the CWHL was served with two minutes for cross checking, Provost took advantage with a power-play tally at 6:00 as the Stars reclaimed the lead.  A pair of Martlets legends, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand (the CWHL scoring leader among defenders) were credited with the assists.

Provost’s goal would set the tone for the period as Dupuis scored 45 seconds later for her first career goal to extend the lead. After the goal, Boston’s Ashley Cottrell was called for hooking, forcing the Blades to adapt a defensive style. While Ott played valiantly between the pipes, the Blades were unable to reduce the Stars lead.

At the 15:42 mark, Provost slipped the puck past Ott for her first career hat-trick. With Thibault and Dupuis earning the helpers on this milestone goal in Provost’s promising career, the squad boasted a three-goal advantage.

With a sense of desperation, Boston tried to chip away at Montreal’s lead but the result was a pair of penalties issued within 36 seconds. Kelly Cooke was called for cross-checking at the 18:52 mark, while Dru Burns was sent to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, nullifying any opportunity at a comeback. Ott would stop an astounding 46 of 51 shots as Boston slipped to third place in the standings with Toronto occupying second position.

Of note, Provost’s first career hat trick has not only propelled her into the thick of the CWHL scoring race, but it has lifted her into a first place tie with Boston’s Casey Pickett for the league lead in goals scored. This season, Provost has scored a goal in five different games and the result is identical; a win.

The 5-0 mark that the Stars enjoy when Provost has scored a goal this season is complemented by her contributions as a rookie last season. When she scored a goal during her rookie season, Montreal enjoyed a 2-1-0 mark. Should Provost maintain the hot hand for the remainder of the season, she may emerge as the factor in the bleu, blanc et rouge obtaining their fourth Clarkson Cup. 

(Left to right) Cassandra Dupuis, Boston's Jillian Dempsey and Marieve Provost recognized as the Game's Three Stars (Photo credit: Jess Desjardins)

Cheyenne Matus looking to make her mark with Rowan University

The road that Cheyenne Matus followed on her way to university hockey is one that many have taken before her. Competing in boys’ hockey, the feelings of resentment add to an uneasiness that is all too often, a sad yet character-building rite of passage.

While she competed in other sports, such as soccer and softball, the Friday Night Skate at the local armory had captivated her. Three years later, the experience of house league hockey and private lessons paid dividends as Matus became a budding star in the various Boys Leagues.

Reality would rear its ugly head once Matus became of high school age. Despite the fact that her skills were such that she was invited to compete in the high school spring league (before her freshman year was to begin), she found herself unfairly isolated and ostracized because she was the only girl competing.

Once summer became autumn and school bells filled the air, Matus had endured three difficult days of tryouts. Despite showing hard work and dedication, the 5:30 am tryout sessions yielded a negative result as Matus was not offered a roster spot. While her mother intervened, the coach offered a solution; participation in a girls travel league.

The alternative proved to be the remedy for Matus’ broken heart, restoring her confidence and rejuvenating her love for the game. Through the years of struggle, her efforts have culminated in a redeeming result. As Rowan University ices its first varsity women’s ice hockey team, Matus becomes its first recruit.

Based on the resiliency and character that she displayed through her battle for acceptance, it is symbolic of the type of touhgness that will be needed to place the new program in a positive direction. Setting the example through perseverance, it comes as no surprise that Matus has already been bestowed the hnor of being named an Alternate Captain. As her coach stated on Women’s Hockey Life, the A also stands for Ability, Attitude and Always (always saying yes to the game that told her no as a youth). These are three attributes that are bound to make Matus the on-ice leader that will define the program for the future.  

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Jenelle Kohanchuk scores in CWHL debut as Furies pummel Brampton by 9-1 tally

After helping Canada to a gold medal effort at the 2013 Four Nations Cup, Jenelle Kohanchuk was one of the first wave of players that were released from Canada’s Centralization Camp. Despite the heartbreak, Kohanchuk has bounced back with the Toronto Furies.

On a squad that must still cope with the loss of Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield, Kohanchuk has provided an injection of leadership for the blue and white. In addition to her experience with the Canadian National Team (which has also included a gold medal at the Meco Cup), she has accumulated 138 career points with the Boston University Terriers in the NCAA.

During her tenure with the Terriers, some of her teammates included Wakefield and other Canadian national players such as Marie-Philip Poulin and Catherine White. In her final season with the Terriers, she not only helped the club to a Hockey East title, but she scored a goal in the NCAA Frozen Four title game against Minnesota.

Making her CWHL debut against the Brampton Thunder at Century Gardens on January 5, 2014, Kohanchuk would score her first career goal against former Furies backstop Erika Vanderveer. Said goal would provide the Furies with a 5-1 lead as Alyssa Baldin and Britni Smith earned the assists. For Smith, it would prove to be the first of three assists in the second stanza.

2013 draft pick Jessica Vella would score twice in the first while Alyssa Baldin added the third Furies goal with less than 90 seconds remaining. The second stanza began with fellow Furies rookie Holly Carrie-Mattimoe scoring for the 4-1 advantage.

Of note, Kohanchuk’s goal would be scored on the power play as Tara French was serving an interference penalty. In addition, Vanderveer was pulled after the goal in favour of Sonja van der Bliek. Meghan Aarts and Baldin completed the scoring in the second for a convincing 7-1 lead.

Carolyne Prevost and Kelly Zamora would score in the final frame as the Furies in a 9-1 triumph that sees them overtake the Boston Blades for second place in the CWHL standings. Tessa Bonhomme, who was also one of the players released from Canada’s centralization would earn an assist on Zamora’s goal.

With Kohanchuk ready to extend her playing career as a member of the Furies, it alleviates the burden from other top scorers such as Prevost and Baldin. Having established herself in the NCAA and with the Canadian program as an elite player, there is no question that Kohanchuk adds a new dimension to the Furies offense. The Team Canada connection with Kohanchuk and Bonhomme is propelling the Furies upwards in the standings and perhaps towards its first Clarkson Cup.

Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kohanchuk19

Lyndsey Fry preserves memory of fallen friend Liz Turgeon in sojourn to Sochi

In the unfolding history of women’s hockey, the friendships and playing relationships that forge unbreakable bonds are one of its defining characteristics. Such a friendship is one between Lyndsey Fry and the Turgeon family. On the surface, it would be easy to observe their history and feel like it was directly from a novel by Mitch Albom. In truth, it is a moving series of events that help provide a human side to a game that can be blinded by the intense level of competition.

Such intensity is one that Fry will endure as she becomes the first native from the state of Arizona to be named to the United States Winter Games team. As Canada and the US prepare to write the next chapter in their eternal rivalry at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games team, Fry’s experiences helps to put such intensities into perspective.

Like many of her generation, Fry was greatly influenced by The Mighty Ducks movie series released by Disney. The result was a motivation to succeed at the game, resulting in Fry playing for three years at the club level in Arizona as a captain on her boy’s team. While her family understood that the need to elevate her game would force her to move out of state, the result was a friendship that could never be broken.

Liz Turgeon, the daughter of former NHL first overall draft pick Pierre Turgeon, had made Colorado her home after her father retired with the Colorado Avalanche. The two would become fast friends after earning spots on the Colorado Select Team. Turgeon would wear the number 87, the same number her father wore in the NHL. Ironically, Pierre would serve as head coach of the squad, leading them to the semifinals of the 2010 USA Hockey National championships.

A second generation star, Turgeon had qualified for the US Under-18 squad which captured gold at the inaugural IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds. Sadly, her good friend Fry had not qualified for the roster. Ironically, the reversal would happen one year later as Fry was named to the 2009 squad while Turgeon would not make the final cut. Despite the setback, both dreamed of possibly representing the United States on the world’s biggest stage as teammates.

Sadly, this was not meant to be. Fry’s live would change forever on December 23, 2010 with the news that Turgeon was involved in a collision. Turgeon’s life was one lost too soon. With plans to compete at the NCAA level in Minnesota, she was proudly following in her father’s footsteps as a hockey hero. In January 2011, the Junior Women's Hockey League honored Turegon's memory by naming its Player of the Year Award after her. With Fry ready to play for the prestigious Harvard Crimson program, hockey had diminished as a priority.

Although Fry would eventually continue her hockey journey by suiting up for the Crimson, the memory of Turgeon is always close by.  Having delivered the eulogy at the ceremony which honored Turgeon’s life, she remained in close contact with the Turgeon family. From maintaining a friendship with Turgeon’s twin sister, Alex, a former volleyball competitor at the University of Denver, along with mother Elisabeth Turgeon, Fry’s journey to Sochi is equally theirs.  

The reason is that Fry has chosen to honor Turgeon’s memory by carrying her U18 USA Hockey jersey with her. Although Turgeon’s life was tragically taken far too soon, she is with Fry in spirit as the dream of competing in Sochi becomes reality. Similar to the unexpected friendship struck between Chicago Bears football players Gale Sayers and the late Brian Piccolo, who lost a battle with leukemia, in the 1960s (which became the basis for the film Brian’s Song), Fry and Turgeon share a similar yet equally heartwarming friendship. It is such a friendship that defines the Olympic spirit, eradicating the national rivalries and borders that exist, while incorporating what is important and good about the sporting life.

Image of Fry with Turgeon jersey obtained from Facebook

Liz Turgeon with Alliance Pee-Wee AA Boys Texas hockey in 2004-05 obtained from: http://alliancehockey.org/pwaa_roster.htm

Donning the Colorado Selects jersey, Turgeon wore the number 87 like her father in the NHL. Image obtained from: http://www.jwhl.org/news_article/show/73174?referrer_id=196112-news

Friday, 3 January 2014

Show of class at NHL Alumni Game a reminder of the strength of Dani Probert

Although the previous series of articles and observations have revolved around the women who play the game, Joe Kocur’s gesture of class at the NHL Alumni Game on December 31, 2013 reinforced a strong message. There are other women that are just as important to the game, the wives and the mothers who provide the emotional support and the dedication that supplies great worth.

When Kocur graced the frozen surface in the middle of Detroit’s Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball club, he did so to a roar of approval from both Detroit and Toronto fans in attendance. Donning the jersey of Bob Probert, with its bold, red number 24 on the reverse, Kocur ended hockey in 2013 with a heartwarming moment.

It was more than a gesture recognizing his fallen teammate; it was also a tribute to the family that he left behind. His loving widow Dani Probert and their four children, three daughters and one son, are his true legacy.

While time will tell if Probert’s children shall ever duplicate his hockey glories, there is no question that Dani is the glue that holds the family together. On the surface, it would be easy to observe that Dani endured more than any woman should ever have to. While there is no need to open old wounds by recounting Probert’s troubled past as a player, one could easily state that Dani’s encouragement and support throughout such hardships makes her a very strong woman.

Through it all, she always maintained a quiet dignity, complemented by a toughness that could not be measured. After Probert’s book Tough Guy was published as a paperback, she made appearances at book signings and spoke to fans. It was a graceful way to give back to the fans while celebrating the life of a fallen hero.

For many Red Wings and hockey fans, Steve Yzerman may have been the catalyst for the renaissance to come in Detroit, yet there is no denying that the bruisers and grinders such as Bob Probert and Joe Kocur were its heart. Lunch pail workers through and through, their resiliency and dedication defined the working class spirit upon which the city of Detroit was built.

Even those who grew up admiring the Red Wings playoff foes of the time, such as Toronto and Edmonton, could not help but respect and admire the way Probert and Kocur could set the tone of a game. In the background, unbeknownst to fans was Dani, who would follow him to Detroit and Chicago, building a family and a life together.

While Probert’s career would endure its peaks and valleys through to its end, his accomplishments may equally be Dani’s as well. Probert was always described in his career as a protector. Dani acknowledged in interviews that he was a protector of their family. Yet, her loving support throughout his various problems reciprocated such a role. He may have been a free spirit of sorts, but without Dani, it is doubtful that he would have ever played over 900 NHL games.

Despite the fact that life must go on and the December 31 Alumni Game is just a memory, part of history and lore, the chance to see Probert’s name and his trademark #24 back on the ice reminded fans of a golden era for the Red Wings. It also reminded those who knew the Probert family and saw them grow that the spirit of his toughness yet friendship proudly carries on with his wife and their four children.

For that brief time, Kocur’s gesture was more than just testament to the admiration fans and colleagues had for #24. The fact that he gave the jersey to Probert’s only son, Jack, is equally testament to the respect that Probert had for his family. He would have wanted it this way. 

Alex Carpenter proudly follows in her father’s footsteps as she dons the US jersey for Sochi

In an effort to capture an elusive gold medal in Winter Games play, USA Hockey declared that the future is now in naming 19 year-old hockey prodigy Alex Carpenter to its roster for Sochi 2014. As the US has not captured a gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games since Nagano 1998, it is a streak of futility that does not want to continue into the 2018 games at Pyeongchang.

Carpenter first came to the attention of many hockey fans in the summer of 2011, when she suited up for the US Under-18 team in Rockland, Ontario (east of Ottawa). At the time, fans could not have anticipated that two years later, she would make her presence felt once again in Canada’s capital region. Having earned a spot on the US Senior Team, she would be part of the gold medal winning roster at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. Considering that Canada had never lost a gold medal game on home ice during the history of the IIHF Women’s Worlds, Carpenter had the opportunity to be part of history.

Should she contribute to another gold medal effort at Sochi 2014, it will signify another brush with history as Carpenter shall be part of the first US women’s hockey team in this century to claim gold. While the eternal rivalry with Canada is so intense that it is impossible to predict the outcome, there are two factors that enrich the experience for Carpenter.

Having established herself as a superstar with the Boston College Eagles at the NCAA level, she is joined by Eagles alumnae Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack on the US team. Of note, all three have been coached by Katie King-Crowley, a member of the US team that claimed gold at Nagano 1998. Considering Stack rewrote many of the Eagles scoring records upon graduating in 2011, Carpenter proudly follows in her legacy. The chance to see the two of them play together is a unique passing of the torch for proud Eagles fans.

Secondly, Carpenter’s tenure with USA Hockey is an extension of her father’s outstanding career. A member of Team USA for various international events, including the Canada Cup, Bobby Carpenter helped change the norm about the American contribution to pro hockey. Having appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager, Bobby Carpenter would also win the Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 1995.  

For Alex, the January 1, 2014 announcement to the US Winter games team was made even more special as it occurred on NHL ice, where her father also made history as the first American-born player to score 50 goals in an NHL season. During the second intermission of the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium (which set a world record for attendance), Carpenter and her US teammates were introduced to the fans.

As the only second-generation star on the US team, Carpenter is ready to bring her athletic gifts to an even larger stage. While there will likely be many more Winter Games opportunities for the prodigious Carpenter, the opportunity to start with a gold medal is one that may help define the beginning of a new era in USA Hockey.

Image obtained from Twitter, L-R: Eagles alumnae Kelli Stack and Molly Schaus (center) join 19 year-old Carpenter on Team USA. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Megan Bozek looks to maintain her championship ways to US Olympic roster

For every women’s hockey player, there is no greater thrill than to don the jersey of your home country. The moment is truly enhanced when one can do so on the world’s biggest stage. Megan Bozek, the best defender to ever come from the state of Illinois (her hometown is Buffalo Grove), is looking to maintain her winning ways at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Having played for the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers squad in 2012-13, it is an accomplishment in sport as prestigious as the 1972 Miami Dolphins or the 1996 Chicago Bulls who won as astounding 72 games. Quite possibly the greatest women’s hockey team assembled in US women’s collegiate hockey history, Bozek’s tenure on the team has immortalized her as a true legend. Of note, other members from the undefeated Minnesota squad joining Bozek in the quest for gold include 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel and Lee Stecklein, who towers in at 6’ tall, one of the tallest on the squad.

While she goes about her time on the ice in business-like fashion, her presence always gives her teams a chance to win. Following her graduation from Minnesota, she had the opportunity to make more history at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa, Canada. As the Canadian contingent had never lost an IIHF Women’s Worlds gold medal game on home soil, it came as a stunning moment to the fans in attendance when Bozek and her US teammates pulled off the upset.

Bozek is now looking for a unique triple crown by capturing gold in Sochi, which would complement her 2013 Frozen Four crown and the 2013 IIHF World title. As the United States has not claimed the gold since Nagano 1998, it is a drought that has not only taken a life of its own, but adds to the pressure of winning.

Considering that Bozek has overcome the odds twice in the last year – from going undefeated to beating Canada on their home ice - there is no question that her presence may be a key factor in a gold medal finish. At the 2013 Four Nations Cup, she contributed an impressive six points. Her senior season at Minnesota resulted in a 57-point output which made her the all-time scoring leader among Golden Gophers defenders. Always capable of providing solid numbers, her well-rounded game evokes memories of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. 

Although she may be an Olympic rookie, there is no denying her experience with USA Hockey. Among a rare group of women who have competed for the US Under-18, Under-22 and Senior teams, she has experienced success at every level. The opportunity to be part of the first US women’s hockey gold medal team in this century would be the pinnacle in an otherwise storied career. 

Image obtained from Facebook

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

North Dakota ending Minnesota Golden Gophers historic undefeated streak the moment of 2013

With a record-setting 62 consecutive wins, the Minnesota Golden Gophers revolutionized NCAA women’s hockey. During the memorable run, players such as Rachel Bona, Megan Bozek, Rachel Davis, Amanda Kessel, Noora Raty, Jen Schoullis and Kelly Terry helped carve a legacy that may never be matched again.

Just as all things must pass, so do must the memorable streak. Perhaps fittingly, the streak ended against a WCHA rival. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux, who met the Golden Gophers in the 2013 WCHA final and 2013 NCAA tournament, finally solved the maroon and gold in a match for the ages.

Having logged three goals in the first period, the 3,150 stunned fans at Ridder Arena saw the Golden Gophers face a three-goal deficit. Kayla Gardner opened the scoring at the 6:12 mark against sophomore Amanda Leveille. Freshman Gracen Hirschy added to the lead at 10:34 while Finnish national team member Susanna Tapani scored the third goal on the power play.

Just 1:50 into the second stanza, Rachel Ramsay would also score on the power play as the Golden Gophers were finally on the score board. Rachel Davis, who assisted on Ramsay’s goal, would log the Golden Gophers second power play tally of the period. Of note, Rachel Bona assisted on both power play goals as the Fighting Sioux’s lead was reduced to just one goal.

Despite the Golden Gophers’ best efforts, Lexie Shaw was unstoppable between the pipes in the final frame for the Fighting Sioux. A checking penalty to Johanna Fallman at 7:41 led to a Golden Gophers power play, but her valiant performance nullified the effort. Stopping 13 Golden Gophers’ shots, she preserved the historic victory. 

Considering Golden Gophers’ skaters Kelly Terry, Sarah Davis and Hannah Brandt all won the majority of their faceoffs, the defensive effort of the Fighting Sioux was the key to victory. Ironically the winning streak actually started against the Fighting Sioux on February 28, 2012. For Tapani, her first period goal stood as the game winner, providing her with a unique place in NCAA women’s hockey history.

Of note, the winning streak also surpassed the NCAA Division I men’s winning streak (30, set by both RPI and Cornell) and the unbeaten streak (38 by RPI). The previous winning streak in NCAA Division I women’s hockey was set by the Harvard Crimson with 21 victories.

The Golden Gophers’ rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers set the previous unbeaten record of 32 on two separate occasions. Despite the historic winning streak reaching its end, the program is still working on the NCAA record of 35 consecutive wins on the road.