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)

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