Thursday, 20 February 2014

Gold medal nets goaltender Genevieve Lacasse membership in Triple Gold Club

One of the most talented goaltenders under 25 years of age in women’s hockey, Genevieve Lacasse can certainly be classified as an international superstar in waiting. Her involvement as a member for Team Canada in a gold medal effort at the Sochi Winter Games served as the final piece towards membership into the Triple Gold Club.

The last three years have netted Lacasse all the components necessary to become only the second goaltender admitted into the exclusive Club, the first being fellow Canadian, Kim St. Pierre. Beginning in 2012 as a member of the Canadian contingent that claimed the gold at the IIHF Women’s Worlds in Burlington, Vermont, Lacasse would follow it up one year later with a memorable performance in Markham, Ontario.

Standing between the pipes for the Boston Blades, Lacasse would backstop the black and gold to their first-ever Clarkson Cup championship. The experience was enhanced by the fact that she was the first rookie goaltender to win the Clarkson, along with proudly winning the 2012-13 CWHL goaltending title.

Despite serving in a backup capacity to the likes of Charline Labonte and Shannon Szabados in Sochi, the opportunity to be part of the world’s biggest sporting event is testament to her remarkable talent. Having rewritten the record books with the Providence Friars in the NCAA and then proving her ability to compete with the world’s finest at the CWHL level, Lacasse has already forged an incredible legacy.

While she was one of many Winter Games rookies for the Canadian team, alongside the likes of Melodie Daoust, Brianne Jenner, Natalie Spooner and Jenn Wakefield, the experience gained at such a prominent event will only inspire her to be an even better player. As Sochi certainly signified a transition for the national team, considering the involvement of so many new faces, the future is definitely in good hands with the notion of Lacasse standing between the pipes in the future.

Having also contributed to Team Canada championships at the Under-22 level in years past, Lacasse is ready to blossom into the next great Canadian goaltending superstar, eager to follow in the strong goaltending legacy of predecessors such as Kim St. Pierre. While Lacasse will have to wait four more years to net some more ice time at the Winter Games, Canadian fans can agree it will be well worth the wait. 

First image obtained from: 

Second image credited to: Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Raty and Knight looking for chances to break ground by playing with the boys

Rivals at the collegiate level in the WCHA and at the international level in the IIHF, Hilary Knight and Noora Raty are looking to extend their careers in a most unique way. Following in the footsteps of ground breaking women such as Manon Rheaume, Erin Whitten, Danielle Dube and Hayley Wickenheiser, they are looking for the chance to compete in competitive men’s leagues.

With possible opportunities in Finland and Sweden, the involvement of Raty and Knight may not only help increase the awareness of the sport, it could help create other opportunities in North America. Considering some members of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars have participated in intergender games, there is no question that Stars competitors such as Caroline Ouellette and Charline Labonte are worthy of consideration for AHL or ECHL play.

The greatest female goaltender in the history of Finland, Raty shocked hockey fans throughout the world when she announced that Sochi would represent her last foray in female hockey. Having accomplished so much between the pipes, the thought of Raty, only 24 years old, no longer competing seems premature and sadly abrupt.

For so many years, fans have associated Finnish hockey with Raty guarding their net. Her greatest legacy was backstopping the Finns to a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Considering that she was also the winner of the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2008 IIHF Women’s World Championships, it is a tremendous loss of talent. 

While the bronze medal represents a sparkling legacy for Raty, her greatest contribution may have come a few years later. After a dream season in 2012-13, when she backstopped the Minnesota Golden Gophers to an undefeated season, an historic first in NCAA women’s hockey, it seemed like the future had endless possibilities for Raty. Popular hockey periodical, The Hockey News, actually listed Raty in their Top 100 People of Power and Influence in Hockey for 2014.

After graduating from Minnesota, there was speculation she may remain a student and pursue a chance to compete for the golf program. With the existence of the Minnesota Whitecaps women’s hockey club, it seemed like Raty had a promising future. There is no question that a nearby club such as the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals definitely could have given her a chance to play. Opting to return home to Finland, Raty will look for a roster spot with Kiekko-Vantaa, a second-tier club in her homeland.

Definitely America’s girl next door for women’s hockey, Hilary Knight is one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. Her resume is one that is the envy of female competitors the world over. Already the proud owner of IIHF gold, the Clarkson Cup and an NCAA Frozen Four title, a gold medal at the Winter Games would bring her a unique grand slam in women’s hockey. Although she has no plans to retire from the national team after Sochi, there is no question that she is looking to add a new dimension to her game.

Speculation about the opportunity to compete in a lower-tier men’s league in Sweden would present the next logical step for Knight. The reality is that Knight has nothing left to prove in the female game. She has not only been dominant in every league that she has competed in (WCHA and CWHL), scoring titles and league championships are synonymous with the high quality hockey that defines her storied career.

Considering that former Canadian national team member is competing in a female league in Sweden, the opportunity to travel abroad and play in a different culture provides with it a great personal growth for North American players. With Knight competing in a men’s league, it will certainly bring with it a significant amount of exposure from North American media outlets.

Clearly, the aftermath of Sochi brings with it the opportunity to shatter barriers that may not have seemed possible after the first women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. As the presence of girls are very commonplace on the roster of boys junior hockey teams today, the possibility of women regularly competing alongside men in semi-pro or minor league play could evolve into a very common aspect of the game tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Prominent Winter Games rookies from Canada score first goals in semi-final win over Switzerland

Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, one of the key components for the Canadian national women’s team was definitely change. From new faces at every position to a new coaching staff, many members of Canada’s contingent were truly Winter Games rookies.

In a semi-final game against Switzerland, a pair of rookies, Natalie Spooner and Melodie Daoust, would score their first-ever goals in Winter Games competition. Having broken the Toronto Furies franchise mark for most goals scored in one season, Spooner was certainly eager to get on the scoreboard for Canada.

At the 7:29 of the opening frame, Spooner would manage to score on Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling (who faced 69 shots against Canada in the preliminary round), with the assist credited to Hayley Wickenheiser. It represented a significant milestone for Spooner, as she logged her first-ever goal in the Winter Games.

Canadian captain Caroline Ouellette beat Schelling with a slapshot but the goal was disallowed due to interference in the crease. Ironically, it was Spooner that was called. Looking to redeem herself, Spooner would grab a rebound and tuck it into the net past Schelling for the two-goal advantage at 11:10. Wickenheiser would register her second assist of the contest.

As the first woman to have competed on Canada’s Under-18, Under-22 and Senior teams, Spooner would end up achieving two unique milestones. Besides scoring her first-ever goal in the Winter Games, the fact that she scored twice resulted in her first multi-goal performance.  

Merely 23 seconds after Spooner provided Canada with a larger lead, Daoust would follow by scoring her first-ever goal in the Games also. The product of McGill University (of note, McGill alumnae Catherine Ward and Charline Labonte are also on Canada’s team), Daoust is testament to the remarkable talent emanating from Canadian Interuniversity Sport play. Her landmark goal was assisted by Jennifer Wakefield, another Winter Games rookie.

Despite the three-goal cushion, Switzerland shut out Canada in the remaining two periods, playing a very stingy defensive game. Jessica Lutz would score for Switzerland in the second but the excitement would subside as Shannon Szabados ensured that the lead would not shrink any further.

The victory for Canada helped them maintain their undefeated streak against Switzerland at the IIHF and Winter Games levels. In addition, the victory over the Swiss provided Canada with its 19 straight win at the Games, dating back to 2002. As Canada looks for its fourth consecutive gold medal, the performance of rookies such as Daoust and Spooner indicates that momentum is high as silver is not an option. 

Wallner and Martin provide valiant performance for Sweden in collaborative effort

From the outset, the fact that the United States outshot Sweden by an astounding 70-9 margin does not bode well for the cynics who believe women’s hockey should be removed from the Winter Games. While IIHF president Rene Fasel advised USA Today that he is optimistic about the sports’ future at the Games, the fact that Sweden qualified for the medal round is truly admirable.

Considering that the Swedes were in the relegation round at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa, Canada, they were not favored to be competing for medals in Sochi. A pair of visceral upsets, Switzerland defeating Russia, and Sweden upending their eternal rival Finland, certainly indicated that competition is improving in the women’s game.

Although Canada will play the United States in the gold medal match for the fourth time in the history of the event at the Winter Games, Sweden’s goaltending definitely should encourage their fans to believe that a bronze medal is highly possible. Valentina Wallner and Kim Martin provided a performance that was nothing short of legendary in Sochi.

Despite losing the contest by a 6-1 mark to the United States, the number of shots clearly indicated that the score could have been much worse. Testament to their talents between the piopes, this dynamic goaltending duo combined for 70 saves.

After one period of play, the US enjoyed an overwhelming 29-1 advantage in shots. Although the US would score their three goals in the first period in a time span of 4:29, Wallner did nothing short of standing on her head in order to provide her team with an opportunity to succeed. Goals by Alex Carpenter, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Kessel may have given the US a comfortable lead, but Wallner’s toughness was certainly noticed by the fans in attendance.

Despite another strong effort in the second stanza, Wallner was removed after the US extended their lead to a 5-0 score. Goals by Monique Lamoureux and Megan Bozek forced Swedish head coach Niclas Hogberg to make a goaoltending change. By the time that Kim Martin was brought in to relive Wallner, she had already logged 47 saves.

Martin would stop 22 US shots in 27:29 of ice time including bravely fighting off high-scoring Jocelyne Lamoureux. She would face Martin on a penalty shot with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. An empty net goal from Brianna Decker made it a 6-1 final for the US as Sweden proceeds to the bronze medal game.

While American goaltender Jessie Vetter allowed her only goal in the third period to Anna Borgqvist, there was no question that Wallner and Martin were the true stars of this game. Although it was not the type of loss that any team, male or female, would want to endure, there is a tiny bit of consolation and perhaps irony for Sweden. Switzerland’s goaltender, Florence Schelling, made 64 saves in a 5-0 loss to Canada during Pool A competition.

With such sparkling performances between the pipes, goals will likely be hard to come by in the bronze medal game. After so many pundits expected the likes of Finland or host country Russia (who played each other in the bronze medal game at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds) to compete for bronze at the Winter Games, the presence of Sweden and Switzerland indicates that the level of competition, including the quality of goaltending, cannot be disputed.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Several women's hockey legends extending careers with superlative broadcast performances at Sochi

For a generation of Canadian hockey fans, the idea of fan favorites such as the legendary Kim St. Pierre and the charismatic Tessa Bonhomme not donning the Canadian jersey on the world’s biggest hockey stage is nothing short of shocking. After providing such strong and emotional performances on home ice in Vancouver four years ago, no one could have foreseen how time would provide change four years later.

Having both inspired many young girls to lace on the skates and play the game, their legacies in the game are assured. Despite their absence from the ice, neither is too far from the game. Both have taken on new roles as broadcasters, and providing a superlative performance.

Working with Radio-Canada, Kim St. Pierre brings her expertise to the French-Canadian airwaves. As the analyst for Team Canada’s broadcasts, she works with color commentator Martin Leclerc, who brings 20 years of experience in covering the game. One of the winningest goalies in the history of IIHF play, this is St. Pierre's first experience as a broadcaster at the Winter Games.

While St. Pierre is a broadcast rookie, fans can definitely tell that she is passionate and her knowledge of the game is highly evident. Having developed a very good on-air chemistry with Leclerc, there are no signs of rookie nerves whatsoever. Just as steady as she was between the pipes for Canada, there is no question that she has found a new niche and fans can only hope that there will be many more Winter Games to come for St. Pierre. 

On Radio-Canada’s English counterpart, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Jennifer Botterill, a three-time gold medalist for Canada is serving as a reporter for women’s games. Meanwhile, Cassie Campbell, the first woman to captain Canada to back-to-back gold medals in hockey is not only serving as an analyst on women’s hockey matches, but also for men’s hockey. By providing analysis on men’s contests, Campbell is continuing to break barriers

Already an on-air favorite with Leafs TV, Bonhomme is carrying in the legacy of many former Team Canada players such as Margot Page by providing her expertise for The Sports Network (TSN). Enhancing the experience for Bonhomme (who is a competitor with the CWHL’s Toronto Furies) is the presence of former teammate at the 2007 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Cheryl Pounder.

One of the finest English-language female hockey broadcasters in the business, Pounder is articulate, well-spoken and brings with her two decades of knowledge on the game. Having contributed to the Canadian contingent that brought back gold in Salt Lake (2002) and Torino (2006), Pounder is also a former Ontario University Athletics All-Star.

Fans are familiar with Pounder’s strong performance as a color commentator for TSN’s Clarkson Cup coverage. An in-demand public speaker and a popular master of ceremonies for numerous women’s hockey events (including the Esso Cup), Pounder and Bonhomme have provided exceptional in-studio analysis, along the likes of popular male personalities such as Bob McKenzie and Nick Kypreos.

From analyzing the impact of Hayley Wickenheiser to discussing the performances of Rebecca Johnston and Marie-Philip Poulin, this dynamic duo have great rapport while leading the change towards including more women in the ranks of hockey broadcasting. With occasional SportsCentre host Natasha Staniszewski (a former competitive basketball and volleyball player) anchoring the in-studio analysis for the women’s hockey coverage, the result is sports coverage worth watching.

While Sochi has certainly represented a period of transition for the Canadian program and many of its fans, it is rewarding to see many of its legends still part of the sport. Although players such as Bonhomme, Pounder and St. Pierre will never be forgotten for their efforts in establishing Canada’s dynasty in the Winter Games, they continue to inspire women by proving that they can excel in other opportunities.

Image of Martin Leclerc and Kim St. Pierre in the Radio-Canada studio obtained from: 

Image of Cassie Campbell and Jennifer Botterill obtained from

Image of Cheryl Pounder and Tessa Bonhomme sharing a humrous moment obtained from:

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Discussion of women’s hockey future in Winter Games discouraging for development of the sport

A point of tension in the growth of women’s hockey is the constant discussion of whether it deserves to remain as part of the Winter Games. While there is no denying that on paper, it is a two-team race that shall likely continue at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and into 2022, the thought of removing the sport would only halt any progress.

One need observe how the removal of softball from the Summer Games has changed the complexion of the sport. Since its removal after Beijing 2008, due to the dominance of the US, softball is not on any sports fans radar. It was the Summer Games that made heroes out of players such as Dot Richardson and Jennie Finch. Despite a Softball World Cup, the prestige of the Summer Games is irreplaceable.

Based on the International Olympic Committee’s logic, perhaps women’s basketball should also be removed. Considering that the United States has won the gold medal in the last five Games, perhaps there are even deeper competition issues within that sport.

The reality is that participation in the Games is the highlight of any athlete’s career. While female hockey heroes such as Geraldine Heaney and Manon Rheaume may have brought exposure to the sport and inspired girls to try it, the reality is that it was the 1998 Nagano Winter Games that was the sport’s watershed moment.

Athletes such as Canada’s Cassie Campbell and the United States’ Cammi Granato proudly followed in the footsteps of Heaney and Rheaume, while providing the sport with a worldwide audience that had never been considered possible a few years earlier. It was their efforts as the faces of their repsecitve national programs that motivated young female hockey players to work even harder, due to the possibility of an Olympic dream.

On more than one occasion, Hayley Wickenheiser, one of only two women to play in the first five Winter Games women’s hockey competitions (the other being Jayna Hefford) acknowledged that the event is their Stanley Cup. To take that away from them would only serve to destroy the self-esteem of a sport that is still struggling to gain equal footing with the men’s game.

Despite lopsided scores, such as Canada’s 18-0 whitewashing of Slovakia at the 2010 Winter Games, the opportunity for female players from less competitive countries to participate on the world’s biggest stage is a reward for the hard work and sacrifices they have made. Should that opportunity no longer exist, there is no question that funding for women’s programs in these developing hockey nations will cease to exist.

The Sochi 2014 Games have displayed an initiative to add competition by placing the top four teams in the same pool. With Canada, the United States, Finland and Switzerland in Pool A, it prevents the type of 18-0 lopsided scores against lesser teams. Therefore, Pool B should feature stronger play. The trade-off is that the top two teams in Pool A qualify for the semi-finals.

With Hayley Wickenheiser seeking election to a spot on the International Olympic Committee after the 2014 Games, her presence may serve as crucial. As American hockey legend Angela Ruggiero was elected after the 2010 Winter Games, the involvement of Wickenheiser would only help strengthen the role that women’s hockey must continue to have on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Considering the initiatives implemented by the IIHF, such as the Ambassador and Mentorship Program are still in their infancy, at least an effort has been made to plant the seeds for growth and development. The exclusion of Canadian and American teams from women’s hockey at the Junior Olympics is another factor in helping to increase the level of competition. As a side note, many European players have enjoyed the opportunity to earn NCAA scholarships and excel at the game in North America.

Despite the long-term scope, the IIHF did react to the previous discussions on the sports’ future from the 2010 Vancouver Games. With due deference to the IIHF, it is now time to be proactive. Although the IIHF holds a men’s world championship every year (including in a Winter Games year), this is not the case for the women’s competition. Perhaps after every Winter Games, a special tournament could be hosted by the IIHF exclusively for the European countries. Another concept may be an annual exhibition series featuring a group of European All-Stars competing against the Canadian and American women’s teams.

A further initiative (although financial constraints would likely pose a concern) would be an exchange program of sorts. Perhaps elite Canadian and American players could compete in leagues based out of Russia, Sweden and Finland for a season. Sponsorship would have to be considered, but it may help to change the complexion of the game in Europe.

Regardless of the all-too probable outcome of Sochi, the future of the sport should not be a black cloud over the heads of the players. Sadly, its future is a more popular topic of discussion among media than the many stars that populate the game.  

Accolades continue for Connecticut Huskies goaltender Elaine Chuli during improved season

After a difficult freshman season, Elaine Chuli has emerged as one of the comeback players of the year in Hockey East. Standing between the pipes for the Connecticut Huskies program, she is beginning to establish herself as an elite backstop.

With the Huskies standing as one of the feel-good stories of the 2013-14 NCAA hockey season, Chuli, a native of Waterford, Ontario, capped off a remarkable month of January with Hockey East Co-Goaltender of the Month honors. Sharing the nod with Corinne Boyles of the Boston College Eagles, it is an award that celebrates how far the team has come in such a short period of time.

Posting a won-loss mark of 3-7-0 during the month of January, there were positive signs for Chuli and her fellow Huskies. Considering the fact that no more than three goals were scored by an opposing team in any of those losses, it shows a much disciplined style of play on defense.

Victories against Vermont, New Hampshire and Providence highlighted the month. Losses to prominent programs such as Boston University and Harvard were only by one goal.

Statistically, she registered a sparkling 1.52 goals against average, complemented by a solid .955 save percentage in January. It improves her season numbers to a GAA of 2.67 while her save percentage on the season improves to .924, good for third among Hockey East goaltenders.

A 2-0 win on the road against the Vermont Catamounts provided Chuli with her first career shutout. Of note, it would serve as the first shutout for the rebuilding program since November 2011.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Chuli earned Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors twice in January. She was recognized for the week of January 6 after a 33 save effort in a loss at Princeton. The week of January 27 saw Chuli earn her second honor as she stopped 66 of 68 shots in a two-game series against the Providence Friars.

Considering this is the first monthly honor won by a Huskies player since goaltender Alexandra Garcia earned Goalie of the Month honors in November 2010, Chuli is helping to propel the Huskies in a positive direction. As she now boasts four conference awards this season, a playoff berth certainly looms ahead for a goaltender with a bright future. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Furies and Marlies celebrate Women’s Hockey Day with ceremonial face-off

As Saturday January 25, 2014 signified Women’s Hockey Day, the Toronto Marlies helped participate in the celebrations. Having invited three Toronto Furies players to take part in the ceremonial face-off at their home ice at Ricoh Coliseum, it was a special way of recognizing the growing impact that women’s hockey has in the Greater Toronto Area.

Prior to the contest against the Wolves, second-year player Jordanna Peroff was joined by rookie Holly Carrie-Mattimoe and Furies veteran Martine Garland for the face-off. Joining them at centre ice included Marlies skater Sam Carrick and Keith Aucoin of the Chicago Wolves.

Considering that the Marlies’ parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a sponsor of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, it is rewarding to see the Furies being integrated into one of the most prestigious hockey circles in Canada. Last season, the Furies participated in a regular season game at Air Canada Centre, and fans can only hope that the ACC shall stage another event.

Regarding the Furies appearance at the Marlies contest, it was great to see some new blood represented. While an individual such as captain Tessa Bonhomme is the face of the franchise, the opportunity for other members of the club to participate in special events only helps to increase their profile. As a side note, team founder and goaltender Sami Jo Small, Kori Cheverie and Jenelle Kohanchuk were also in attendance. 

Raised north of Toronto in the rural community of Keswick, Peroff is an articulate and well-educated individual who supplies a winning presence for the blue and white. Having won multiple national championships with the McGill Martlets in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play, Peroff is a fundamentally sound forward who can engage in any role required.

One of the finest players in the Syracuse Orange program, Holly Carrie-Mattimoe embarks on the next step of her hockey career. Although the Orange do not have a lot of alumnus that have moved on to the CWHL, Carrie-Mattimoe may help reverse that trend. In her senior year with the Orange, not only was she a tri-captain, but the recipient of the College Hockey America Sportsmanship Award. Donning number 77 with the Furies, she has recently climbed into the Top 25 in the CWHL scoring race.

Providing a solid presence in the locker room, Garland is one of the more underrated competitors for the blue and white. A legendary defender with the University of New Hampshire, Garland is also a lawyer, embodying the spirit of empowerment that defines women’s hockey. Ironically, she would play with Wakefield at UNH, both earning Hockey East All-Star nods. While she may not be one of the team’s high scorers this season, she is one of those individuals that does the little things others may not notice. Garland proves that players who do not score can still make significant contributions on the ice.

Although the Marlies would endure a 2-1 loss against the Wolves, for this evening, the Marlies were part of something bigger. They made their own significant contribution as the invitation of the Furies players not only helps bolster the morale of the team and the league, but it proves that these are strong women who are not only valuable members of the hockey community, but that they are here to stay.

Image obtained from Facebook 

US hockey stars earning well-deserved attention heading into Sochi

Although the recent history of women’s hockey dictates that its highest peak of media attention comes during the Winter Games, all signs point to a significant growth in interest. In the last month alone, several periodicals have shown remarkable attention to the fearless, frozen females that don the United States jersey.

Julie Chu has certainly emerged as one of the media darlings during the lead-in to Sochi. When Ralph Lauren revealed the outfits that US athletes shall don during the opening ceremonies, Chu was one of the female athletes selected to model. She has also been featured in print ads for Citi Bank, testament to her growing popularity.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Chu’s impact as an athlete and role model came through an advertising campaign with Bounty paper products. Proctor and Gamble, the parent company of Bounty, is continuing their “Thank You, Mom” campaign from London 2012.

Recognizing the impact of moms as an invaluable source of support in the young lives of athletes, Chu and her mother Miriam helped kickoff the campaign for Sochi 2014. The kickoff took place on October 28, 2013 in New York City, which also featured the screening of P&G’s “Raising an Olympian” series of short films.

Chu would be joined in New York City a few days later by players Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan. This titanic trio would participate in the US Olympic Committee’s 100 Days to Sochi celebrations. Proudly donning their USA Hockey jerseys, they would perform a hockey demonstration on a makeshift rink in Times Square.

For Knight, that would prove to be just the beginning. Quickly emerging as hockey’s girl next door, she would also be featured in the January 2014 edition of Cosmopolitan along with the Jan/Feb 2014 cover date of Shape Magazine. In both editions, Knight shared various workout tips.

Of all the magazines that featured Knight, the most prominent and glamorous coverage may have come in the February 10, 2014 cover dated edition of People Magazine. Posing with US teammates Jessie Vetter, Kendall Coyne, Kelli Stack, Kacey Bellamy and Brianna Decker, all six were beautifully decked in red evening gowns.

Photographed on December 16 during the US training camp at the Schwan Super Rink, located in the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, it was a special and empowering experience. After morning practice and a quick shower, the six were pampered by hair stylists and makeup artists while being fitted. The most exciting aspect was the opportunity to wear $1.8 million worth of diamonds from JB Hudson Jewelers. Although the only event that may supersede such jubilation is the chance to have the gold medal adorn their jerseys in Sochi.

Another pair of prominent players from Team USA was part of the media frenzy surrounding US hockey. Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, the greatest hockey playing sisters in the world, have also earned a significant spot in the limelight. From the outset, the sisters (along with Hilary Knight) were featured on trading cards issued by the Topps Company.

Following in the rare opportunity to be immortalized on cardboard, the Lamoureux sisters were also featured in two popular publications. The two shared workout tips with Oxygen Magazine (featuring snowboarder Elena Hight on the cover) while being part of a player spotlight in Sports Illustrated’s preview of the Sochi Winter Games.

While there is a lot more progress to be made before women’s hockey is on the same level of popularity as men’s hockey, the outpouring of attention leading into Sochi represents a significant victory. Considering the vast number of female players earning the attention, it holds the potential for more players to be household names, similar to the likes of Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggerio, players whose footsteps they have proudly followed.

Photo credits: Julie Chu and her mom Miriam (Neilson Barnard, Getty Images)

US national team, Barclay Kruse, People Magazine

Monday, 3 February 2014

Super rookie Alyssa Baldin paying strong dividends for upstart Furies squad

Selected in the fifth round of the 2013 CWHL Draft, Alyssa Baldin is not only one of the draft’s sleeper picks, she is building a strong case as Rookie of the Year. For the week of February 2, Baldin was not only in the Top 10 for the CWHL scoring race, she was third overall in scoring among CWHL rookies, trailing Boston’s Jillian Dempsey and Calgary’s Danielle Stone. Of note, her nine assists tie Dempsey and Blake Bolden for the lead among rookies.

In a season that saw the Furies miss the likes of Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner and Jenn Wakefield due to Sochi 2014, questions surrounded the club’s ability to score. With her presence, Baldin has emerged as a perfect fit for the blue and white.

As a former captain with the Windsor Lancers of the CIS, she brings a tremendous maturity to a squad looking to return to their first Clarkson Cup finals since 2011. Having grown up idolizing Jayna Hefford, there is no question that she emulates her love of the game and smooth scoring skills.

Her CWHL debut on November 9 was certainly a sign that the Furies had a budding superstar in their ranks. With a multi-point effort against the Calgary Inferno, she was the key factor in the 3-2 victory. A November 17 loss to the Montreal Stars, one of the signature franchises in the CWHL, resulted in another multi-point effort, showing that Baldin could measure up against the league’s elite.

Although she has endured a few scoreless games, Baldin has proven to bring disciplined play to the ice. Her ability to maintain a respectable plus/minus rating of +6 and only four penalty minutes is testament to such skills.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that she has posted four-point games on two separate occasions this season. A 7-1 whitewash during a December 1 road match in Calgary saw Baldin log two power-play goals and two assists. She would repeat the feat on January 5 against cross-town rival Brampton. Once again on the road, she would contribute two goals and two assists (of which one was short-handed) in the 9-1 trouncing.

With her five power-play assists ranking third in the league and tops on the Furies, Baldin plays with the expertise of a veteran. Keeping her game simple, she plays on a line with two-time Frozen Four champ Carolyne Prevost, resulting in remarkable on-ice chemistry.

Although Baldin’s leadership skills and maturity are certainly shining through this season, there is no question that the presence of fellow teammates and veterans has been essential. Players such as Meghan Aarts, Kori Cheverie, Lexie Hoffmeyer and Britni Smith have been a positive influence for Baldin, helping her adjust to the league.

Part of that adjustment must also be attributed to head coach Sommer West. One of the top 10 all-time scorers in CWHL history, West also played with the national softball team at the 2000 Summer Games. Based on her time as a former player, she has the understanding, empathy and ability to motivate while bringing the best out of her players.

One can see that she has a strong appreciation for the game and a respect for those that played before her. Understanding that signifies that she has all the makings of a future captain in this league. As fellow rookies Katie Smith and Holly Carrie-Mattimoe begin to find their scoring touch, the dark horse Furies should not be taken lightly. 

Image obtained from: Facebook

Rethink for Jessie Vetter’s goalie mask silly and unfair

For a competitor that was considered the Babe Ruth of NCAA women’s hockey goaltenders, the
unfair controversy over her goalie mask starts Jessie Vetter’s quest for gold on a negative note. Rather than focusing on her distinguished career, sadly, most of the exposure in the media has centered on a mask that was only meant to proudly display patriotism.

Revealed on January 6 by InGoal Magazine, the artistic renditions on her original mask for Sochi included the Statue of Liberty on the forehead, Olympic rings on the chin and a portion of the Declaration of Independence on the reverse. Shimmering metal flake on the red, white and blue stars is complemented by a screaming bald eagle on each side.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of Vetter’s mask is the USA logo adorned in 23 karat gold leaf embossing. Certainly it shall be the color of choice that Vetter is hoping to win. 

Crafted by Ron Slater of Slater Lettering and Graphics, he is a renowned artist who has designed numerous masks. With the real gold on the mask, it is a tremendous motivator and a reminder of why Vetter and her teammates have worked tirelessly; so that the gold medal can adorn their necks in a few weeks time at Sochi.  

Considering the controversy that has surrounded the 2014 Winter Games like a black cloud, Vetter’s mask has become an unlikely victim. The International Olympic Committee requested that modifications needed to be made. In addition to the deletion of the wording from the Declaration artwork (which featured “We the People” in large type) on the back of the mask, the Olympic rings had to be removed. 

Although the rings simply signify that she is competing at the Games, which would seem harmless, the IOC is infamous for protecting its brand and name. For all the athletes that have the Olympic rings tattooed on their physiques, will that have to undergo review in the future?

Engaging in mere speculation, should the mask have been sold in future years, it would have been easy to prevent such a sale due to copyright and/or intellectual property issues concerning the rings. Although it may be simpler for the next Games if the Olympic charter was simply revised to mention that the use of its rings are not allowed in any equipment design.

As a side note, this is not the first time that a goalie from Team USA has been forced to make changes to a mask. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games (Vetter’s first games), Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick were forced to comply with Rule 51 in the Olympic charter, which bans any sort of advertising, demonstration or propaganda on athlete’s equipment. On Miller’s mask, the wording “Matt Man”, a tribute to a late cousin was removed. Quick had the wording “Support our Troops” stripped from his mask.
While the IOC indicated that writings of any kind to promote a country are not allowed, hence the reason for the removal of “We the People”, there is an obligation to provide an explanation regarding the Slovakian men’s hockey jersey. Based on all the rules and regulations that exist, how can said jersey not be in clear violation? While it is an aesthetically pleasing design, their national anthem is sewn throughout. From far, it looks like powder blue horizontal lines on the jersey, but up close, the wording is visible. While the extremely tiny writing sewn in the fabric definitely represents a remarkable innovation, it is promoting their country.

If there were other athletes that would have complained about Vetter’s mask, the decision would have been easier to comprehend. Sadly, this is not the first unnecessary controversy that has impacted the image and perception of the Sochi Winter Games, and will likely not be the last. For a world-class athlete like Vetter, it is best to simply shrug it off and move on. Years from now, the mask change will simply be a blip on the radar in her Hall of Fame worthy career, while the only aspect that fans will truly remember from her time at Sochi is what color medal she earned. 
Images obatined from: InGoal Magazine