Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Evening to remember for Montreal Stars fundraiser for breast cancer as Emmanuelle Blais helps make CWHL history

The March 8 contest between the Montreal Stars and the Boston Blades at the Arena Etienne-Desmarteau encompassed many unique elements. From the outset, the Stars enjoyed a sold-out crowd of 14,000 fans as they held their annual Breast Cancer fundraiser. Of note, several players from the IWFL’s Montreal Blitz, the Tier II champions of 2013, were on-hand to show their support.

Adding to the spectacle was the fact that several CWHL stars, including the likes of Julie Chu, Hilary Knight, Genevieve Lacasse and Caroline Ouellette were returning to league play after remarkable performances at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

With CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress participating in the ceremonial face off, the aforementioned (along with Lauriane Rougeau and Catherine Ward who were inactive for the game) joined her at centre ice. As Stars players were standing proudly on the blue line adorned in pink jerseys (which were auctioned off afterwards for Breast Cancer research), captains Cathy Chartrand (Montreal) and Jessica Koizumi (Boston) took part in the face-off.

Before the first period would expire, fans were spoiled as they were witness to CWHL history. Emmanuelle Blais would register two assists in the first frame, providing her with 100 career points. As the third Stars player this season to reach the century mark, it signified the first time in CWHL history that three players from the same team in the same season achieved such a mark.

Of note, Montreal enjoyed a 2-0 lead after the first, with goals scored by Alyssa Cecere and Caroline Ouellette. For Ouellette, being able to score her first goal in her season debut held special meaning as her aunt Claire was diagnosed with breast cancer prior to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Having survived the disease, Ouellette is even more dedicated to assisting in fund raising.

After a second period in which the Stars outshot the Blades by a 15-9 mark, the score remained 2-0. Despite the Blades trying to muster an offensive attack, Stars backstop Catherine Herron (the niece of former Montreal Canadiens goalie Denis Herron) was solid between the pipes.

Heading into the third period, the Stars were ready to add to their lead. At the 5:23 mark, Sarah Vaillancourt logged a power play tally with Kate Buesser serving a body checking call. Assisted by Vinny Davidson and Cathy Chartrand, this titanic trio stands second, third and fourth in the CWHL scoring race.

At the 7:22 mark, Blais would add to the excitement of a remarkable evening by scoring on Blades goatlender Lacasse. Assisted by Davidson, she would finish with three points in the historic effort that saw her reach the century mark.

Merely 51 seconds after Blais scored to provide Montreal with the 4-0 lead, Boston got onto the scoresheet. Hilary Knight, the Blades leading scorer in Sochi, buried the puck past Herron, foiling her attempts at another shutout.

After Knight’s goal, Boston encountered penalty trouble, making it difficult to mount a comeback. With Alyssa Wohlfeiler serving a roughing call at 12:20, assembling any momentum would be difficult as the black and gold went on the penalty kill. Despite the fact that Kate Buesser (who also assisted on Knight’s goal) would manage to reduce Montreal’s lead in half with a marker at 15:22, Dru Burns would be called for interference at 17:17. With only 17 players dressed, compared to 22 for the Stars, the Blades found themselves overwhelmed all evening as the score remained 4-2 by the end of the period.

Appropriately, Blais was recognized as the First Star of the Game. Carly Dupont-Hill earned Second Star nods for her solid defensive play, while Boston’s Kate Buesser was recognized for her two-point effort as the game’s Third Star. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Inspiring letter by Moyse and Humphries to Canadian team deserves to be in HHOF

While the challenge to become the first nation to grab four consecutive gold medals in women’s hockey at the Winter Games brought with it a significant amount of pressure, the support of two of the most successful Canadian women to compete in bobsled supplied an inspiring and comforting source of motivation. A thoughtful hand-written letter to the women’s team not only brought with it a touch of class, but it captured the hearts and minds of Canadians from coast-to-coast.

Its legend only grew when famed Canadian hockey commentator Ron McLean showed the letter on CBC Television, prior to the broadcast of the gold medal finale.

As the Canadian national team held their Centralization Camp in Calgary, Alberta, the same city where many of the training facilities for Winter Sports athletes (such as Moyse and Humphries) exist, a friendship with the accomplished bobsledders developed prior to Sochi. With it, a mutual respect for the hard work and sacrifice needed to be considered the world’s finest bridged the two sports and its stars together.

With many elated players (along with their friends and family) expressing their gratitude on social media, the letter has somewhat taken a life of its own. The gesture of kindness and spirit of sportsmanship which signified their wondrous words put to paper has now become an important part of Canadian women’s hockey history.

Considering the end result in Sochi was a gold medal for Canada’s women, this letter is also worthy of recognition as one of most influential documents in recent Canadian sports history. Bearing in mind that the Canadian men defeated their American rivals in the semi-finals the day after, one can almost speculate that the women’s victory set the tone.

There can be no question that the letter was a key contributor, almost a catalyst, in helping Canada’s women believe they could accomplish their miraculous come-from-behind victory. With a status in Winter Games lore as legendary as the Lucky Loonie that ice maker Trent Evans buried in the ice at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, the reality is that the letter deserves to be displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As there are some treasures in sport, whether it be a prized trophy, equipment such as a stick or jersey, or even a puck that simply deserve to be exhibited and shared for all to see. Even a bit of ephemera, such as the letter, deserves its place among the treasured relics in the sport of hockey, in which its lore and evolution is honored.  

Perhaps more importantly, the letter signifies the sportsmanship and respect that exists among women in sport. As women continue to fight for sporting equality, the hearts of gold that Moyse and Humphries displayed on that fateful day in Sochi not only displayed strong leadership, it set a positive example for what women are capable of in sport when they believe. In effect, that is the true importance of the letter.