Friday, 9 May 2014

Karolina Urban’s westward journey pays positive dividends for Calgary Inferno

At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the Calgary Inferno faced a significant loss of leadership. Considering that Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson and Tara Watchorn were part of Canada’s centralization camp (in anticipation of the Sochi Winter Games); the impact was compounded by the retirement of former captain Bobbi-Jo Slusar.

Heading to Western Canada to pursue her Master’s Degree, the arrival of Karolina Urban could not have happened at a better time. Considering that Urban is articulate, very coachable and brings a team-first mentality, she would prove to be an essential component for a squad pursuing its first-ever postseason berth.

While the Inferno still featured reliable veterans such as Laura Dostaler, Chelsea Purcell and Kelsey Webster, Urban helped to relieve the burden of leadership from their shoulders. On a team that consisted of close to a dozen rookies, Urban’s experiences in the game helped provide a presence.

During the 2012-13 campaign, Urban was a rookie with the Toronto Furies, helping the squad reach the postseason. Ironically, the only points she earned in her inaugural season of CWHL play came in contests against Calgary (known that season as Team Alberta). Surrounded on the blue and white by strong women such as Sommer West (who was in her first year as head coach) and goaltender Sami Jo Small, she could not have asked for a better introduction to CWHL hockey.

Incorporating many of the values learned from that first season, she has developed into a jill-of-all-trades on the ice. From willing to play on a checking line, show some grit in the corners and contribute as a defensive-minded forward, Urban does many of the little things that do not always get recognized on the stats sheet.

Urban showed a very disciplined game during the Inferno’s 12 wins over the past season. Of note, she was only penalized in three of the squad’s wins. In addition, only three of those wins resulted in Urban having a negative plus/minus rating.

Another aspect to Urban’s respect for the game can be attributed to the high quality of coaching that she received while playing with the famed University of Toronto Varsity Blues program. During her tenure there, she had the opportunity to be coached by three Blues alumnae that also made their mark on the Canadian national team; Lori Dupuis, Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara. Ironically, Dupuis and Hefford were Urban’s opponents on the Brampton Thunder during her first season in the CWHL.

The trend of quality coaching would continue into her stint with the Inferno. Playing for head coach Tim Bothwell, a former NHL player and member of Melody Davidson’s coaching staff at the 2006 Torino Winter Games; it would only help improve an already fundamentally sound game for Urban.

While Urban has not scored as much in the CWHL as she did at the university level, she holds one unique stat during her two seasons in the league. Every game in which she has registered a point, her team goes on to win the game. Considering that the stars were perfectly aligned for the Inferno in the second half of the season, it would prove to be a memorable time for Urban as she helped the club make history by finishing with its first-ever winning season and postseason appearance.

Although she heads back east in the autumn to pursue her Ph.D, Urban’s role in the return of winning women’s hockey in Western Canada is unforgettable. Through the new friendships made and the magical season in which a young but enthusiastic Inferno franchise learned how to win, Urban emerges with an even greater sense of confidence. While one day she will be known as Dr. Urban, there shall always be a part of her that loves the camaraderie and competitiveness that comes from gracing the ice. 

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