Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Furies make proud statement by participating in Toronto Pride Parade

A remarkable example of team spirit and community outreach came when players from the Clarkson Cup champion Toronto Furies participated in Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade. Taking into account that the event brings over 1 million spectators to the parade route, it has become one of the largest of its kind, becoming a signature event for Canada’s largest city.

Considering that the CWHL is a proud partner with the You Can Play Project, founded by Patrick Burke, the son of CWHL Board Member Brian Burke, it is a group that looks to eliminate homophobia from the locker room. Patrick’s brother Brendan had come out in November 2009 and sadly lost his life in an auto accident a few months later. You Can Play! is a unique way to also honor his life.

In the last few months, the CWHL has seen several of its players show remarkable courage with their own public admissions. Living legends such as Caitlin Cahow, Jayna Hefford and Charline Labonte (who have 11 combined Winter Games appearances between them) made such announcements with a remarkable outpouring of support from their fans. Seeing the Furies involved with the Pride Parade was more than a tremendous show of solidarity, it was a great moment of pride during the off-season to see some of their hockey heroes involved.

Starting at the intersection of Bloor and Church Street, the route went down Yonge Street (one of the world’s longest streets) toward Gerrard, and then returning eastward to Church Street. Among the members of the blue and white, veterans Meagan Aarts and Martine Garland (who works as a lawyer by day), Alora Keers, rookie (and former national team member) Jenelle Kohanchuk, 2013 CWHL Draft pick Holly Carrie-Mattimoe, Carolyne Prevost, who led the Furies in scoring were joined by Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield. Spooner would make history by becoming the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal and the Clarkson Cup in the same year. Wakefield also played with Spooner, proudly representing the Furies on Canada’s gold medal winning entry at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

As a side note, Spooner, who is a competitor on the second season of The Amazing Race Canada was joined at the parade by another pair of competitors from the popular program. Laura and Jackie, a same-sex couple who are legally married, faced elimination during the third episode. Other athletes that marched included the likes of NHLers Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan, along with members of Toronto FC from Major League Soccer.

With the Calgary Pride Parade to come later in the summer, it would be remarkable if members of the Inferno followed in the Furies’ footsteps and participated as well. The Toronto Pride Parade proved that the CWHL is willing do more than just talk the talk, they are walking the walk, and in doing so, sending a statement that equality and respect shall be the way of the future for the budding league. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Hat trick for Spooner and Mikkelson on third leg of Amazing Race Canada

The hot streak continues for Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson as they successfully captured the third leg of The Amazing Race Canada. It would prove to be a historic accomplishment for these female hockey heroes. Of note, the third leg took place in Hong Kong, in an episode titled “Snakes and Liars”, the first time that Amazing Race Canada was contested overseas.

Leaving first from Tofino, BC among the nine remaining teams, it was a point of pride for Spooner and Mikkelson as they were the first Amazing Race Canada contestants headed towards an overseas destination. Throughout the early legs of the races, they have set a standard of excellence for the rest to attempt to emulate. As the rest of the teams would soon discover, the arrival in Hong Kong would prove to be highly eventful.

The first aspect of the third leg in the race featured registration for a morning blessing from a group of monks at Ngong Ping Village. This was followed by a challenging 268 step ascension to the giant Tian Tan Buddha statue. The athleticism of Spooner and Mikkelson certainly gave them an advantage. Among the three teams that registered for the first morning blessing (two more would follow later in the day); Spooner and Mikkelson would set a strong tone for the rest of the leg.

Employing strategy, Spooner and Mikkelson would wisely use an Express Pass to skip the first detour of the third leg. It would prove to be the turning point in helping them secure their third consecutive victory. The roadblock would prove to be a highly time consuming affair for the remainder of the teams. Choosing from engaging in the choreography of a daily kung fu ritual, or the attempt to fulfill the shopping list of famed chef Alvin Leung, also a judge on MasterChef Canada, many of the teams would fall behind quickly.
With such a significant lead already built, Spooner and Mikkelson were already on the next part of the leg. Surprisingly, the setting did not discourage this remarkable duo. Mikkelson showed composure in an otherwise unforeseen situation. While it may be a delicacy in many parts of the world, the consumption of a bowl of soup featuring a chopped snake is a popular dish in Hong Kong, perhaps a staple food.

Not only did Mikkelson handle the snake with her bare hands, she looked very calm in the process. Having to drink snake bile (a black liquid substance squeezed out of the snake), Mikkelson drank it back without reservation. Afterwards, she would eat the bowl of soup, while Spooner encouraged her to eat crackers if it helped.

Consuming the bowl quickly, Mikkelson led the charge towards the final challenge in the leg of the race. Considering that other teams were still struggling with the first leg, it became clear that a third straight victory was eminent.  

Having reached the final challenge, Spooner and Mikkelson were in front of a statue honoring legendary martial artist and film star Bruce Lee. Miming various movie action scenes in order to complete the challenge, including the pose of the Lee statue, the hockey heroes quickly fulfilled the requirements. In so doing, many curious tourists were snapping photos with their smart phones, likely not knowing that these two world class athletes are among a group of athletic role models in their native Canada.

Reaching the Pit Stop at Kowloon Walled City Park first, Spooner and Mikkelson became the first Amazing Race Canada competitors to win a leg of the race in an international setting. With the win, they earned an additional $2000 to add to their ScotiaBank Gold credit cards. Complementing the cash windfall was a vacation to any location that Air Canada flies in China. While winning is almost old hat for these two, hockey fans are enjoying it.

The experience will only be enhanced for fans as a viewing party for the fourth leg of the race will be hosted by Spooner in her native Toronto. With the fourth leg taking part at the island of Macau, one of Asia’s most popular gambling spots, it shall be interesting to see what unfolds for our hockey heroes. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Hilary Knight shows different side to her career with ESPN Body Issue appearance

With ESPN Magazine’s 2014 edition of the Body Issue consisting of a strong influence of athletes from the Sochi Winter Games, one of the world’s greatest female hockey players is among the remarkable group. A member of the valiant US women's hockey team that captured silver in Sochi, Knight graces its pages. 

Having scored the first goal for Team USA at the Sochi Winter Games, she joins the likes of other Sochi stars including Jamie Anderson, Aja Evans and Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy. Definitely one of the faces of USA Hockey, Knight becomes the second women's player next to Julie Chu, a four-time Winter Games participant and the first-ever to capture three straight Clarkson Cup titles, to appear in the Body Issue. 

The opportunity to appear in the highly popular magazine is certainly testament to Knight’s remarkable (and growing) popularity. Whatever quality it is that Knight possesses, she definitely has it. Also invited to participate in the famous celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe, Knight is emerging as one of the most recognizable female star athletes in America.

Of note, the male and female athletes that appear in the body issue do so in a complete state of undress. While the photos resemble works of art, immortalizing chiseled physiques and preserving the physical perfection that separates world class athletes from others, willing to appear in such a state is a very brave move.

In theory, the Body Issue celebrates the physical form. Based on the good taste and presentation of the photos, it would be hard to dispute such facts. Unfortunately, the factor of sex appeal will play a role. Some sites referred to Knight as “Puck Naked” and others commented on her beauty rather than her hockey skills. 

Taking into account that the magazine was released on July 11, it was an amazing coincidence that her birthday fell on July 12. Incorporating a great sense of humor, Knight went to social media and spoke about how the experience of wearing her birthday suit and celebrating her actual birthday made for one crazy week. As a side note, she also provided words of encouragement when she thanked ESPN Magazine for showing how beautiful the human body can be, along with mentioning that muscle is not only strength and power, but beautiful.

There is no question that Knight’s appearance is empowering and graceful. Opening up about her issues of body image (she increased her body mass to 185 pounds for Sochi) and the concern that muscular may not be sexy, the Body Issue results in a personal exploration of encouragement, increasing her confidence and providing a positive message for other athletes that may struggle over body image.

While she possesses the gifts of a natural scorer, making her a key component in the offensive attack of any team whose jersey she proudly dons, the definition of her physique, which resembles that of a Greek goddess, and the photo interpreting her being comfortable in her own skin is a visual triumph. In a career that is nothing short of Hall of Fame worthy, Knight’s Body Issue experience is a crowning achievement.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Spooner and Mikkelson begin Amazing Race Canada in first place

From being introduced first among the contestants in the second season of The Amazing Race Canada, it would prove to be a trend for Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson. During the first episode, titled “What’s It Take to Get a Cup of Tea?”, this remarkable duo never ranked lower than second place in any of the legs of the race.

Things literally got off to a flying start as the Roadblock (a feature of the race) indicated that one contestant from each team had to jump out of an airplane. Taking into account that first episode was filmed in Victoria, British Columbia, the daring skydivers got a beautiful view of one of Canada’s greatest cities.

With Spooner volunteering to jump out of the plane, there was a brief moment of concern. A combination of nerves and dizzy spells made Spooner vomit in the plane. With Mikkelson on the ground waiting for her, she was curious as to why she did not jump yet as several planes were circling in the air.

Declaring that the quickest way to deal with being so high in the air was to jump out of the plane, Spooner took the plunge. Despite having an accomplished jumper tied to her in case of emergency, the view captured Spooner’s imagination although there was an urge to vomit again. Luckily, such an event did not take place in mid-air.

Upon landing, Spooner was still somewhat dizzy, reflecting that Mikkelson should have engaged in the stunt instead. Regardless, Spooner’s efforts placed the team in first.

Entering the second leg of the race, the challenge was not as demanding. A taxi ride to the Fairmont Empress Hotel resulted in a member from each competing team participating in a tea service. From pronouncing the words verbatim, let alone properly, on the menu, proper handling technique was required.

With Mikkelson adorned in a black suit for the tea service, she would succeed on her second attempt as the lords and ladies in attendance evaluated her effort. Taking into account that Mikkelson was still suffering from an injured wrist, the bandages were still visible when she was distributing the desserts to go with the tea. Managing to compete was truly testament to her toughness.

Still holding on to first place, the third and final leg of the first episode’s race took the pair of Winter Games gold medalists to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt. Home to one of Canada’s largest naval fleets in the Pacific, all competitors engaged in Search and Rescue training exercises, the two entered a room which simulated a sinking ship with a makeshift flood occurring. Working together to plug up all the leaks in the wall, their peak physical condition certainly made the difference.

Reaching the finish line first, it would prove to be the beginning of several other rewards. With Air Canada serving as one of the show’s sponsors, both Spooner and Mikkelson earned a trip to any destination in South America that Air Canada services. In addition, they each received a credit card from fellow sponsor ScotiaBank with a prepaid amount of $2000.

Although the race has only begun, Spooner and Mikkelson have established themselves as the early favorites. Taking into account that fitness is an essential part of their lifestyles and the key to hockey success, they certainly have the endurance to excel. After a nation of hockey fans rooted for them to capture the gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, their shoulders are strong enough to whether the expectations of excited fans who are proud to see their hockey heroes continue to accomplish greatness.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Pair of remarkable hockey legends in attendance for historic no-hitter

Not since Juan Marichal has San Francisco Giants fans seen a pitcher capture their hearts and minds like Tim Lincecum. On the day that he pitched his no-hitter, it was only fitting that two world-class women’s ice hockey players that have carved their own unique legacies were in attendance for such a memorable milestone.

Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette have equally had the same impact in the Montreal sporting scene just like Lincecum has with sports fans in San Francisco. While Chu and Ouellette are both rivals in international hockey, both having made their Olympic debuts at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, Chu and Ouellette have helped solidify Montreal as a hotbed for women’s hockey.

Chu, the first woman to win three consecutive Clarkson Cups (two came with Montreal) and Ouellette, the first French-Canadian woman to serve as captain of the Canadian Olympic Team, also won the first-ever Clarkson Cup (and another two with Chu as her teammate). Despite their international rivalries, Chu and Ouellette’s friendship represents more than just an unbreakable bond, but the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Of note, this dynamic duo is both contributing their efforts at a youth hockey camp in Southern California, sponsored by McDonald’s and the 2014 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Hosted at the Toyota Sports Centre, the LA Kings “Play like a Girl” Camp featured Chu and Ouellette host groups of players 10 and under, along with another group of players 19 and under.

Making the trek northwards to San Francisco on June 25 for a day-off of fun and leisure, Chu was an honored guest of the Giants. No stranger to baseball, Chu has been fortunate enough to grace the field at Boston’s Fenway Park in 2010 and 2014. On both occasions, she was part of a group of New England-raised athletes being honored by the Red Sox for their participation in the Winter Games. During the visit at AT&T Park, Chu’s name appeared on the scoreboard, resulting in a well-deserved round of applause by the fans.  

Accompanied by Ouellette in the stands, the two witnessed a rare and unique moment in baseball history. Having carved remarkable and historic legacies in hockey, it was only fitting that they were on hand for such a moment. Tim Lincecum did more than just pitch the second no-hitter of his career in a 4-0 victory for the Giants.

Both times that he threw no-hitters in his career, it was accomplished against the same team, the San Diego Padres. Lincecum becomes the first pitcher in over 100 years to no-hit the same team twice in a career. The first was Addie Joss of Cleveland, no-hitting the White Sox in 1908 (which was a perfect game) and 1910. An extra bit of history was made in the contest as Lincecum actually logged two base hits, making him the first pitcher since Rick Wise on June 23, 1971, to toss a no-hitter and record a pair of hits.
It would come as no surprise that their status as world-class athletes may have supplied an element of good luck for Lincecum. 

Ring ceremony an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on historic year for Canadian hockey heroes

Rogers Centre in Vancouver served as the backdrop for a special celebration in Canadian hockey. With Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson having retired, said celebration served as the epilogue to what has already shaped up to become a memorable 2014. Members of the Canadian men’s and women’s gold medal winning contingents at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games were joined by the Under-18 national women’s team who experienced their own golden glory at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds.

Such a gathering was more than just a special event, it was an opportunity to reward the efforts of players, coaches and support staff with a special memento. Honored with a championship ring, the members involved with Sochi received a square shaped diamond encrusted ring in silver. The U18 team received a gold ring with the Hockey Canada logo composing the top.

Taking into account that the heroes of women’s hockey consider the Olympics their Stanley Cup, a ring is very appropriate. All Stanley Cup champions not only receive a replica of the Cup, they are provided with a championship ring. Unlike the gold medal, which is more for safekeeping than to wear, a ring is a perfect accessory to signify such memorable triumphs.

The spirit of the event certainly emulated the feelings of national pride and achievement when such an event was held in 2010. Just like 2014, that event honored the double gold medal effort of Canada’s men and women at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, while recognizing the U18 team’s 2010 gold medal victory, its first-ever in the history of the IIHF U18 Worlds.

With Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium hosting the event in an outdoor setting, which was open to the public, it would have been hard to foresee such an exciting event happening again in only four short years.  Taking into account that Melodie Daoust was part of that 2010 celebration with the U18 team, hockey experts speculated that she would part of the 2018 Olympic team.

Defying the odds, she suited up for Canada in 2014, becoming the first woman from Quebec to win U18 gold, the Meco Cup and Winter Games gold. As the only member of that 2010 U18 team that was part of the 2014 Olympic edition, she is the proud owner of two very special and unique championship rings.

Perhaps the most meaningful aspect is the lifetime of memories that are made for the players. For the members of the U18 squad, who helped Canada to its third consecutive gold in the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, the opportunity to meet their idols from the men’s and women’s teams is nothing short of exciting. Such feelings were only enhanced for U18 captain Karly Heffernan.

For the second consecutive year, Heffernan logged the gold-medal winning goal for Canada at the U18 Worlds. Ironically, Marie-Philip Poulin experienced similar heroics as a member of the Canadian effort at Sochi that earned its fourth consecutive gold in women’s hockey. Poulin scored the gold-medal winning goal in overtime to complement the game-winning goal she scored at Vancouver 2010. For two hockey heroes to be in the same room at the same time is to see that the future in women’s hockey is a bright one.

During the ceremony, the captains and head coaches of the U18 team (Heffernan and Laura Schuler), men’s team (Sidney Crosby and Mike Babcock) and women’s team (Caroline Ouellette and Kevin Dineen) were seated at a table at the centre stage. Although Heffernan hopes her glorious career will eventually take her to the same heights as Ouellette (it is the dream of all young players), the chance to be at the table with such hockey luminaries is one that will forever stand as a great moment.

Adding to the feelings of celebration was the induction of three more members to the Order of Hockey in Canada. History was made as France St. Louis became the first woman of French-Canadian heritage to be honored. Only the second woman ever to earn the nod (Cassie Campbell was the first), such a historic accomplishment signifies a historic year for French-Canadian women in hockey. The aforementioned Poulin earned the same immortal glory as Paul Henderson with her gold-medal winning goal, while Ouellette was the first captain of French-Canadian origin to serve as Canada’s captain at the Winter Games.

While Canadian hockey fans would certainly love for such celebrations to repeat themselves in 2018, the outcome of 2014 is one that has left all Canadians with a feeling of great satisfaction and tremendous pride. For that, the fans are truly in the gratitude of the remarkable players who made such an event happen.