Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Hometown names street in honor of Sarah Davis after historic run with Canadian national team

Although a silver medal was not how Sarah Davis envisioned the outcome of her first participation in the IIHF Women’s Worlds, a golden moment provided her with a redeeming and highly satisfying personal milestone. While she made national news as the first competitor from Newfoundland to participate on Canada’s national women’s hockey team, the native of Paradise, Newfoundland now has a new accolade to complement her athletic achievements.

Recognized in a local ceremony, a street in Paradise proudly carries the new name of Sarah Davis Way. Joined by friends, family and fans alike, all eager to share in her jubilation. Humbled yet honored, Davis recognized many who helped her along the way, especially her parents. Of note, some of her first hockey experiences involved skating on a backyard rink constructed by her father. A handful of political officials were also present, including Mayor Dan Bobbett, Member of Parliament Jack Harris and Transportation Minister, David Brazil.

Besides the silver medal that Davis earned at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, there are several other notable accomplishments in her hockey career, all historically relevant in Newfoundland women’s hockey. Of note, she is the first person in the history of the province to have played for the Canadian national women’s team at the Under-18, Under-22/Development and Senior levels. As a side note, she was part of Canada’s first-ever U18 IIHF gold medal winning squad, getting the chance to be immortalized on a hockey card in Upper Deck’s World of Sport trading card set.

Davis is no stranger to history at other levels of hockey, continuing to make Newfoundlanders proud at her amazing accomplishments. With the iconic University of Minnesota Golden Gophers program, Davis was part of the first-ever undefeated women’s hockey team in NCAA history, capturing the Frozen Four championship. This was complemented by the chance to participate in the inaugural Canadian Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game, held at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in December 2014.

To have her hometown of Paradise name a street after her adds to an already stellar career. The fact that Sarah Davis Way also leads towards the Paradise Double Ice Complex is a very fitting tribute to the province’s first female hockey hero. Complementing the honor is the fact that the second annual Sarah Davis Under-12 Invitational Female Hockey Tournament was held at the complex. Hosted by the Conception Bay Region Minor Hockey Program, it was also the first program that Davis played in as a little girl, truly brining her career full circle.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

2015 NCAA playoffs serve as Hannah Brandt’s finest hour

After suffering a heartbreaking (yet historic) loss to the upstart Clarkson Golden Knights in the championship game of the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four, it would prove to be a very long offseason for a very proud Minnesota Golden Gophers program. Having earned a national title as a freshman in 2013, Hannah Brandt’s aspirations for a second straight title were dashed. 

With the absence of Amanda Kessel during the 2013-14 season (due to the Sochi Winter Games), it only compounded the impact of the losing. For Brandt, the responsibility of leadership and the need to anchor the team’s offensive attack, runner-up was not the desired outcome at the Frozen Four. Also finishing as the runner-up in voting for the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award to Clarkson’s Jamie Lee Rattray was another blow that added to the disappointment.

Heading into the 2015 edition of the NCAA playoffs, the level of pressure was greater than ever for Brandt. While there were many significant milestones during her junior season, especially the chance to play for Team USA at the 2014 Four Nations Cup, culminating as a Top 3 finalist once again for the Patty Kazmaier Award, the postseason marked another disappointment.

Despite finishing the season as WCHA regular season champions, the Gophers ran into a stonewall known as Brittany Mowat, a First-Team All-America goaltender for the Bemidji State Beavers. Facing off against Mowat in the semi-finals of the WCHA Frozen Faceoff, the Gophers endured their first-ever playoff loss to the Beavers. With Mowat playing the game of her life, it marked the second consecutive season that the Gophers suffered a monumental upset.

Taking into account that Kessel would miss the entire 2014-15 Golden Gophers season due to concussion related symptoms, it appeared that the squad was unable to win big games in her absence. Considering that rival Wisconsin easily disposed of Bemidji State in the finals of the Frozen Faceoff, the Golden Gophers were certainly not favored to capture the national championship.

With the Golden Gophers as the host team for the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four, their paths would cross with Wisconsin. After disposing of the Rochester Institute of Technology in the opening round, Minnesota was tested early in their Frozen Four tilt with their bitter rivals.

Considering that Wisconsin held a one-goal lead early in the second period, the home-ice advantage could easily be perceived as adding to the pressure of winning. Brandt would prove to be the catalyst on offense, leading the comeback. With Maryanne Menefee, who has shared a spot with Brandt on the first line for the last three seasons, the two led the charge.

Reversing the one-goal deficit into a two-goal advantage, the final outcome resulted in a three-point night. For Brandt, it was actually the second consecutive playoff match that saw her register three points, as she logged the same in the convincing March 14 win against Rochester.  

Heading into the national championship game, Minnesota was opposed by the Harvard Crimson, another club from the ECAC conference (like Clarkson). Still haunted by the loss to Clarkson, Brandt and the Gophers did not take the Crimson likely. With Canadian national team member Emerance Maschmeyer standing between the pipes for Harvard, an upset on home ice was highly possible.

Heading into the national championship game, Minnesota was opposed by the Harvard Crimson, another club from the ECAC conference (like Clarkson). Still haunted by the loss to Clarkson, Brandt and the Gophers did not take the Crimson likely. With Canadian national team member Emerance Maschmeyer standing between the pipes for Harvard, an upset on home ice was highly possible.

Maschmeyer headed into the championship game hoping to bring Harvard its first-ever title, which would have also made them the first Ivy League school to capture the Women’s Frozen Four. Her junior season was another extension of her sterling legacy at Harvard, which saw her gain All-Ivy League First Team honors and a nod to the Third Team, among others. During the postseason, she was also named to the ECAC All-Tournament Team.

Her presence between the pipes certainly frustrated Brandt and her teammates. Despite Megan Wolfe’s first period marker, Harvard only trailed by a 1-0 deficit heading into the final frame. At the 8:50 mark, Menefee and Brandt would team-up again on another crucial scoring play as the Gophers extended their lead to two goals. With her 34th goal of the season, it would prove to be the most meaningful for Brandt.

Despite Sarah Edney scoring for Harvard to reduce the two-goal advantage, Brandt’s goal would stand as the game-winner. In the remaining minutes, Meghan Lorence scored for the Gophers, while Rachael Bona iced the game with an empty-net goal assisted by Lee Stecklein. While Maschmeyer played valiantly for Harvard, testing the Gophers time and again, it was redeeming for Brandt to be able to score such a career defining goal against a world-class backstop. Not only did her goal make the Gophers the first program to capture six NCAA women’s Frozen Four titles, but it enabled Brandt to stake her claim as an elite superstar, able to lead a team to a championship on her own merits.

As Brandt enters her senior year at Minnesota, the possibility to finish her career with another championship looks highly possible. Should Kessel be healthy enough to rebound from her concussion woes, the thought of each logging 100-point seasons only adds to the excitement. There is no question that Brandt’s confidence will only be stronger.

Along with Golden Gophers teammates Dana Cameranesi and Lee Stecklein, the three would also make their presence felt at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Malmo, Sweden. Selected to compete for Team USA, they would build on their winning momentum from the Frozen Four.

In the gold medal game against archrival Canada, Brandt would register one assist while Cameranesi logged a pair, contributing to the USA’s sixth-ever gold medal. Considering that Stecklein appeared for the US at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it would come as no surprise to see Brandt and Cameranesi join her at Pyeongchang 2018.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Kazmaier nod and World Gold cap off memorable month for Alex Carpenter

Since the first week of March, the transition from winter to spring has brought with it a memorable time in the history of American women’s ice hockey. Second generation star Alex Carpenter led the way by establishing herself as a true superstar. Her memorable month would culminate with gold at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden.

Quite possibly the greatest player in the history of the Boston College Eagles program, she was joined on the US roster by the likes of Hannah Brandt and Brianna Decker in Malmo. Of note, Brandt and Decker would add to their own legacies during March 2014.

Earning CWHL Rookie of the Year honors, Decker continued to dominate in the postseason as the Boston Blades captured their second Clarkson Cup. With the absence of Amanda Kessel, Brandt would carry the offensive load, leading the Minnesota Golden Gophers to their record-breaking sixth NCAA Frozen Four title. Joining Carpenter in Malmo, all three would contribute to an emotional 7-5 win over Canada in the gold medal game.

The road to Malmo began with a sterling junior season at Boston College, which would be her greatest season yet. For the third time, she managed to improve on her previous season point totals (from 40 to 70 to 81 points). Not only did her 81 points lead all scorers in 2014-15 NCAA play, her 2.19 points per game also set the standard.

Beginning her season with a four-point performance against Syracuse on October 4, 2014, it marked the start of a superlative 25-game point scoring streak. Ending on February 3, 2015, she would manage to break her own Hockey East record of 24 consecutive games with a point (previously set in 2012-13). By season’s end, her 44 assists and 81 points also broke program records that she had previously set.

For her efforts, she became the first player in Boston College history to claim the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award. Such an award was complemented by other honors including a First-Team All-America nod and the New England Division I Player of the Year Award. 

Taking into account that the program has produced the likes of Blake Bolden, Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack, all past nominees for the award, it speaks volumes about Carpenter’s impact. With her coach, Katie King-Crowley in attendance, Kaz-Mania ran rampant throughout Boston College athletics.

Getting the chance to play for Team USA in a gold medal effort at the 2015 IIHF Women's Worlds in Malmo also represented a unique bookend to her season. In November 2014, she was not only named to the US roster that competed at the 2014 Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, British Columbia (where the 2016 IIHF Women’s Worlds shall be hosted), she was bestowed the honor of team captain, testament to her superb talents.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Strong women make TV series Hockey Wives a hit

With the abundance of reality shows featuring women of wealth and glamour, it would be easy to dismiss the new series Hockey Wives: Married to the Game as another clone. Instead, viewers are treated to a group of strong women that go beyond the trophy wife stereotype. The demeaning term Puck Bunny certainly does not apply here, as many of the wives and girlfriends in the program have their own careers.
By season’s end, viewers and cynics alike will be able to determine if this program is more documentary worthy than the reality shows which show decadent lifestyles and narcissism beyond reproach, where jealousy and resentment lead to the claws coming out. So far, there have been no such catty displays. There are certainly no extravagant lifestyles or excessive shopping sprees in this program.
Yet, a scene in the inaugural program certainly indicates that a pecking order exists among the group of wives and girlfriends. Said group gathers at the house of Nicole Brown, a former women’s ice hockey player, currently married to LA Kings captain (and two-time Stanley Cup champion) Dustin Brown. Of all the wives and girlfriends, Nicole would appear to be the power player. Somewhat boasting about her husband’s eight-year contract (and his subsequent retirement plans), her future is the most secure.
Among the other women that visit Brown’s house, the only other famous wife would be Noureen DeWulf, an actress whose most prominent role was on Anger Management. Of note, the opening scene in the first episode actually features Noureen DeWulf, who is pregnant with the child of Vancouver Canucks Ryan Miller, cooking curry chicken.
The redeeming element of the program is that it also delves into real world aspects, such as husbands George Parros and Ray Whitney, whose are on the edge of retirement. Dealing with such realities adds an empathic element to the show, as each other’s wives are a significant source of emotional support.
Tiffany Parros and Bridjet Whitney are certainly the glue that holds their families together, let alone the program. Parros has been featured in every episode and her demeanor beams of confidence, complemented by a beauty that was made to be in front of the camera. As a side note, her younger sister played at Brown, met George in Chicago because her brother played junior hockey with him.
Despite being past the age of 40, Bridjet Whitney has her own appeal. In an interview with The Hockey News, she admitted that many wives hold grudges about hockey stuff. A strong woman who has developed a website that deals with the aspects of being a hockey wife, she is also a valued friend for many other hockey wives, who count on her for support.
In the first episode, such support is evident with former military specialist Emilie Blum. Having given up her career and following her husband’s career, the loyal Blum was devastated when her husband Jonathon was demoted from the Minnesota Wild to their AHL affiliate in Iowa. With tears streaming down her face, Whitney was there to give her a reassuring hug. Her loyalty and devotion proves that the uncertainty of being forced to pack and leave for another team at any time affects all members of a players’ family.
With so many different wives featured in the program (ten in total), there are several who do not appear in every episode. So far, very little has been seen of the likes of Martine Forget, Jenny Scrivens and Wendy Tippett, With the show featuring wives and players based in a variety of areas such as Calgary (Kodette LaBarbera), California (Brown, DeWulf, Scrivens), Iowa (Blum), Las Vegas (Parros), Montreal (Maripier Morin) Phoenix (Whitney and Tippett) and Toronto (Forget),
Although it does it make it difficult for some viewers to connect with the wives, the program definitely possesses an authenticity to the program, not sugar coating the emotions and travails that entail the life of a hockey wife. From LaBarbera living with an autistic son, to Blum’s constant life on the road, Brown working tirelessly to raise four children and manage a household, to Morin dealing with commitment issues, their lives may be more hectic than their hockey playing husbands.

It is definitely refreshing to see these strong women earn some recognition and gain an opportunity to share the spotlight. The friendships that develop between wives is a whole other subplot in hockey that has never truly been revealed before. As each wife has a mutual understanding of what life is like when married to a hockey player (from the moving to the injuries), they certainly become like sisters to each other, an invaluable support mechanism.  Such aspects shine through on the screen, making it essential television viewing for any hockey fan. 

Brampton Thunder host Walter Gretzky and NHL Alumni

In the aftermath of the 2015 Clarkson Cup postseason, the Brampton Thunder suited up for one more game, bringing an official close to their season. Competing in a very special match in front of their hometown faitful, the Thunder faced off against a group of NHL Alumni as part of an ongoing tour sponsored by ScotiaBank. Travelling to various arenas in order to raise funds for charity, funds were raised for the Ontario Law Enforcement Torch run for the Special Olympics.
With legendary hockey dad Walter Gretzky as the NHL Alumni’s head coach, Brampton’s Powerade Centre served as the backdrop for this fun close to Brampton’s season. Joining Gretzky was trainer Joe Sgro, while son Brent Gretzky, who spent two years with the Tampa Bay Lightning was among the pros on the NHL Alumni roster.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs competitors were aplenty on said roster. Among them were the likes of Dan Daoust, Bill Derlago, Al Iafrate, Mike Pelyk (the oldest player participating), Rick Vaive, Mark Laforest and Jack Valiquette. Of note, some of the aforementioned have also given their time for Hockey Helps the Homeless. Other NHLers suiting up included Matt Barnaby, Rob DiMaio, Todd Harvey, Bryan Muir, Stanley Cup champion Mark Napier and Scott Walker.

Of note, the Brampton Thunder’s roster also included a pair of rivals from the Toronto Furies, Kelly Terry and Natalie Spooner, who emerged as Canada’s sweetheart in the aftermath of The Amazing Race Canada. Both members of the Canadian National Women’s team, their one-time appearance with the Thunder loaned a special presence led to a very unique game.

There was another pair of unique aspects for the Thunder on this day. Leah Whittaker, who had to be taken to hospital after suffering an injury during the Furies’ Pink at the Rink Game was back on the ice, allowing fans and teammates alike to breathe a sigh of relief.

Liz Knox, the first rookie goalie in CWHL history to start a Clarkson Cup championship game, was also on the ice, but in a way not familiar to fans. Taking a shift on defense, Knox showed great skill.

Raising money for the Special Olympics, Brampton’s Jesse Scanzano would open the scoring. Having missed two seasons of league play in order to pursue ambitions of a career in law enforcement, her comeback was certainly one of the feel-good moments of the 2014-15 edition of the CWHL season.

As the first goal-scorer of the game, Scanzano was invited to participate in the NHL Alumni tradition of having their photo taken. Taking into account that NHL Alumni games are known for their humour as well as their entertainment value, Scanzano’s photo op resulted in the obligatory pie-in-the-face prank, with fans and players alike roaring in laughter. Other Brampton goals were scored by Danielle Skirrow (one of four Clarkson alums on the roster) and special guest Natalie Spooner.

Like so many other charitable games, the score was not what mattered. The opportunity to raise funds for a good cause while having fun was the true priority. As such, fun ensued with a skills competition, where teams were awarded points based on metrics such as stick handling, shooting accuracy and the ever popular shootout.

Each competition’s winning team would be awarded a point, adding to the existing score. Teams were awarded points based on metrics such as stick handling, shooting accuracy and the ever popular shootout. Brampton would prevail in the stick handling competition while the NHL Alumni won the other two, gaining a 4-3 lead.

During the final frame, both squads added two more goals. Goaltender Mark Laforest would face an attack of shots from the Brampton late in the third period, as the Thunder tried valiantly to tie the score.

References: Don Simmons
Photo credits: John Morrison (Images obtained from Facebook)

Friday, 17 April 2015

Kelsey DiClaudio poised to be the ice sledge hockey superstar of her generation

When the first IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships were contested in 1990, the star player for the United States was Cammi Granato. For a generation, she would become an ambassador for the game, inspiring a new group of young girls to take up the sport. Among her greatest accomplishments, she led the US to the gold medal at the inaugural Winter Games women’s ice hockey event in Nagano 1998. Becoming the first American women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Fast forward several years and a new a new face in American hockey is ready to emulate her successes. Kelsey DiClaudio may very well be destined to have the same impact as Granato, adding a new dimension to the women’s game. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport. With the US program having earned the gold medal at the inaugural IPC World Sled Hockey Challenge in 2014, it creates a strong sense of momentum that a golden finish is possible in 2018.
Taking into account that 2018 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Nagano Winter Games, it would certainly pay homage to an historic and relevant chapter in American women’s hockey history. It is also possible that DiClaudio could carve an even greater legacy at Pyeongchang. During the 2014-15 season, she was the only woman on the US National Development Sled Hockey Team.

Possessing such world class talent, speculation already exists that DiClaudio may be part of the men’s ice sledge hockey team at Pyeongchang. She is certainly no stranger to competing alongside men. A member of the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins ice sledge hockey club, she is the only woman in their program. As a side note, only one woman broke the gender barrier in international play; Betty Meijer-Hazewindus competed for the Netherlands ice sledge hockey team in 2009 and 2011.
Of note, DiClaudio has already left a remarkable legacy on the game. In the aftermath of the IPC Worlds in 2014 (where she claimed the tourney’s scoring title with 17 goals and 23 points), DiClaudio’s jersey was given to the Hockey Hall of Fame. With Granato part of the Hall, DiClaudio now gets to share a special place with another American women’s hockey pioneer. An extra accolade included recognition as the International Paralympic Committee Athlete of the Month for November 2014.

DiClaudio’s impact in the sport may certainly be the catalyst to increase awareness to one of the best kept secrets in women’s sport. Future success may also inspire an entire new generation of disabled yet courageous women to take up the sport or at least raise their self-esteem and confidence by gaining the encouragement to participate in any sporting endeavor. Just like Sam Gordon in football and Mo’ne Davis in baseball, DiClaudio has helped shatter barriers, challenging the traditional views of women in sport.

Coincidentally, DiClaudio was part of the Salute Women in Sports Annual Gala in 2013. Held in New York City, Gordon was one of the young female sporting superstars also in attendance. While there, DiClaudio had the chance to meet other hockey heroes that have donned the US jersey such as Julie Chu, Hilary Knight and Angela Ruggiero. Mutual admiration was certainly established on that special night, which may hopefully one day lead to USA Hockey’s sponsorship of the women’s ice sledge hockey team, allowing it an even greater chance to grow and succeed.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

CWHL influence part of coaching staff for rebuilding Carleton Ravens

In the aftermath of a string of difficult seasons, the Carleton Ravens are rebuilding their program with a glorious future in mind. With one season under their belt, three CWHL alumnae (Pierre Alain, Jody Katz, Lyne Landry) are helping to pave the way. While the Ravens compete in the RSEQ conference, one of the toughest in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, which features nationally prominent programs such as McGill, Montreal and Ottawa, the alumnae comprise the new-look coaching staff.

While the Ravens are identified with their powerhouse men’s basketball program, head coach Pierre Alain is hoping to emulate such success. During the 2012-13 season, Alain served as an assistant coach to the Montreal Stars, appearing in the 2013 Clarkson Cup finals. Last autumn, the  Ravens preseason saw the past and present collided for Alain as the Stars engaged the Ravens in an exhibition match. As a side note, the Toronto Furies also entertained the Ravens. Despite two tough losses, the experience gained, and the thrill of competing against some of the world’s best hockey players, was a positive learning experience for Alain’s players.

Of note, Alain’s hockey resume is nothing short of impressive. As Lisa Haley had to temporarily vacate her position as head coach with the Ryerson Rams during the 2013-14 season, in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of coaching with the Canadian national team at the Sochi Winter Games, Alain did an admirable job in her place. The experience would provide Alain with invaluable CIS coaching experience, preparing him for his new role with the Ravens.

For the 2011-12 season, Alain earned his own chance to be part of Hockey Canada’s prominent national women’s program. Serving as head coach of the U18 team, a remarkable group of players would grow to become part of a phenomenal who’s who of women’s hockey. Players such as Erin Ambrose, Meghan Dufault, Shannon MacAulay, Emerance Maschmeyer and third-generation hockey player Laura Stacey were among the members of his roster that led Canada to a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF U18 Women’s World Hockey Championships.

Joining him in the latest chapter of his hockey journey is Lyne Landry, one of the most prominent builders of women’s hockey in Ottawa. While she first served on the Ravens coaching staff in the 2012-13 campaign under Shelley Coolidge, she is also known for her role as a CWHL competitor. One of the members of the Ottawa Capital Canucks, competing in the CWHL’s inaugural season (2007-08), she would serve as one of the club’s leaders.

After the team (later rechristened Ottawa Lady Senators) was dissolved in the aftermath of the 2009-10 season, she would serve in a leadership capacity for an elite Senior A women’s hockey league. Through her current role as a coach, her legacy in Ottawa women’s hockey only strengthens as a strong sense of local pride brings encouragement to the rebuilding Ravens.

Joining the fold is Jody Katz, whose CWHL background includes coaching, management and executive leadership. Having once played at the NCAA level for Niagara University, Katz worked to tirelessly to maintain the status of the Brampton Thunder as one of the finest franchises in all of Canada. Having drafted a pair of Patty Kazmaier Award winners (Sara Bauer, Vicki Bendus) during her time as Brampton’s GM, she was also willing of consideration to CIS players.

Her most famous CIS player was legendary goaltender Liz Knox, the winner of the 2010 Brodrick Trophy. As head coach of Brampton in 2012, Katz showed great confidence in Knox, making her the starting goalie. The Wilfrid Laurier alum would reward Katz’s faith in her. Leading the club to the Clarkson Cup finals, Knox became the first rookie in Cup history to start in a championship game. By Katz drafting several CIS players, it not only raised the profile of CIS hockey but showed its significance as a great source of hockey talent.

With three highly acclaimed individuals ready to bring winning hockey and a fundamentally sound game to the Carleton Ice House, it also provides great promise with recruiting. Such key building blocks that were acquired in autumn 2014 included forward Sidney Weiss and goaltender Katelyn Steele, both among the Ravens leaders in numerous statistical categories.  Although every win shall be hard-earned in such a tough conference, the confidence instilled by the CWHL influenced coaching staff should ensure that the Ravens are ready to fly higher than ever.
Images obtained from Carleton Ravens Athletics

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

NWHL announces inaugural puck drop to take place in October

The vision of former Northeastern Huskies competitor, Dani Rylan, the newest incarnation of the National Women’s Hockey League is scheduled for its first puck drop on October 17, 2015. Announced as the first women’s hockey league to compensate its competitors, Rylan spent over a year on a business plan while securing sponsorships and ice time.

Based in the Northeastern United States, the league shall launch with four charter teams; the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters. Of note, it marks the first time that New York State shall enjoy women’s hockey at the pro level.
Plans are also in place to host an All-Star Game, while the inaugural championship shall be contested in March 2016. Taking into account that the NHL's New York Islanders are relocating to Brooklyn, the concept of the league's All-Star Game taking place at Nassau Coliseum would be a remarkable breakthrough for the league.

Each shall host nine home games during the 18-game season, although arena details have yet to be released. Financially, each team shall operate under a salary cap of $270,000 with a maximum salary allowable to any player in the sum of $15,000. Four-time Winter Games participant Angela Ruggiero shall also serve in a consulting capacity for the budding league.

The first week of May shall see the opening of free agency, providing fans an early indication as to which teams shall acquire the top talent, including which stars shall reap the maximum player salary. Acquiring the right talent may prove to be a defining moment for said teams. As a side note, teams will also hold free agent talent camps on May 9, 2015.

Additional talent shall be obtained through an amateur draft to be held in June 2015. Details have not yet been disclosed as to how many rounds shall be held. Of note, the most unique aspect in said draft is that players with one year remaining of NCAA eligibility shall be allowed to declare. Teams will be able to hold their rights until graduation, and then attempt to sign them to a contract.

Establishing itself in the charitable community is another goal that the league shall work proudly towards.  With the creation of the NWHL Foundation, the league will focus on increasing awareness of the women’s game through grassroots initiatives. Additionally, a series of in-game promotions will feature theme nights such as breast cancer research and acknowledgment of the Armed Forces, helping to raise funds.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Toronto Marlies honor Furies with annual Women's Hockey Day event

On a day when the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies hosted its annual Women's Hockey Day event, a unique storyline was developing. Following the abrupt announcement that the Hamilton Bulldogs were relocating to St John's, Newfoundland, the rivalry would reach its apex with the Furies hosting their rivals down the QEW one final time at Ricoh Coliseum.

As one tradition was ending, another would continue as four members of the Toronto Furies were recognized during the Marlies' annual Women’s Hockey Day event. Taking centre ice for the ceremonial faceoff, Kori Cheverie, Sami Jo Small, Holly Carrie-Mattimoe and rookie Laurel Hill were not only on-hand for an historic game but an opportunity to greet fans, sign autographs and help bring awareness to a growing brand of outstanding hockey.

This year, the event had strong momentum as it had been promoted simultaneously with the CWHL's historic All-Star Game, which took place at Air Canada Centre in December 2014. There was even a booth at the ACC in which players could meet a representative of the Marlies and gain more info as to the upcoming event. As the Marlies and Air Canada Centre are both under the umbrella of parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (a proud CWHL sponsor), it was encouraging to see women's hockey in Toronto continue to gain relevance this year.

Each member of the Furies in attendance at Ricoh Centre definitely brings their own unique background to the game; their collective efforts provide inspiration to a new generation of young female hockey players. Kori Cheverie, who also participates in Ryerson Skate Training, is one of the unsung heroes on the Furies. A little known fact about Cheverie is that she is the only woman to have won the Atlantic University Sport’s version of the Marion Hilliard Award three years in a row.  
For CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small, the chance to participate at Marlies' Women's Hockey Day serves as an opportunity to celebrate her legacy. One of the finest ambassadors in women’s hockey today, the articulate and gracious goaltender has worked tirelessly off the ice to raise millions in dollars and secure sponsorships in order to give women a chance to continue their careers after university.

Having also participated in the 2014 edition of the Marlies' Women's Hockey Day, Holly Carrie-Mattimoe would capture a Clarkson Cup title in her rookie season. The all-time leading scorer in women’s hockey at Syracuse, she would appear in 15 games for the Furies this season. Of note, she would log an assist in the team’s season opener.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2014 CWHL Draft, Laurel Hill grew up north of Toronto in Huntsville, Ontario. Having manned the blueline at St. Norbert College from 2010-14, she would garner First-Team All-America honors in her senior season. This was complemented by earning recognition as an Academic All-American. Seeing ice time in 14 games during her rookie campaign, she made her CWHL debut on November 29, 2014 against the Montreal Stars.
With a handful of associations and over a dozen teams from across Ontario in attendance, the chance to experience Women's Hockey Day was enhanced by a special opportunity to share in a postgame skate with their hockey heroes from the Furies. Taking into account that the Furies players donated their time to participate in such a meaningful day, it was a positive message sent to the young players that it was quality time.

For many of these young players, whose efforts are contributing to the growth of the game at the grassroots level, an encouraging day with the empowering women of the Furies may yield positive results. Such an experience may see the youngsters cultivate the confidence and gain the ambition to eagerly emulate the Furies on-ice successes.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Proud legacy of Mandi Schwartz continues with her brother Jaden

A Good Friday game featuring the St. Louis Blues served as an outstanding opportunity  for Jaden Schwartz to provide one of the greatest performances of his proud career. The younger brother of the late Mandi Schwartz, a former skater for the Yale Bulldogs who passed away from acute myeloid leukemia, he continues to honor her life.
Of note, Jaden’s second career hat trick proved to be a key factor in the Blues enjoying a 7-5 victory over the rival Dallas Stars. This was made even more special by the fact that he accomplished this on the four-year anniversary of Mandi’s sad passing. Another aspect that enhanced the accomplishment was attributed to Jaden’s jersey featuring his sister’s favorite number; 17.
Through the efforts of Mandi’s teammate at Yale, captain Aleca Hughes, thousands of volunteers signed up to become possible bone marrow donors, in the hopes of saving her life. As a side note, Hughes would capture the 2012 Hockey Humanitarian Award, as well as Yale’s first-ever Mandi Schwartz Award. After graduation, Hughes would become a co-founder of the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, while Yale University’s donor registration still bears Schwartz’s name, having found dozens of life-saving matches.
During the off-season, Jaden had the opportunity to grab the vacant number 17 and finally make it his. When he was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 2010 edition of the NHL Draft, number 17 had already belonged to Vladimir Sobotka.
Opting for number 9 (of note, number 8 was his jersey number with Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championships), Schwartz had to wait until July 2015 to claim 17 for his own. This was attributed to the fact that Sobotka left North America to sign as a free agent with Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
As a side note, the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships would be the last time that his older sister Mandi would get the opportunity to see him compete in international play. On April 3, 2011, she would lose her brave and courageous battle with leukemia, leaving behind a group of cherished friends and family.
Still proud to preserve her legacy, Jaden attends various functions in her name, all in the hopes of finding a cure for the disease that took his sister far too early. From a hockey perspective, the chance to don number 17 is a great way to not only inspire him, but keep her heroic memory alive.