Thursday, 4 June 2015

Hometown arena dedicated to Sami Jo Small preserves her hockey legacy

In an accomplished career, Sami Jo Small has experienced many remarkable moments. Whether it was standing between the pipes in international play for Canada or guarding the crease for the Toronto Furies, a team she helped to form, Small’s legacy is significant. None may be as cherished as an arena in her hometown named in her honor.  

Preserving her legacy, the dedication of the Sami Jo Small Hockey Facility at the Norberry-Glenlee Community Centre is a unique tribute, while giving younger players in the community a role model to emulate. Such an honor adds to the momentum of the revitalization of the St. Vital community centre, as the soon-to-be refurbished hockey rink and north wing of the centre shall bear Small’s name.

Joining Small at the dedication ceremony included the likes of Sean Fedorowich, president of Norberry-Glenlee, and dignitaries such as Councillor Brian Mayes, St. Vital, and Christine Melnick, MLA, Riel.

The community of St. Vital, Manitoba helped spark Small’s interest in the game. Having spent countless hours of practice and sharpening her skills, testament to the values of perseverance and hard work that she embodies today, the dedication helps to build on the growing impact of women in Manitoba hockey history.

For a time, highly accomplished superstars such as Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small were the most recognizable names in Manitoba women’s hockey. Since then, the impact of female hockey in Manitoba has grown significantly. Their influence is evident throughout the modern game today.

Considering that both were co-founders of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a special milestone occurred in December 2014. The CWHL held its inaugural All-Star Game, and both were present. Still competing, Small was the starting goaltender for Team White, while Botterill was serving as a sideline reporter for Sportsnet, the TV network broadcasting the event.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the event was the fact that four other Manitobans participated. Among them were 2014 Sochi gold medalist Jocelyne Larocque and DeLayne Brian, the winner of the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award in 2014.

Gracious and proud, feelings of residual warmth were evident in Small’s reflections towards the arena. A news release issued by Small described how every winter saw her at the rinks of Norberry. Still finding comfort in visiting said rinks when she is back in her hometown, the most gratifying element of her earliest days in hockey may have been the fact that she was looked upon as just another player, and not singled out as the “girl who played hockey”. 

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