Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Memorable week at CBHA Nationals adds to event's growing impact

Home to the prominent Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), the hockey mad city of Ottawa played host to the 2015 Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) nationals. Hosting six women’s teams, including three from Ontario, at the Jim Durrell Recreation Complex, the quest for gold featured an exceptionally strong amount of talent.

From the outset, the OVWBHL featured two of its teams in the Nationals, including the Vanier Mooseheads, who captured the 2014 championship. Their top players were goaltender Nathalie Girouard and forward Elysia Desmier, who both played for Canada in a gold medal effort at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds.
Joining them were OVWBHL rivals, the Ottawa Rebels, featuring several Team Canada alumnae, including Fannie Desforges and Jessica O’Grady. Of note, both were also members of the 2014 Mooseheads, with O’Grady scoring the gold-medal winning goal. The presence of such talented players ensured that the promise of high quality ball hockey defined the event.

The British Columbia Benders, Newfoundland United and Team Manitoba were provincial all-star teams, each featured players that contributed to Team Canada’s gold medal victory at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships. The Benders featured Melanie Jue and Silvia Traversa, competing in her tenth nationals. Chantal Larocque and Jessie McCann donned the blue and gold colors of Team Manitoba.
A remarkable quartet of Newfoundland-raised talent, Kristen Cooze, April Drake, Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk, were not only members of Team Canada, but represented some of the finest young talent that Canada has to offer in women’s ball hockey.

Team Canada’s head coach, Diane Brown was also on-hand at the CBHA Nationals. Serving as the bench boss for the Toronto Shamrocks, one of her star players was Lexie Hoffmeyer, who not only played for Team Canada in 2015, but has her name engraved on the Clarkson Cup. Hoffmeyer would enjoy the opportunity to add to her remarkable list of hockey accomplishments as she helped the Shamrocks to their second championship in four years.
Despite the dream of many local hockey fans, hoping to see the Mooseheads and Rebels compete against each other in the gold medal game, the two were part of the competition for the bronze medal. The Rebels managed a first place finish in the preliminaries but a heartbreaking loss to Newfoundland United in the elimination round derailed their championship ambitions. As a side note, Newfoundland United would advance to the gold medal game with a losing record.

The Shamrocks avenged the loss they suffered to the Mooseheads in the gold medal game at the 2014 CBHA Nationals. With three-time Team Canada member (and former Harvard Crimson player) Jenny Brine scoring the game’s only two goals, the Shamrocks prevented the Mooseheads from a second straight trip to the gold medal game.
Having also played against each other in the OVWBHL playoffs, the Rebels and the Mooseheads renewed rivalries in the bronze medal game. Although it was not the color of medal that either team was hoping for, there was a heightened sense of intensity as neither team wanted to emerge empty handed.

Chelsea Grills, a former player and coach at the NCAA level, scored in the first period, providing the Rebels with the only goal that they needed to win the game. Despite some superlative goaltending by Mooseheads backstop Nathalie Girouard, the strong level of defensive play on both ends of the court prevented her team from tying the score, allowing the Rebels a podium finish.
For one of the Rebels’ players, the bronze medal victory was enhanced by another special milestone. Isabelle Aube, one of two former players with the CWHL’s now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators competing with the Rebels (the other being Erika Pouliot), was rooting for her husband. Competing in the men’s Masters Division with the Ottawa Blues, Aube’s husband was part of a gold medal triumph, as his team qualified for the Men’s Masters World Championships in June 2016.

While Newfoundland United’s memorable run culminated with a silver medal, the strong performance of its players has shown that a great future lay ahead. Goaltender Ayla Frank has established herself as one to watch when the next ISBHF World Championships are held in 2017. Nullifying several Shamrocks power play efforts in the gold medal game, her heroics were a key factor in an overtime of the Rebels in elimination round play.
Along with 2015 Team Canada members such as Kristen Cooze, a 2014 CBHA Nationals All-Star selection, rising star April Drake, who scored Newfoundland’s only goal in the gold medal game, plus Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk, the future for Newfoundland United is one that should include a CBHA national championship in the very near future. Taking into account that Newfoundland’s men’s team also enjoyed a podium finish, the province is establishing itself as one of the premier regions for elite ball hockey.

While the gold medal game culminated with an overtime finish, the high quality of hockey only added to a legendary finish. With Jenny Brine scoring the gold-medal clinching goal, while the Shamrocks were short-handed no less, it only added to her legendary status as one of the greatest ball hockey players in Canadian history, having played for the national team on three separate occasions.

The Toronto Shamrocks walked away with more than just a national championship. While Jenny Brine added to her ball hockey legacy with a pair of game winning goals in elimination round play, the future for Team Canada may have been on display as well.

Despite being injured, Julie Allen (the recipient of the Top Forward Award at the 2014 CBHA Nationals) began the tournament on a top line with CWHL teammate Carolyne Prevost and Jamie Lee Rattray, the recipient of the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award. Adding a CBHA national title to her promising ball hockey career, Allen’s strong playmaking skills have definitely placed her on the national team’s radar. 
Making their debuts with the Shamrocks at the CBHA Nationals, Prevost and Rattray were nothing short of electrifying. Rattray brought significant experience as she won the 2014 CBHA Nationals MVP Award as a member of the Mooseheads. Taking into account Rattray’s schedule with the national women’s ice hockey team (winning a silver medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds), she was unable to compete for Team Canada at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds. Should she be available for 2017, it would certainly assure Canada of gold.

One of the most remarkable multi-sport talents in women’s hockey, Prevost is another talented member of the Shamrocks that should land a spot with Team Canada in 2017. From provincial championships in taekwondo and soccer as a teenager, to Cross Fit competitions in her 20’s, Prevost’s athletic gifts shine in hockey. Adding a CBHA crown to an NCAA Frozen Four title and a Clarkson Cup, she is one of the most underrated superstars in women’s sport in Canada.

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