Sunday, 20 March 2016

Historic firsts part of championship weekend

As professional women’s hockey experienced its first season since 2010-11 (dating back to the CWHL and the now-defunct WWHL) which saw two championships contested, the result was an exceptional number of historic firsts. Adding to the sense of history was the fact that there were many unique coincidences and connections, contributing to a new chapter of six degrees of separation in women’s hockey.

The inaugural Isobel Cup was contested in Newark, New Jersey, home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and captured by the NWHL’s Boston Pride. With the win, Boston became the first women’s hockey city to capture women’s hockey titles in two separate leagues. The Blades captured the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup in 2013 and 2015, while the Pride became the NWHL’s first-ever champions.

Although the Pride enjoyed the jubilation of being crowned as champions, it was an event noted by compassion as the squad dedicated their Cup victory to Denna Laing, who suffered a career-ending injury at the inaugural Women’s Winter Classic. The Pride would visit Laing in the hospital, kindly bringing the Cup with them for her to hold. Of note, Laing was also part of the Blades team that won the 2015 Clarkson Cup.

Meanwhile, the Clarkson Cup was contested for the eighth time, with no shortage of historic firsts. From the outset, it was contested on NHL ice for the first time, with Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre serving as the historic backdrop.

Taking into account that Ottawa’s impact on women’s ice hockey, from the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds, the first game for Canada’s U18 national team, and the debut of the Canadian women’s ice sledge hockey team, it was only fitting that it was the host city for the Clarkson. As a side note, the Clarkson shall return to Ottawa in 2017, part of the city’s celebrations for Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

The Cup final also saw the Calgary Inferno become the first team from Western Canada to capture the historic prize. On the other side, Montreal would become the first team to lose three Cup finals. Despite their status as the first dynasty in CWHL history, winning three of the first four Cup finals, they have equally become the first team labeled with the losing tag.

Of note, the first Isobel Cup also held a unique connection to the Clarkson. An astonishing 14 members of the Boston Pride’s roster enjoyed the prestige of being part of the 2015 Boston Blades championship roster. Among them was Brittany Ott, who became the first goaltender to win both the Isobel and the Clarkson Cups in a career.

Coincidentally, the players who scored the Isobel and Clarkson Cup winning goals were both alums from the Wisconsin Badgers. Brianna Decker, the CWHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2015, and Clarkson champion with the Blades, scored the Isobel-winning goal against Brianne McLaughlin. Former Badgers teammate, Blayre Turnbull scored the Inferno’s fourth goal of the game, which stood as the Clarkson winning tally.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Buffalo Beauts, who were swept in the Isobel Cup finals by the Pride, featured a pair of Clarkson Cup champions on their roster. Kelley Steadman, who logged the Cup winning goal in 2013, along with the Beauts’ first-ever regular season and playoff goals (along with the first goal in NWHL All-Star Game history) was joined by Meghan Duggan, who served as Team USA’s captain at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

There were other unique aspects to the Beauts and their Cinderella-run to the Clarkson Cup, coming from behind to eliminate the Connecticut Whale, who spent a significant part of the NWHL season first overall in the league standings. The first Canadians to appear in an Isobel Cup final were all part of the Beauts roster. Among them were Shelby Bram, Tatiana Rafter and Devon Skeats.

Coincidentally, Bram’s sister, Bailey was a member of the Calgary Inferno’s Clarkson Cup winning roster. They would become the first pair of sisters to play for the Isobel and Clarkson Cups during the same season. Having both played at the NCAA level for Mercyhurst College, part of the CHA conference, the coincidence only continued for these sensational sisters.

Based in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, the Robert Morris Colonials are one of Mercyhurst’s biggest rivals. Both Bram sisters called a former Colonial goaltender their teammate during the weekend. Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Winter Games silver medalist stood between the pipes for the Beauts, while Delayne Brian was recognized as the Clarkson Cup playoff MVP for the Inferno. It marked the only NCAA program to feature goaltenders appear in both Cup finals.


First Isobel Cup goal: Blake Bolden, Boston Pride, Game 1

            Of note, Bolden also became the first African-American to score an Isobel Cup goal. The second goal of the game was scored by Gigi Marvin, making her the first Caucasian to score in the Cup finals. Both were also Clarkson Cup champions for the Boston Blades in 2015.

First forward to score an Isobel Cup goal: Hilary Knight, Boston Pride, Game 1

First Isobel Cup goal scored on a penalty shot: Hilary Knight, Boston Pride, Game 1

First Canadian to score an Isobel Cup goal: Shelby Bram, Buffalo Beauts, Game 1

First player to score an Isobel Cup-clinching goal: Brianna Decker, Boston Pride, Game 2

First goaltenders to start an Isobel Cup Finals: Brittany Ott (winning goaltender), Boston Pride, Brianne McLaughlin, Buffalo Beauts

First team to appear in six Clarkson Cup Finals: Montreal (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)

First team to lose three Clarkson Cup Finals: Montreal (2013, 2015, 2016)

Players from first Clarkson Cup championship team to appear in 2016 finals: Leslie Oles, Caroline Ouellette, Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau

First players from Japan to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Aoki and Takeuchi, Calgary 2016

First player from Newfoundland to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Sarah Davis, Calgary 2016

First players from Nova Scotia to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Jillian Sauliner and Blayre Turnbull, Calgary 2016

First player from Nova Scotia to score a Clarkson Cup clinching goal: Blayre Turnbull, Calgary 2016

First coach to become part of Triple Gold Club for women: Gina Kingsbury, Calgary 2016 (she would win the IIHF Women’s Worlds for the first time as a player in 2001, while capturing Winter Games gold in 2006 and 2010)

Record number of new members in the Triple Gold Club for women: Five, 2016 Clarkson Cup – Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Gina Kingsbury, Meaghan Mikkelson, Hayley Wickenheiser (Note: The Isobel Cup champions did not feature any new members in the Triple Gold Club)

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