Monday, 30 July 2012

The Silent Heroes of women's ice hockey

A generation ago, the builders of women’s hockey, icons and figures like Fran Rider, Nancy Drolet, Samantha Holmes, Andria Hunter, and France St. Louis, toiled in obscurity while setting the table for future generations of women. Eventually, figures such as Cammi Granato, Angela James, and Justine Blainey would become household names, but their stories were ignored for too long. In modern women’s hockey, the aforementioned were the first silent heroes of the game.
In the early years of the 21st Century, players like Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero are in the same realm as Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. Despite the quantum leap that women’s ice hockey has taken in the last 20 years, every generation still has its players that left a unique, indelible mark on the game. Said mark may not have been made on the ice, but their actions had a remarkable effect on many others.
The silent heroes may walk down the street and go unnoticed. Their actions may have a tremendous role in the lives of others and alter their lives for the better. While there would never be enough space to recognize all of the silent heroes, all are truly appreciated. Here are some of those silent heroes, and the legacies that they have built:
Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux
As the founder of the Montreal Stars, Breton helped to create the first dynasty in modern women’s ice hockey. She can boast three Clarkson Cup championships (2009, 2011, and 2012) to her credit. A big part of her contribution to the Stars also stems from creating the finest culture in women’s hockey. The teammates' enjoyment of playing with the franchise is a key component in the team having success.
Along with Stars general manager, Meg Hewings, the two have worked on a superlative outreach program. The Youth Club Affiliate program is an initiative to get more local youth hockey associations and communities involved with the franchise. Breton has also used her position with the franchise to assist in funding for breast cancer research. In a January 29, 2011 contest, pink jerseys were donned by the Stars in support of the disease, one that her mother, Johanne Lebreux survived.
A superstar at Concordia, Breton would help the Stingers to the first CIS women’s championship. In the nascent years of the tournament, Breton was one of its first superstars, helping to build a legacy that others would follow in. In addition, she is one of the few women in CIS history to have participated in five CIS National Tournaments.  She still gives back to the Stingers community by contributing as an assistant coach to the women’s team.
As a member of the Montreal Axion, she scored the game winning goal that beat Brampton by a 1-0 tally to capture the NWHL title. The stick that was used to notch the game winner was given to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Perhaps one day, the Hall will open their doors to her in the Builders Category. 
Kendra Fisher
A competitor at numerous Esso Women’s National events, Fisher competed for the Toronto Furies in their inaugural season as a backup goaltender to Sami Jo Small. Speaking out on depression and anxiety, Fisher has shown a lot of courage. In the early 2000s, she was a favourite to gain a goaltending spot on the Canadian National Team, but her dream was disrupted by her problems with anxiety.
Despite her struggles, Fisher still managed to represent Canada on an international scale. Fisher would win the gold medal at the World Inline Skating Championships in 2005 and 2012, respectively. In the 2012 tournament, Fisher earned a 12-0 shutout over Brazil in the first game. She would log three more periods of shutout hockey in a 4-0 blanking of France. The Spanish team would score against her in the semi-final, but Fisher was too strong between the pipes. In the gold medal game, Fisher logged a shutout versus the United States.
While other sports have had athletes publicly discuss depression (primarily in pro football with Terry Bradshaw, Ricky Williams and Warrick Dunn), Fisher is the first women’s ice hockey player to speak openly about the problem. Speaking at schools and using the twitter hash mark #mentallyfit, Fisher’s comeback with the Toronto Furies and with inline skating is a story of courage that no Hollywood film could depict any better.
Aleca Hughes
As a student-athlete at Yale, Hughes was involved in charity work, including Athletes in Action, a group of Christian athletes that performs community service. Of all her charitable efforts, the one that captured the hearts and minds of hockey fans everywhere was the organization of a bone marrow donor drive for teammate Mandi Schwartz. As a freshman with the Yale Bulldogs was in 2008-09, Hughes skated on the same line with Schwartz, a native of Wilcox, Saskatchewan that competed in the 2003 Canada Winter Games.
A Goals for Mandi fundraiser for teammate Schwartz was spearheaded by Hughes. In addition, a fundraiser titled White Out for Mandi at Ingalls Rink on November 12, 2010 raised more than $15,500. Although Schwartz lost her battle with recurrent acute myeloid leukemia on April 3, 2011, she knew that Hughes was more than a teammate, but a dear friend whose tenacity to find a donor was unmatched. At the end of the 2010-11 season, the Yale Bulldogs introduced the Mandi Schwartz Award, in recognition of courage, grit and determination. Hughes was named its first ever winner.
Despite the tragic of loss of Schwartz, the Bulldogs dedicated their season to her and did not stop raising funds for cancer research. In 2012, Hughes efforts saw her emerge as the recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, in which the parents of Mandi Schwartz were in attendance. Hughes would add more hardware, as she claimed the Sarah Devens Award, and the Coach Wooden Cup (the first Ivy League athlete to accomplish the feat). Her impact as a hockey player expanded to one as a role model. She built a foundation upon which Yale athletics will always contribute to the well-being of others, but to a small community in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, she gave them hope.

Kim McCullough
A former member of the Dartmouth Big Green, McCullough followed in the footsteps of other legends that graced the ice at Dartmouth. During the 2001-02 season, she was a co-captain with the Big Green, and finished with 130 career points. In later years, McCullough would be one of the founders of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Despite her contributions to the game, McCullough’s greatest gift to the game would come through the sharing of her wealth of knowledge in strength and conditioning. As the Director and Founder of Total Female Hockey, the certified strength and conditioning coach (through the International Youth Conditioning Association) has contributed to the betterment of over 5000 players, 1000 coaches and 100 teams.
In high demand, McCullough was involved in a coaching clinic for the Wickenheiser International Women's Hockey Festival in 2010. With Hockey Canada, she has also had involvement with the National and Ontario Under-18 programs. McCullough has also written a collection of hockey training books called Best Hockey Season Ever.
In an effort to improve women’s ice hockey on a global level, many players, coaches and trainers from Canada and the United States have served in various consulting capacities to countries not as competitive. McCullough made her contributions to international goodwill by helping the Czech National Women’s 2014 Development Team as Strength and Conditioning Coach. McCullough has used her athletic gifts to help other athletes cultivate theirs.

Mariel Lacina
A former goaltender, Lacina played competitively for the Chatham Jr. Outlaws of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League in Ontario. Her first NCAA contest came on January 5, 2007 as a member of the Dartmouth Big Green. She would make five saves against the Quinnipiac Bobcats. The first victory of her Dartmouth career would also involve Quinnipiac. Lacina came in a November 3, 2007 in an 8-1 whitewash of the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
While a member of the Big Green, Lacina started giving back. She volunteered as a goalie coach for the Lebanon High School girls' hockey team in New Hampshire. Her coaching career would continue with the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. One of her biggest marks on the game would be through the beginning of a used-equipment redistribution program titled Green Gear.
By continuing to spread her love of the game, she has helped underprivileged children enjoy the game. With the invitation by the grandfather of a young Dartmouth fan, Lacina noticed that despite the elementary school having an outdoor rink, the children did not have skates. She discovered very few students owned skates and that was the catalyst to bring about change.
Used gear from Dartmouth students and Hanover residents were collected, and then allocated to underprivileged young people. Like fellow Big Green alumnus Kim McCullough, made a great impact after her NCAA career. Her effort to start a donation program for used hockey equipment may provide a future game changer the chance they never had. In many cases, Lacina may be the best friend some beneficiaries of said donations never met.

Kelsey Tulloch
Regina native Kelsey Tulloch ranks in the top five in terms of all-time scoring for the Saskatchewan Huskies.  A very assiduous student athlete, her heroics on the ice has helped the Huskies remain postseason contenders on an annual basis. For this Civic minded athlete, her heroics off the ice have just as much impact. Providing inspiration, she is helping people to be contenders in life.
As the 2012 Canada West nominee for the Marion Hilliard Award, Tulloch is a four-time All-Academic, while representing her team on the Huskie Athletics Council. Her charitable efforts have included the collection of used shoes to send to Africa, and helping the Huskies organize a Christmas hamper. In addition, she has coached hockey with lower income Saskatoon schools along with assisting Saskatchewan women’s hockey programs at the bantam, midget and pee wee levels.   

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