Saturday, 30 June 2012

CWHL finds its roots in 2006 Winter Games Hall of Fame team

While the idea of the CWHL had not even been conceived, the players that would help to build it and shape it had left their mark on the frozen surface of Palasport Olimpico, the site of the gold medal game of the women’s ice hockey tournament at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. It is their mark that has now earned these fearless, frozen females their opportunity to be glorified with a place in the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.

Meghan Agosta’s Coming Out Party

From the outset, the Torino Winter Games will always be defined as the Winter Games in which Canada discovered Meghan Agosta. The foundation was laid in Torino to signify what would be the beginning of a superlative career in international hockey. Labeled as the female Sidney Crosby, Agosta has stepped out of his shadow and staked her own claim in the game. While Crosby and Agosta cemented their legacies at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Agosta had set the stage in Torino for what would be her coming out party.

On her nineteenth birthday (February 12, 2006), Agosta scored a hat trick in a 12-0 victory over the Russian squad. That would serve as the defining moment of her young career, and set the stage for many greater moments in the future. On a larger scale, Agosta’s performance not only helped to build a legend, but it sent a message to the rest of the world that Canada had a new generation of superstars that were not ready to relinquish their status as the world’s finest.

To fans of the CWHL, Agosta is a once in a lifetime player that shattered the CWHL scoring record (set by Caroline Ouellette) in her rookie campaign. The first pick overall in the 2011 CWHL Draft, Agosta would finish the season as a Clarkson Cup champion, ensuring her membership in the Triple Gold Club for Women (a player that wins Olympic Gold, IIHF World Championship Gold, and the Clarkson Cup). More importantly, what Agosta achieved in Torino is exactly what she has accomplished as a rookie in the CWHL: she is proving that women’s hockey has a bright, talented future.

The Dartmouth Three

While the Ivy League has been supplying ice hockey players to the United States National Team for close to two decades, three Canadians emerged from the same institution of higher learning to help Canada claim its second consecutive gold medal. Gillian Apps (granddaughter of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Syl Apps), Cherie Piper and Katie Weatherston represented the Dartmouth Big Green at the Torino Games.

Piper would finish second in overall scoring in Torino with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists), while Apps would rank third with 14 points, respectively. Both Piper and Apps led all skaters in Torino with seven goals scored. In addition, the two would score goals in the gold medal game versus Sweden. Piper also scored a hat trick in the same game that Agosta accomplished the feat (the 12-0 victory over Russia). Not to be outdone, Apps would notch a hat trick in an 8-1 Valentine’s Day win over Sweden.

Not only would the Dartmouth Three enjoy gold medal glory, but all three would eventually be the building blocks of the CWHL. Apps and Piper played together with the Brampton Thunder and competed for the Clarkson Cup (Apps participated in the 2010 and 2012 championship game, while Piper notched a goal in the 2012 championship game). Although Weatherston would enjoy only one Winter Games appearance for Canada, Weatherston was one of the franchise players for the Ottawa Capital Canucks. During the 2007-08 CWHL season, she would be transferred to the Montreal Stars, and earn the opportunity to play with future Winter Games medalist Marie-Philip Poulin, and future McGill Martlets star Leslie Oles.

Legend in the Making

She competed in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association under the guidance of Shannon Miller. Caroline Ouellette would be the first Canadian woman to achieve a rare grand slam in women’s hockey. Ouellette would earn an NCAA Frozen Four title, World Championship Gold, Olympic Gold, and a Clarkson Cup triumph.
Playing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (with US rival Jenny Potter as one of her teammates), Ouellette would benefit greatly from the tutelage of Shannon Miller, the coach of Canada’s initial women’s hockey entry, at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Ironically, Ouellette’s teammate at Minnesota-Duluth, Jenny Potter would be the first American woman to achieve the grand slam.

On February 11, 2006, Ouellette would log a hat trick in a 16-0 whitewash of host country Italy. She was the first of four Canadian players to score hat tricks in Torino. In the gold medal game, Ouellette scored what would stand as the game winning goal in a 4-1 triumph over Sweden. Ouellette’s nine points tied her for fourth place in overall scoring at the Torino Games. Tied with Ouellette was Maria Rooth of Sweden, one of Ouellette’s teammates at Minnesota-Duluth.
Before claiming three of the first four Clarkson Cup championships, Ouellette would return to the University of Minnesota-Duluth to serve as an assistant coach under Shannon Miller. Julie Chu, who would make her debut for the US Olympic Team at the 2006 Games, would also serve on the coaching staff. Eventually, Chu would win multiple Clarkson Cups in Montreal, playing alongside Ouellette, Agosta, and several other Canadian stars. After joining the CWHL for good, Ouellette set the CWHL scoring record (since broken) in the 2010-11 campaign.

French Connection between the pipes

The Torino Games would solidify Kim St. Pierre’s legacy as the greatest women’s goaltender in the history of Canadian hockey. Statistically, St. Pierre and Charline Labonte allowed a combined two goals in five games played. Labonte logged 180 minutes of ice time and led all goaltenders with a goals against average of 0.33% and a save percentage of .976, respectively. St. Pierre had 120 minutes of ice time, while her goals against was second overall among all Torino goalies with 0.50%. Her save percentage ranked fifth overall with .923.

The accolades would only continue for St. Pierre after her gold medal win in Torino. Not only would St. Pierre claim her third gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but St. Pierre would make hockey history in two different ways. She would follow in the footsteps of Manon Rheaume, as she would enter the realm of the National Hockey League. On October 23, 2008, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey would invite St. Pierre to take part in a practice with the club, as Carey Price was out with the flu. A year later, St. Pierre would occupy the crease for the Montreal Stars as the team won the first ever Clarkson Cup. In the nascent years of the CWHL, St. Pierre would take root as the premier goaltender, winning two Clarkson Cups.

Charline Labonte was the second half of the French Connection that proved to be impenetrable between the pipes at the Torino Games. In many ways, Labonte has followed in St. Pierre’s footsteps as she has also found her own frozen glory. Like St. Pierre, Labonte is accustomed to tending goal against male hockey players. Labonte tended goal for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Her play for the QMJHL club was featured on a hockey card issued by Upper Deck in their 1999-2000 UD Prospects set (card #54).

After the superlative career that St. Pierre had with the McGill Martlets of the CIS, Labonte took over the goaltending duties and the Martlets never missed a beat. Labonte’s impact with McGill is legendary as she led them to five appearances in the CIS National tournament. One of the prospects in the 2012 CWHL Draft, Labonte is one of two goaltenders from the Torino Games looking to establish a great career between the pipes of the CWHL net. Switzerland goaltender Florence Schelling made her Olympic debut for Switzerland in 2006, and like Labonte, she looks to be an anchor for a team’s crease for several seasons to come.

The Builders

A co-founder of the CWHL, Jennifer Botterill will one day find herself enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. While her exploits as an Olympic ice hockey player are known, her contributions to the early years of the CWHL are just as important. Playing for the Mississauga Aeros in the inaugural CWHL season, Botterill claimed the Angela James Bowl (given to the highest scoring player in the CWHL). In 2010, Botterill would play in the Toronto Furies inaugural season. Her leadership and presence were key factors in the Furies qualifying for the 2011 Clarkson Cup finals.
The heartbeat of the Burlington Barracudas (now defunct), Becky Kellar is a stoic, quiet, and admirable hero that has appeared in four Winter Games competitions. A CWHL All-Star selection in the league’s inaugural season, Kellar was an anchor on defense for Canada during the Torino Games.

Long time members of the Brampton Thunder, Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara (in her Olympic swan song) brought heart, leadership, and experience to a Canadian squad. Those qualities would benefit Brampton greatly in their transition to the CWHL in 2007-08. Hefford, Sunohara, and Lori Dupuis (member of the 1998 and 2002 Canadian Olympic teams) would help Brampton claim the first championship in CWHL history.

The first female to captain back to back gold medal teams in the Winter Games, Cassie Campbell was in the twilight of her career as the CWHL broke ground. As a former member of the Beatrice Aeros in the NWHL and the Calgary Oval X-Treme, Campbell would contribute to the CWHL in an administrative capacity. When Adrienne Clarkson unveiled the Clarkson Cup on July 10, 2006, Campbell was at her side. Her contributions to the CWHL and the Clarkson Cup are part of a bigger body of work that made Campbell the first woman to receive the Order of Hockey in Canada.

Final Links to the Calgary Oval X-Treme

While the following never played in the CWHL (Danielle Goyette, Colleen Sostorics, Hayley Wickenheiser: who led all skaters at Torino with twelve assists and seventeen points), their contributions to the Calgary Oval X-Treme would one day lay the groundwork for the CWHL to expand to Calgary. As a side note, one of the assistant coaches of the Oval X-Treme was Bart Doan, cousin of Shane Doan (a gold medalist at the 2010 Winter Games), and husband of Catriona LeMay Doan (multiple Winter Games medalist).

Proving that women’s ice hockey was an important part of Calgary’s sporting landscape, the philanthropic contribution by Joan Snyder would help fund a new arena and training facility for the Calgary Dinos of the CIS, while making it possible for Calgary to enter the CWHL. Team Alberta (as the CWHL expansion team from Calgary would be known) featured Samantha Holmes as its General Manager. As a child, Holmes letter writing campaigns to Juan Antonio Samaranch, and various Canadian dignitaries, was one of the catalysts towards making women’s ice hockey a reality at the Winter Games. Holmes efforts would finally reach full circle. Meanwhile, the contributions of Goyette and Wickenheiser as leaders and mentors with the Calgary Dinos will bear fruit that the CWHL shall reap the benefit from.

American Influence

Ironically, one of the players that were instrumental in helping the CWHL take flight was United States player Kathleen Kauth. Having played on the bronze medal United States team, Kauth had spent several seasons with the Brampton Thunder in the later years of the National Women's Hockey League. Along with Jennifer Botterill, 2002 Winter Games medalist Sami Jo Small, CIS player Allyson Fox, and Dartmouth Big Green skater Kim McCullough, Kauth was one of the architects behind the formation of the CWHL. In emulating the National Lacrosse League, the CWHL would assume responsibility for various aspects, such as travel, ice rental and uniform costs.

Kauth had qualified for the 2002 US Winter Games team, but did not participate. Tragically, she lost her father in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In a gesture of goodwill, the Canadian team sent a letter of condolence to Kauth. It was a real world tragedy that forced many to place the bitter rivalry in perspective. If any consolation can emanate from Kauth’s personal tragedy, it is the fact that it softened the tension between Canada and the US.

Along with Julie Chu, there was another player from the 2006 United States Olympic team that has a profound impact on the CWHL. Wisconsin Badgers legend Molly Engstrom would play for the Brampton Thunder of the CWHL during the league’s inaugural 2007-08 season. A participant with Brampton in the 2010 and 2012 Clarkson Cup final, Engstrom was another American that was essential in the building of mutual respect between Canadian and American players. Being the first American player in the CWHL, Engstrom was recognized as a league all-star in her first season, and is an important reason that many Americans now compete in the league.

As the women’s game continues to evolve, future events shall undoubtedly clash with unforeseen elements to create resilient roots upon which to strengthen the game. The 2006 Winter Games created an was a perfect storm in which an unexpected foundation was crafted that would help women’s ice hockey develop, while creating new stars such as Meghan Agosta, Julie Chu and Florence Schelling. Its participants were building blocks that constituted intricate, yet interdependent events that would one day lead to the progression that is Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Outdoor game may serve as next step in evolution of CWHL

While it is tragic that players in the CWHL are not compensated for their efforts, the concept of an outdoor game may seem like an unfair punishment. As the league continues to grow, and tries to write a chapter based on success and profitability, an outdoor game might be the catalyst towards reaching those goals.
As the 2012 CWHL Draft promises to bring the league its best ever crop of talent, the time is ripe to grow the game and bring it in unprecedented directions. As women’s sports get less than five per cent of airtime on major sports networks, an outdoor game could be the ideal way to get that much needed television exposure.
With two teams in the Greater Toronto Area, the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder could play each other at York University’s football stadium. As Dan Church, the Canadian National Women’s Team head coach, is also the head coach of the York Lions women’s program, perhaps an outdoor game with CIS teams could be held on the same day. A joint effort between the CWHL and CIS could only bear worthwhile fruit.
Another option between the CWHL and CIS would include another hockey hotbed of women’s ice hockey: Montreal. The defending Clarkson Cup champion Montreal Stars at McGill Stadium has potential. Possibly opposing the McGill Martlets (with future superstar Melodie Daoust) would generate publicity and raise money for charity. During the 2011-12 campaign, the Montreal Stars wore pink jerseys in a match against the Boston Blades. Said jerseys were sold for Breast Cancer research.
An outdoor charity match would showcase two of the finest women’s ice hockey teams in Canada. In addition, the opportunity for a joint promotion presents itself. The Armada of Boisbriand (suburban Montreal) was one of the top ranked teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. If the Armada were to play the Quebec Remparts or the defending Memorial Cup champion Shawinigan Cataractes, an outdoor doubleheader would guarantee television exposure while ensuring there are sponsorship dollars. With the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League poised to rebuild, teams at the junior, university and women’s level must be creative in attracting hockey fans.
Among hockey purists, the concept of an outdoor game is still very much a topic of debate (is it a gimmick or a new tradition). After the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers match at the storied Fenway Park, high school and university teams have experimented with the concept. Events have been held every year since and many fans have come to call the event Frozen Fenway. It was the NCAA that provided women’s hockey fans with the first outdoor game for women. The Northeastern Huskies (with All-World goaltender Florence Schelling) participated in the first women’s outdoor game at Fenway Park.
Although the attendance was not as robust as the NHL version, Fenway has hosted several other university games featuring men’s teams and women’s teams. With the Boston Blades developing into one of the better franchises in the CWHL, a match at Fenway Park does not seem out of reach. As the community of Boston has embraced the concept, the Boston Blades versus the Boston College Eagles (with Alex Carpenter) or the Boston University Terriers (featuring Marie-Philip Poulin) would be a unique match that could have potential as an annual event. As various sports channels in New England have broadcast the Hockey East women’s championship, an outdoor event featuring such superlative women’s ice hockey talent would be an ideal showcase for New England hockey fans.
Whether the outdoor game is a fading gimmick or an evolution in hockey tradition, it must be explored by the CWHL for the simple reason that the league needs to extend its brand. Events that build the brand have the potential to become experiences that are value added. The CWHL Draft was the league’s first attempt to build its brand and create an annual event. With the talent available in the 2012 edition of the draft, the potential of the event to become an exciting experience for fans and players alike is easily a springboard to considering other options. An outdoor game carries risk (in terms of cost and injury) and may have a limited shelf life, but the hope that the experience which may emanate from such an event might be part of the foundation upon which the next chapter of the CWHL is written.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Montreal Canadiens should give Danièle Sauvageau a chance

Back in 2004, the Quebec television network TVA aired new episodes of a revived French TV classic, Lance et Compte. While this new version (titled Lance et compte: La reconquête) featured some of the characters that fans of the original series were familiar with (Pierre Lambert, Marc Gagnon, Gilles Guilbault), new characters occupied the program and one was highly influenced by the coach of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games gold medal winning women’s ice hockey squad, Danielle Sauvageau.
The Quebec Nationals (the fictional team the program is based upon) hire a new assistant coach; Michelle Béliveau (portrayed by Maxim Roy), a female coach that had once coached the Canadian women’s team to Winter Games Gold. In one episode, she tries to motivate the players by showing her the Gold Medal. In addition, the coach has long black hair, definitely paying homage to Sauvageau.
While those episodes were broadcast in 2004, the concept is still tragically ahead of its time. Throughout the run of the revived series, the players eventually accept the fact that one of their coaches is a woman. In reality, players would eventually adapt to having a female as a coach. Considering that boys grow up with some of their school teachers as women, and there are just as many women that are managers in the workplace as men, a woman coaching in men’s professional hockey is not out of reach.
All-around nice guy Marc Bergevin recently accepted the job of riding the Canadiens ship into a winning direction. While the beleaguered Canadiens attempt to close the chapter on their recent mediocrity, the opportunity to open a new chapter in winning would greatly benefit from a highly qualified lady helping to write that chapter.
Sauvageau has found new life after the National Team. When Radio-Canada (the French equivalent of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) was in the final years of its broadcasting rights for La Soiree du Hockey (the French complement to Hockey Night in Canada), Sauvageau held a broadcasting position similar to Don Cherry (only friendlier). She was an eloquent speaker and a breath of fresh air.
In 2009, she brought her winning ways to the Université de Montréal in a management capacity. When the Montreal Carabins hockey program joined Canadian Interuniversity Sport, it was thrust into the same division as the national powerhouse (and soon to be cross-town rivals) the McGill Martlets. Over the last few seasons, the Martlets roster has boasted the likes of All-World goaltender Charline Labonte, and former Canadian National Team members Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand, and Gillian Ferrari. As General Manager, she hired Clarkson Cup winning head coach Isabelle Leclaire, and brought Quebec sporting legend (and member of the 1998 Nagano Winter Games hockey team) France St. Louis aboard. The club qualified for the CIS National Championships in 2010 (its inaugural CIS season), and went on to claim the silver medal at the 2012 edition.
While Bergevin has filled his head coaching vacancy, Sauvageau would be a superlative selection to round out the coaching staff. Many hockey purists would write off such a hire as a publicity stunt (similar to the views of some critics, when the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Manon Rheaume in 1992), but she is a highly qualified individual that would inject new life into a franchise that desperately needs one. Back in 1999-2000, she became an assistant coach for another Montreal hockey team - the Montreal Rocket of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Sauvageau became the first female coach in QMJHL history.
The reality of coaching in pro sports is that there is always an immediate, almost visceral, sense of skepticism. Said coach is either a recycled coach (having had jobs in multiple organizations), or an unknown who has paid their dues in locations most people have never heard of. Once the press conference is announced, fans, media, and players like (whether they may be a dyed in the wool cynic or a glass is half full optimist) cannot help but immediately speculate as to the fate of the new hire. On the other hand, fans may perceive the hiring of Sauvageau as a bold hire, and someone that may resuscitate the franchise. Rather than debate on how quickly she would be terminated, her hire would raise conversation as to how well she would perform.
A bold move would augment discussion throughout the league and generate the type of media coverage that is all too rare for professional hockey. The hiring of Sauvageau would be of interest to local media any time that the Canadiens would travel throughout the league. If an organization would feel that hiring her would make waves, they could easily have her coach in the American Hockey League, or East Coast Hockey League. By having a woman coach at those levels, it may be easier to eventually accustom players and executives to the concept.
With her success as General Manager of the still nascent Carabins hockey program, hiring Sauvageau in a management capacity would capitalize on a trend that is occurring. In other men’s sports leagues, women are starting to make their presence felt. Kim Ng is an executive with Major League Baseball, and was considered for the Los Angeles Dodgers vacancy at the General Manager position in late 2011. Amy Trask is the Chief Executive Officer for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League, one of the signature franchises of that league. The executive responsible for the business area of Major League Soccer is Kathryn Carter.
Considering that there have been men who have coached in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, along with the Women’s National Basketball Association. The time has come for women to be given fair consideration for coaching positions in the male sporting world. All it takes is for one person to be willing to take the risk. There are many women in Quebec hockey (such as the aforementioned France St. Louis, Nancy Drolet, Amey Doyle, Caroline Ouellette) that have helped to contribute to the women’s game on and off the ice. Whether it be in a coaching role or management position, the women of Quebec have emerged as strong figures and outstanding role models in the realm of female hockey.
The Canadiens have been considered one of the classiest organizations in all of professional sports. With the Bergevin era under way, it is time to lead by example. Sauvageau behind the bench or in the front office is not only forward thinking, it is the right thing to do. While the glass ceiling is slowly crumbling in other men’s sports, the Canadiens have the chance to not only shatter the glass ceiling, but raise the bar as to what a club should expect from a prospective employee that is considered a quality candidate.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Brampton HC needs a new name: farewell to the Thunder, but not to the history

As the CWHL gears up for the 2012-13 season, one of the small adjustments it is making involves ensuring all franchises have names (including the possibility of changing the league name). While rumours have been rampant with regards to changing the Canadian in CWHL to Continental or Central, the franchise in Alberta are colloquially referred to as the Honeybadgers. Currently, the Brampton franchise is using the opportunity to have fans suggest names. Personally, the name Rosebuds would be fitting because the late Rose Cherry lived near Brampton and was an ardent supporter of women’s ice hockey.

Although the Brampton franchise has not officially used the name since the contraction of the league in 2010, most aficionados have still associated the name with them. Despite sentimentality, the Thunder name will definitely be retired this summer.  Considering that professional women’s hockey in Canada does not yet have the tradition woven into the fabric of Canadian culture to the extent that their male counterparts do, the name Thunder signified longevity in women’s ice hockey. The Thunder date back to the birth of the NWHL, and won the first championship in CWHL history (in 2008).

Over the years, the Thunder roster was a veritable who’s who of some of the most prominent players in women’s ice hockey. Home to both Canadian and American women, it may be another generation before a franchise has so many women that have had a significant impact on the growth of the game. Justine Blainey (now known as Dr. Justine Blainey-Broker), whose landmark case against the Ontario Hockey Association (due to a discrimination complaint against the Metro Toronto Hockey League) was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, opened the door for girls to play with boys (something that commonly exists now at the Midget AA and Midget AAA levels). Just as baseball had Curt Flood, and basketball had Spencer Haywood, two athletes that questioned the rules of their establishments and fought for the greater good, Justine Blainey did the same in Canadian hockey. Her playing career would end in a Brampton Thunder uniform.

Samantha Holmes-Domagala (founder of the Strathmore Rockies, and general manager of Team Alberta in the CWHL) was another player who helped tear down the glass ceiling. Her letter writing campaigns to Juan Antonio Samaranch, former head of the International Olympic Committee, and the Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada, helped get the ball rolling to consider women’s ice hockey as an Olympic sport. In the early 2000’s, Holmes donned the Thunder jersey. Of note, one of the players that would one day win an Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey made her own impact with the Thunder. The first time that a goaltender scored a goal in a professional women’s game, it was done as a member of the Thunder. 2002 and 2006 Winter Games gold medallist Sami Jo Small accomplished the feat with the Thunder name and logo emblazoned on her sweater.

At a time when the Canadian-American rivalry was at an extremely high level of tension and disdain, it was the Thunder that opened their doors to US women’s ice hockey players. Kathleen Kauth (who had qualified for the 2002 United States Winter Games team) had tragically lost her father in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Despite missing the 2002 Winter Games, she would courageously return to the 2006 Torino Winter Games and claim a bronze medal. In between those four years, Kauth would play for the Thunder. The admission of Kauth into the Brampton Thunder was the catalyst towards softening the animosity between Canadian and American players. After the Torino Games, Kauth would serve as one of the co-founders of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Meghan Sittler (daughter of Toronto Maple Leafs legend and Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler), a Canadian expatriate who played on the United States national team found her way back to Canada via the Thunder. Several years later, United States Winter Games medalist (and Wisconsin Badgers legend), Molly Engstrom, would compete for the Thunder. Engstrom, an All-World defender, participated with the Thunder in the 2010 and 2012 Clarkson Cup.
Retiring the Thunder name is to close a chapter in Canadian women’s ice hockey history and CWHL history. The Thunder was the backbone of the NWHL and the still nascent CWHL. The name represents what professional women’s hockey has managed to do in its very difficult beginnings: survive. In decades from now, the Thunder will be reminisced in the same way as the men’s teams that did not survive the Great Depression are today; the Quebec Bulldogs, the Montreal Maroons, the Hamilton Tigers, and the Vancouver Millionaires. While the myth of these defunct teams grows as hockey seasons go by, their impact on Canadian hockey resonates in the hearts of the studious fans and hockey historians who aim to preserve their unique role. Future generations of women’s ice hockey players will romanticize the name Thunder and embrace the history that it represented.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Alberta Honeybadgers look to national team stars to bolster their blueline

The recently christened Alberta Honeybadgers have several opportunities in the upcoming draft to upgrade their roster. One area where the squad can benefit is with the quality available at the defensive position. If defense wins championships, two members of the Canadian National Team may fit the bill.

Jocelyne Larocque recently claimed gold at the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Burlington, Vermont. Tara Watchorn earned gold at the 2011 MLP Nations Cup, and wore the Maple Leaf at the 2011 IIHF Women’s Worlds. For both players, it is just the latest in a long line of awards and accolades in their storied careers.
Larocque first gained prominence as a member of the Ste. Anne three (Larocque, Melanie Gagnon, and Bailey Bram). All three hailed from the same small community in Manitoba and participated in the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four. One of the last cuts for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games team, Larocque is poised to help the Canadian team repeat as champions at the 2014 Sochi games.
A two time national champion with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, Larocque has had the privilege of meeting United States Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. With the Bulldogs, Larocque reached many firsts: the first Bulldog defender to be an All-American selection, and eclipse the 100 point barrier. She ended her career with the Bulldogs by being named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.
No stranger to competitive hockey in Alberta, Larocque is a former member of the Calgary Oval X-Treme, winning the Western Women’s Hockey League title in 2005. Having recently played with the Manitoba Maple Leafs, Larocque would be a great asset on the blueline for the Honeybadgers. Should Larocque claim a Clarkson Cup and Olympic Winter Gold (to go with her World Championship and Frozen Four title), she would only be the third woman to accomplish the rare grand slam in women’s hockey (former Bulldogs Jenny Potter and Caroline Ouellette were the first two).
Another player that would add a new element to the Honeybadgers is national team member Tara Watchorn. A 5’10’’ stalwart, she was a teammate of Larocque at the 2010 MLP Cup (with the gold medal winning Under-22 Canadian team), Watchorn has also experienced victory at multiple levels in her career. From silver and bronze medals in a career with Durham of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (Ontario), to a Hockey East title with Boston University, she has the presence to make an impact on the Honeybadgers defense.
The year 2007 marked the beginning of several accomplishments in her career. From winning gold with Team Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games (a team that featured current CWHL Draft hopefuls Rebecca Johnston, Laura McIntosh, Carolyne Prevost, Natalie Spooner, Jenn Wakefield, and Catherine White), to playing in the first ever game of the Canadian Under-18 women’s program (contested on August 23, 2007 in Ottawa), Watchorn was making a statement that she was one to watch. In 2008, she would compete at the inaugural IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds (winning a silver medal), and graduate to the Under-22 program a year later.
In her freshman campaign with the Boston University Terriers (2008-09), she participated in every game, while earning nods to the New England Writers Division I All-Rookie and All-Star teams, respectively. The following season, she scored the game winning goal in overtime at the 2010 Hockey East championship game, giving the Terriers its first ever Hockey East crown.
With a draft that features some of the greatest players in a generation, Larocque and Watchorn are can’t miss prospects. True building blocks for any franchise, their ability to win and produce results will bring immediate dividends to the organization(s) that select them. Both players are poised to bring their game to the CWHL and make their Clarkson Cup dreams come true.