Sunday, 22 March 2015

Cardboard immortality: Brampton leads way with CWHL team issues

During the offseason, many CWHL clubs held surveys, asking their fans which types of merchandising they would like to possibly purchase. Among the offerings that fans showed strong response to, one item in particular was hockey cards. While several CWHL players that have competed for the Canadian or American national teams have earned the cardboard treatment, the chance to be part of a CWHL themed set represents a new experience.

Starting the new trend towards its players being featured on hockey cards is the Brampton Thunder. Such an exciting offering also helps to enrich the fan experience. For generations of young boys in the post World War II era, sports cards featuring their favorite hockey, baseball and football players added an exciting new dimension to their sport of choice, while providing a stronger connection to the athletes they idolized.

For the young female fans of the Brampton Thunder, the 2014-15 season has enabled them the chance to experience that same connection through the hockey card issue. Available at all Thunder home games, fans have also connected through social media in order to purchase through mail order.

The set consists of 25 cards, including a card that features a team photo. Manufactured by MJB Card Designs and printed by Cambridge KKP, the back of the glossy cards features the logo of Oscar’s Roadhouse, a proud Brampton sponsor.

With high quality photos by the likes of Jessica Bazal, John Morrison and Brandon Taylor (whose work also includes the Clarkson Cup and the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs), the card backs include the obligatory details such as hometown, date of birth, height, shot (left or right) and former team.

The addition of statistics for the veteran players adds a major league feeling to these cardboard treasures. In addition, the Thunder have also emulated the Topps Company by listing the player’s Twitter handles on the card backs. Over the last few years, the Twitter handle has been published on the baseball and football card backs of numerous Topps issues.

Although the status of these cards would qualify as a regional issue, meaning that the cards are readily available only near Brampton, it means that players who are appearing on a card for the first time do not really bear the traditional rookie card status. Instead, cards have an XRC status, acknowledging its first release but not available nationally.

Despite this, the release of this series represents a great leap forward for the Thunder and the CWHL in general. Women’s hockey fans will be very pleased at seeing many longtime veteran players finally earning the cardboard treatment.

Perhaps the most deserving is 33 year old Lindsay Vine. An 11 year veteran of women’s pro hockey, she was also a captain at the NCAA level. Joining Vine is Jennifer Kirk, another accomplished veteran with two Clarkson Cup title game appearances under her belt.

Seeing Kirk gracing a hockey card represents a great feel-good moment for the growth of the game, while paying tribute to the contributions of individuals such as Kirk and Vine. A pair of remarkable ambassadors, whose experience dates back to the nascent years of NCAA women’s hockey, they have helped lead the game to unprecedented heights in Canadian hockey. Their card appearances represent a unique validation.

While there are some hockey card collectors who only accumulate goalie cards, there are three very exceptional goalies to add to their collections. Having established herself as a workhorse goaltender during the 2013-14 season, Sonia van der Bliek played valiantly, rebounding from an earlier injury to prove that she could excel at the CWHL level.

Also earning the trading card treatment is rookie backstop Erica Howe. One of three members of Clarkson’s 2014 NCAA Frozen Four championship team (joined by Danielle Boudreau and Jamie Lee Rattray) drafted by Brampton is helping to forge a new era in Brampton hockey. As a side note, Howe and Rattray are among a unique group of Brampton teammates that have already had hockey cards issued in years past.

Both Howe and Rattray were among the proud Canadian women from the gold-medal winning 2010 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships whose images graced cards in Upper Deck’s 2011 World of Sports set. The set would also feature female soccer players, including Canada’s Christine Sinclair.

In addition, Laura Fortino and Brampton captain Jocelyne Larocque have also earned the cardboard treatment from Upper Deck. In the autumn of 2014, Upper Deck released a 100-card base set titled Team Canada Juniors. Among the cards in the set were the Canadian women who competed at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds and/or the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. For Fortino and Larocque, the 2014 Upper Deck cards marked the first time that a major card manufacturer issued cards of them, hence, their rookie cards. Complemented by the very sharp looking Brampton cards, it marked a unique personal milestone in their world-class careers.

Another world-class player is veteran backstop Liz Knox, former Canadian national team member making her return to the franchise after a championship season in Australia. Also featured on cardboard, her card featured the classic goalie stance, which could easily pass for an NHL hockey card.

In the aftermath of a season of optimism, these trading cards helped to add a major league feeling for the incredible women who don the Brampton jersey. While it also adds a special element of collecting that only adds to the experience of being a fan, these soon to be cherished collector’s items commemorate a special time in franchise history.

As noted collector Jefferson Burdick once said, “Trading cards are a unique picture window into the past.” While Brampton’s season has already transpired into the past, it may also be the season that turns things around, and transitions the club towards an elusive Clarkson Cup.

Checklist

1: Erica Howe                        4: Candace Styles
8: Laura Fortino                    9: Natasha Fryer
10: Jesse Scanzano             12: Jamie Lee Rattray
13: Jennifer Ward                 15: Mallory Johnston
16: Fielding Montgomery     17: Ellie Seedhouse
18: Danielle Boudreau         19: Dania Simmonds
20: Danielle Skirrow             21: Carly Mercer
22: Jess Jones                     24: Courtney Birchard
27: Kelly O’Hanlon                30: Sonia van der Bliek
31: Liz Knox                          34: Jocelyne Larocque
43: Tara Gray                        67: Leah Whittaker
71: Jennifer Kirk                   91: Lindsey Vine

NNO: Team Card

CWHL Blueliner of the Year Tara Watchorn one step closer to Triple Gold honors

As the legend of the Clarkson Cup continues to grow, one of the interesting subplots of the event is the growing member of skaters that shall earn Triple Gold status. First conceived by Andrew Podnieks, the Triple Gold Club for Women (which deserves to be recognized by the IIHF) acknowledges those that have claimed Winter Games gold, IIHF World gold and the Clarkson.

Since its inception of the Clarkson Cup in 2009, each year has seen a player from a Cup winning team gain this prestigious accomplishment. Last year, three women earned Triple Gold status, including Natalie Spooner (becoming the first woman to win Winter Games gold and the Clarkson in the same year), Tessa Bonhomme and CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small.

This year, the honor of Triple Gold status has not yet been bestowed upon any member of the Boston Blades. Newly minted Clarkson Cup champions such as Brianna Decker, Monique Lamoureux and Tara Watchorn are two-thirds of the way there. Of note, Decker and Lamoureux are missing Winter Games gold while Watchorn needs gold at the IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Although Watchorn can hope to gain such status with gold at the 2015 edition of the IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, she did emerge from the Clarkson Cup with some extra hardware. Earning the CWHL’s Defenseman of the Year Award, she was joined by Brianna Decker, who gained the CWHL’s Rookie of the Year Award.

In the aftermath of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, had anyone predicted that Team USA’s Brianna Decker and Team Canada’s Tara Watchorn would be teammates at the CWHL level, winning a Clarkson Cup together, it would have seemed impossible. Fast forward a little over one year and the two would not only provide the black and gold with their second title in three seasons, but both would register points in the title game.

A free-agent signing by the Blades, Watchorn would prove to be one of the best signings in the offseason. Of note, Watchorn would led all blueliners in CWHL play with 20 points, as fellow Blades blueliner (and Team USA member at Sochi), Monique Lamoureux logged 18 points, providing a potent one-two punch among its blueline corps.

For Watchorn, signing with the Blades represented a special homecoming. Despite being raised in Newcastle, Ontario, where she played Triple-A hockey alongside future NHLer Matt Duchene in 2000-01 as members of the Central Ontario Wolves, Watchorn established herself as a superstar with the Boston University Terriers.

Earning multiple Hockey East All-Star nods (2010, 2012), along with a Hockey East All-Rookie honor and Division I New England All-Star recognition, she would log 83 career points with the Terriers. In 2010, she rose to icon status by scoring an overtime goal that delivered the Hockey East postseason title.

The chance to assist on the Cup clinching goal for the Blades in 2015 only added to her New England hockey legend. After several seasons at the CWHL level with Team Alberta (now rechristened as the Calgary Inferno), the 2015 edition of the Clarkson Cup represented Watchorn’s first taste of the postseason. Watchorn would not be disappointed as her first postseason resulted in a Clarkson Cup win. Adding to the jubilation of the win is the fact that Watchorn logged an assist on Janine Weber’s Cup-winning goal.

While the next goal is earning her first gold medal in IIHF Women’s World Championship play, Watchorn has certainly earned a special place in the hearts and minds of New England hockey fans, as she only adds to a remarkable sporting legend there. The prestige of Triple Gold would certainly earn the same recognition among proud Canadian hockey fans.


Images obtained from: https://twitter.com/tweetintara27