Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Alexandra Carpenter ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple

With the first pick overall in the inaugural NWHL Draft, the New York Riveters selected more than just a franchise player in Alexandra Carpenter, but a player that the entire league can be built around. It marked a draft that saw the New York Riveters emerge with the best class of talent in a draft filled with a remarkable group of prospects that would be the envy of leagues throughout the rest of the world.

Having won the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award, it was part of a magical NCAA season that not only saw Carpenter break some of her own Hockey East scoring records, it culminated with a trip to the Frozen Four. Complementing such a season was the fact that this second-generation hockey star was the captain of the US national team at the 2014 Four Nations Cup, while winning the gold medal with the US at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden.

Of note, Carpenter was not the only member of the Boston College Eagles program selected by the Riveters. Joining Carpenter among the Riveters draft class were the likes of Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno. Not only have they played together with the Eagles, but all three have been teammates on the US National Team. Other Riveters picks included Canadian hockey players Erin Ambrose (the first Canadian-born blueliner selected in NWHL Draft history) and goaltender Kimberly Newell from Princeton.

Adding to the anticipation of Carpenter’s arrival is the fact that fellow prodigy Hannah Brandt was selected by the Connecticut Whale. Both teammates on a US team that captured the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, the two have the chance to create a flagship rivalry that may define the league for years to come, while building interest in the game.

Perhaps the most significant aspect concerning Carpenter’s selection by the Riveters is the fact that her franchise player status can help build a fan base for the Riveters in their market. For a sports market like New York, which loves its world-class superstars, it could not have asked for a better player than Carpenter.

Taking into account that this is the first time that New York has ever enjoyed a professional women’s ice hockey team, the Riveters would not have enjoyed the same mystique among fans without her presence there. Considering that its home games shall be contested in Brooklyn, where the New York Islanders shall begin playing this autumn, the borough is poised to embrace both clubs as part of a hockey renaissance.

Of note, the borough has also welcome NBA basketball. The addition of the Riveters presents Brooklyn’s female sports fans with a team of their own, adding relevance to the borough’s importance as a sporting hot spot.

Although she will be expected to deliver an Isobel Cup upon her arrival, as New York measures its success in terms of championships, she will definitely establish herself as an ambassador for the sport. With the largest media market in the United States based in New York, Carpenter has the potential to establish herself as a media darling and possible celebrity.

Considering that the Riveters also signed Janine Weber, the first European player to score a Clarkson Cup winning goal, the chance for the two to play together may create the same sporting magic that Pele and Franz Beckenbauer created when they played soccer for the New York Cosmos in the 1970s, turning soccer from a novelty sport into an obsession. It is the same potential that Weber and Carpenter bring to Brooklyn, as women’s ice hockey may be transformed into an essential component of New York’s sporting conversation. For a sporting market with high expectations, if Carpenter can lead the Riveters to the Isobel Cup, she will go from superstar status to sporting legend.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Lee Stecklein and the qualities that make her stand out

Guest writer: Ben Smith

Lee Stecklein, perhaps one of the best prospects for next year’s NWHL draft, is expected to contribute heavenly to whatever franchise is able to obtain her rights. She’s a very special player, who has terrific defensive abilities, as well as Olympic experience.

But what makes her stand out?

Born April 23rd 1994, her passion for hockey began the very second she first tried on skates in Roseville Minnesota. She began her quest to greatness at Roseville Area High School, where she helped lead her Raiders to four Suburban East Conference championships. 

In 2010, she reached the peak of the high school hockey mountain, by winning a Minnesota state championship in 2010. She ended her high school career as the top scoring defensemen.

But that’s not the only place where she honed her hockey skills.
Stecklein first became affiliated with USA Hockey at age 14, when she first attended the National Development Camp. She then played in the 2011 US Under-18 Select tournament, and the Under-18 World Championships in 2010 and 2012.

And then the NCAA came calling.

She’s played with the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey program since 2012. In her freshman year, she tallied 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists), and was named the WCHA Rookie of the Week in November of that year. She would get her first taste of victory when Minnesota captured the 2013 NCAA National Championship.

The following year (2013-2014), Stecklein took the year off of NCAA, to represent the United States in the 2014 Sochi Winter games. The young star earned 1 assist in five games, and won the silver medal. She was the youngest member of that team.

She then returned to Minnesota, where in her sophomore season, she was named to the AHCA/CCM Second Team All-American. An All-USCHO First Team, All WCHA First Team, and if that was not enough for you, a WCHA Scholar Athlete, and WCHA All-Academic Team.  

Her team took notice of her work ethic and heart by naming her an assistant captain. Her Sophomore season- the time where most young stars shine- came with 5 goals, 22 assists, which tied her for fifth in the country for top scoring defensemen.

Finally, the 21 year-old had her moment, when her Golden Gophers captured the 2015 NCAA National Championship over Harvard. She put up an assist during the championship 4-1 victory.

And she wasn’t done winning yet.

The following month, she captured her first-ever gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

A lot is expected of her in her Senior year with the Golden Gophers. Together with teammate Hannah Brandt- who’s expected to go 2nd overall in the draft - it’s crystal clear that Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey is in good hands. She knows how to win, with two NCAA National Championships, an Olympic Silver medal, as well as numerous other international and domestic accolades. Her unmatched work ethic and passion is envied.

Next year, she’ll be a co-captain of the Golden Gophers together with Brandt, proving once again that’s she’s a leader.

She’s expected to be a franchise player for whoever selects her in the 2016 NWHL Entry Draft.
She’s a winner.

Image obtained from: http://sochi2014.visionbox.com/

Friday, 19 June 2015

Training Camp Series comes to Canada via NWHL Foundation


As the inaugural puck drop inches closer, the NWHL Foundation announced a Canadian Training Camp Series. Part of the Foundation’s values to help promote the growth of women’s hockey, it marks the first time that the league comes to Canada. Being held from July 6th-9th, it is an opportunity to evaluate talent and work towards establishing rosters for all four of the incipient league’s charter teams; the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters.

Taking place in four different Canadian cities; Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Windsor, it is an extension of the training camps which were previously held in the NWHL’s four founding cities. Some Canadian content was evident at those camps, including the likes of CWHL All-Star goaltender Erica Howe with Buffalo and Hailey Browne with New York, respectively. As a side note, the Canadian camps shall be followed by a special camp for European players, to be held from July 23rd-27th in Boston.

Acknowledging the amount of talent that exists in Canada, NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan is helping open the doors for Canadian players who are looking to advance their careers, resulting in borderless hockey. Taking into account that Ottawa has not enjoyed a pro women’s hockey team since the Ottawa Lady Senators folded after the 2009-10 CWHL season, it is a positive sign that the NWHL is hosting one of their Canadian camps there.

Since hosting the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the Ottawa region has seen many of its homegrown talents go on to greener pastures. Of note, Kanata’s Jamie Lee Rattray won the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award while Orleans resident Erica Howe (who won a Frozen Four title with Rattray at Clarkson) became the first goaltender to win an All-Star Game in CWHL play. This is complemented by various members of the Nepean Wildcats competing with the Canadian Under-18 program and Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games.

Equally inspiring is the opportunity for Windsor to host an NWHL camp. Known in women’s hockey circles as the hometown of Meghan Agosta, the local University of Windsor Lancers program has experienced some major breakthroughs. Former captain Alyssa Baldin contributed to the Toronto Furies run towards the Clarkson Cup in 2014, while current players Jenny McKnight and Bree Polci contributed towards Canada’s silver medal effort in women’s ice hockey at the 2015 Winter Universiade.   

Considering that Detroit is across the border from Windsor, it may also serve as a great opportunity for expats from Detroit and other regions of Michigan to shine. As Detroit has never had professional women's hockey, there will certainly be interest in the Windsor camp. When Detroit’s Wayne State University had an NCAA Division I women’s hockey program (since discontinued for budgetary reasons), several Canadians, including the aforementioned Baldin contributed to the program’s strong seasons in College Hockey American conference play.

Eligibility for interested players must include having graduated from college. Upon registering online, any players attending the camp series shall do so upon invitation. Fittingly, the registration period ends on Canada Day, July 1.

Canadian Training Camp Series schedule:

Montreal Camp at Complex Hockey Bonaventure

  • July 6, 2015, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Ottawa Camp at the Bob MacQuarrie Recreational Complex

  • July 7, 2015, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Toronto Camp at Scotia Bank Pond

  • July 8. 2015, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Windsor Camp at WFCU Centre

  • July 9, 2015, 4:55 p.m. – 6:25 p.m.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Rebecca Johnston reaches new heights in season to remember

Quite possibly the most underrated superstar in the game today, Rebecca Johnston had a season to remember with the Calgary Inferno. Her acquisition not only signaled a commitment on the part of the Inferno to significantly upgrade their offensive attack, it reunited her with the likes of Bailey Bram and Haley Irwin, who contributed to Canada’s gold medal win at the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Championships.

A record-breaking season with the Inferno not only solidified Johnston’s status as a franchise player in the CWHL, her league-best 37 points made her the finest free-agent signing of the off-season. Not only did she set new franchise scoring records, it set the tone for the finest season in Inferno history. Of note, the club set a new record for most wins in one season, while finishing just two points out of first overall.

For her efforts, Johnston was recognized with the CWHL’s Most Outstanding Player Award, beating out fellow nominees such as Toronto’s Natalie Spooner and Boston’s Hilary Knight. Becoming the first player in Inferno history to garner the prestigious honor, it complemented another historic milestone for Johnston, who finished the season as the league’s leading scorer, claiming the Angela James Bowl.

Of note, the accumulation of such hockey hardware was an extension of another historic performance during the season for Johnston. In December 2014, Johnston led the third-period charge for Team Red at the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Coming back from a 2-0 deficit to prevail by a 3-2 mark, Johnston would make history by logging the first game-winning goal in All-Star Game history. In the game’s aftermath, she was recognized with First Star honors.

Throughout her magical season, Johnston set the tone early on. Making her debut with the Inferno on October 18, 2014, she scored two goals in a hard fought 5-4 loss against the Toronto Furies, her former club team. The following day, Johnston would provide an even more impressive effort. Recording four points on the strength of three assists in a 5-2 win versus the Brampton Thunder.

Before the month would expire, Johnston would log the game winning goal on October 25, setting the tone for the exciting season to come. By January 16, Johnston would tie Danny Stone’s franchise mark for most points in one season. On that same day, Jenna Cunningham became the first player to record 50 points as a member of the Inferno.

The following day, Johnston would earn two assists to claim the single season scoring record as her own. Complementing the achievement was Brittany Esposito tying Danny Stone’s record for most points in one season by an Inferno rookie.

Recording at least one point in 19 regular season games, the Inferno enjoyed a 14-5-0 mark. Johnston’s greatest legacy may have been the fact that her presence altered the league’s balance of power.

Of note, the Inferno would beat the Boston Blades in a December 5 road win. The 8-3 final marked the largest margin of victory on the road against the black and gold. The momentum would continue on January 31, as the club prevailed in Montreal for the first time in franchise history.

Continuing the high scoring ways that established her as an elite scorer with the Cornell Big Red, earning two Winter Games gold medals along the way, Johnston possesses the unique ability of making those around her better. While she transforms the spectacular into routine, her masterful demonstration of scoring success has established her as a fan favorite in Calgary.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

New York Riveters to pick first in the inaugural NWHL Draft

As the NWHL Draft approaches, signifying the first step towards the inaugural puck drop, NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan announced the order of selection. Utilizing a lottery format, the New York Riveters earned the right to select first overall. Having also signed Erika Lawler, a member of the 2010 US Winter Games team as a free agent, it builds strong momentum for the Big Apple’s first-ever pro women’s hockey franchise.

Following the Riveters shall be the Connecticut Whale, the first professional female hockey team in the state, whose name pays homage to the former Hartford Whalers of the NHL. Picking third overall shall be the Boston Pride, while the Buffalo Beauts, New York State’s other entry in the NWHL shall be last.

Taking place on June 20, the Draft shall take place in Boston with all general managers in attendance. Of note, picks shall be announced on Twitter (@NWHL). Players that have finished their junior season of NCAA hockey (or any other four-year accredited collegiate program such as Canadian Interuniversity Sport) are eligible.

Upon the completion of their collegiate player, a drafted player that does not sign with their team shall be appointed free agent status. As a side note, players that completed their senior seasons are considered free agents.

Among the class of junior players eligible for the draft, the likes of 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alex Carpenter and two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion Hannah Brandt are the favorites to go first and second overall. Other players that could be selected in the first round include Haley Skarupa, a teammate of Carpenter at Boston College, and blueliner Lee Stecklein, who competed for the US at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

In addition, teams have the opportunity to continue to build their rosters with an international camp, scheduled to be held for all team from July 23-27 in Boston. Considering that all draft picks will likely return for their senior season of NCAA hockey, the ability to determine the success of this draft shall not be truly determined until the autumn of 2016. As the league also has ambitions to eventually expand into Chicago and Minnesota, the 2016 edition of the NWHL Draft may be even more intriguing.

A list of prospects can be found at: NWHL.co/players/draft-prospects

Combination of rookies and experienced CIS player comprise Montreal Carabins recruiting class

As the Montreal Carabins look to return to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship game, a unique group of five recruits sets a new precedent. Of note, two of the five players recruited to compete for the Carabins during the 2015-16 CIS women’s ice hockey season shall include two players with prior experience at the university level.

Casandra Dupuis is a familiar name among Carabins fans, having competed for the program from 2010 to 2013, which also included the national championship season (2013). Having spent the last two seasons with the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), she appeared in the championship game of the 2015 Clarkson Cup. With two years of university eligibility remaining, she has opted to return to the Carabins, providing a strong leadership role for a program in a rebuilding phase.

Joining Dupuis shall be Maude Laramee, a 2014 CIS All-Canadian Second Team selection. Having spent the first three seasons of her CIS career with the division rival Ottawa Gee-Gees, she will fill the gap left by outgoing blueliners Janique Duval and Elizabeth Mantha. Complemented by the occasional display of offensive flair, chances to create goal scoring opportunities are highly possible.

Among the fresh faces that comprise the incoming group of first-year players, Catherine Dubois may be the most prized recruit. Having participated with Hockey Canada’s Under-18 and Under-22/Development programs, she supplies a fundamentally sound game that is destined to make her one of the program’s all-time leading scorers. Competing last season with Les Titans du Cegep Limoilou, she registered 45 points in only 16 matches.

The recipient of the 2015 Most Valuable Player Award in CEGEP hockey (Quebec), Alexandra Labelle represents another potential scoring threat for the Carabins. Having played for Les Patriotes, she was the key component in the club capturing the 2015 CEGEP crown. Considering that sophomore Jessica Cormier  should hit her scoring stride this season, playing on a line with Labelle could solidify the Carabins attack for seasons to come.

Having served as the captain of the Lynx du College Edouard Montpetit, blueliner Kim Poirier is part of a long list of star players from the program to suit up for the Carabins. Among them is Ariane Barker, who led the Carabins in scoring last season. Entering her fifth season, Barker should be an ideal mentor for Poirier, who comprises a new generation of blueline talent looking to maintain the Carabins status as a national power.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Hometown arena dedicated to Sami Jo Small preserves her hockey legacy


In an accomplished career, Sami Jo Small has experienced many remarkable moments. Whether it was standing between the pipes in international play for Canada or guarding the crease for the Toronto Furies, a team she helped to form, Small’s legacy is significant. None may be as cherished as an arena in her hometown named in her honor.  

Preserving her legacy, the dedication of the Sami Jo Small Hockey Facility at the Norberry-Glenlee Community Centre is a unique tribute, while giving younger players in the community a role model to emulate. Such an honor adds to the momentum of the revitalization of the St. Vital community centre, as the soon-to-be refurbished hockey rink and north wing of the centre shall bear Small’s name.

Joining Small at the dedication ceremony included the likes of Sean Fedorowich, president of Norberry-Glenlee, and dignitaries such as Councillor Brian Mayes, St. Vital, and Christine Melnick, MLA, Riel.

The community of St. Vital, Manitoba helped spark Small’s interest in the game. Having spent countless hours of practice and sharpening her skills, testament to the values of perseverance and hard work that she embodies today, the dedication helps to build on the growing impact of women in Manitoba hockey history.

For a time, highly accomplished superstars such as Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small were the most recognizable names in Manitoba women’s hockey. Since then, the impact of female hockey in Manitoba has grown significantly. Their influence is evident throughout the modern game today.

Considering that both were co-founders of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a special milestone occurred in December 2014. The CWHL held its inaugural All-Star Game, and both were present. Still competing, Small was the starting goaltender for Team White, while Botterill was serving as a sideline reporter for Sportsnet, the TV network broadcasting the event.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the event was the fact that four other Manitobans participated. Among them were 2014 Sochi gold medalist Jocelyne Larocque and DeLayne Brian, the winner of the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award in 2014.

Gracious and proud, feelings of residual warmth were evident in Small’s reflections towards the arena. A news release issued by Small described how every winter saw her at the rinks of Norberry. Still finding comfort in visiting said rinks when she is back in her hometown, the most gratifying element of her earliest days in hockey may have been the fact that she was looked upon as just another player, and not singled out as the “girl who played hockey”.