Thursday, 4 February 2016

Presence of hockey mom adds heartwarming chapter to Brampton-Toronto hockey rivalry



As the Brampton Thunder hosted the Toronto Furies, the contest featured a pleasant tone of coincidence, enhanced by the loving presence of a devoted hockey mom. The result was one of the most heartwarming, feel-good stories of the 2015-16 women’s hockey season.

Having spent several seasons between the pipes for the Brampton Thunder, Sonja van der Bliek was part of a rare trade, sent to the crosstown Toronto Furies on November 18, 2005 in exchange for a late round 2016 draft pick. With goaltender (and CWHL co-founder) Sami Jo Small on maternity leave, she brings the experience to contribute to the squad’s hopes of qualifying for the postseason.

As a side note, the only other trade to take place in the 2015-16 season also involved goaltenders. The New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale exchanged back up goaltenders as Chelsea Laden joins New York, and Shenae Lundberg occupies a new role as the backup to Whale starter Jaimie Leonoff.


In an early January 2016 match that saw the visiting Furies look to gain their first win of the New Year, it marked an emotional return for van der Bliek as it marked the first time she was facing the Thunder at their home rink. Providing a valiant effort between the pipes, van der Bliek would allow four goals in a hard fought 5-4 final in favor of her former team. Former teammates Fielding Montgomery and Jocelyne Larocque would score.
Of note, she was not the only member of her family present at the contest. During her years with the Thunder, it was not uncommon for her mom to be one of the proud faces in the crowd, showing her support.
Although this latest chapter in the Battle of Toronto saw van der Bliek as a member of the visiting Furies, she could still count on the presence of her mom in the stands. During the second intermission, the special bond that hockey has strengthened between mother and daughter took an exciting new aspect, one that would capture the imaginations of hockey fans.
Participating in the Chuck-a-Puck contest, quickly becoming a staple at many levels of hockey, where fans purchase a puck for fundraising purposes, it was van der Bliek’s mom that would emerge victorious. As the premise of the contest involves fans throwing pucks onto the ice, with the one whose puck lands closest to the face-off circle at centre ice, a prize is allocated for their effort.
The prize was a bright red colored Thunder game-worn jersey from last season, signed by van der Bliek. Taking into account that her mom had the winning toss, it could not have been more serendipitous.
While the Thunder have changed their uniforms this season, adopting a sharp black and white motif akin to the Los Angeles Kings, the red jersey that was prevalent when van der Bliek stood between the pipes represented a rebuilding era. Having undergone several uniform changes over the seasons, adopting the red color for their jerseys, with the name “Brampton” in white font (in a rainbow formation) across the front, it symbolized a colorful coincidence for van der Bliek.
Considering that van der Bliek played her NCAA hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State, where she broke 14 school records and earned a spot on the 2009 ECAC Championship All-Tournament Team, their jerseys were also a bright red. During her time with the Thunder, van der Bliek also donned the helmet from her sparkling RPI career. It was a pleasant and innocent imagery, rekindling happy glories from her NCAA career.
Sharing goaltending duties in Brampton with the likes of Erica Howe and Liz Knox, van der Bliek’s presence was characterized by a time of optimism, in which the love of the game was complemented by a group of dedicated young women working tirelessly to restore the franchise to glory. With the promise of winning days on the horizon, those formative years in Brampton were enriched for van der Bliek by the proud presence of family. For her mom, the signed jersey is more than a signed souvenir. Brining the Brampton experience full circle, it is a proud symbol that commemorates an encouraging era.


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