Vancouver Ice-O-Topes women’s hockey more than just eye candy

Having made international news for their calendars, the Vancouver Ice-O-Topes are one of Canada’s most famous women’s ice hockey teams. To dismiss them as mere candy would be overlooking their hearts of gold. While there is a visual appeal to their calendars, partial proceeds have gone to the Britannia After School Hockey (BASH) program while the remainder helped raise money for highly valued ice time.

With the club having issued calendars since 2010, they have become collector’s items among hockey fans. It would earn the club nicknames such as Fire on Ice and the Hot Hockey Women of Vancouver. After past fundraisers included the selling of frozen foods, team player and professional photographer Rebecca Blissett conceived the idea of a calendar.

Donating her time, Blissett worked tirelessly to organize and capture the images of her scantily-clad teammates. When not on the ice, Blissett is a professional photojournalist, whose work has appared in various publication includeing: Elle magazine, People, Spin, Metal Hammer, Peace, The Globe and Mail and the National Post and many other renowned publications. Her earliest experience in sports photography included shooting Junior A hockey from the penalty box.

An image from the 2012 Ice-O-Topes calendar (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

An image from the 2012 Ice-O-Topes calendar (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Assisting underprivileged teens in the area of East Vancouver, British Columbia, the objective of BASH is to provide a chance for them to compete at ice hockey. As Several team members are from East Vancouver and have competed on Britannia Ice, the project was close to their hearts.

Reaching unprecedented success, the 2010 Topes calendar made news on one of the biggest television programs in Brazil – Domingo Espetacular. The popular news show featured journalist Paulo Henrique conversing with the Topes while displaying his soccer skills on the ice.

Building on the momentum of the 2010 edition, the 2011 calendar also featured members of Vancouver’s Little Guitar Army along with members of the city’s homeless soccer team, Vancouver Portland FC. When the 2011 version became available, Ron McLean and Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada also mentioned the calendar.

Competing in the second division of the Adult Safe Hockey League at Burnaby 8-Rinks, the Topes have the talent to complement their beauty.

A heartwarming image of the Ice-O-Topes in their chicken uniforms at the Iceland Cup (Image obtained from:

A heartwarming image of the Ice-O-Topes in their chicken uniforms at the Iceland Cup (Image obtained from:

One of their greatest legacies is their international play in Iceland. As the sport of women’s hockey continues to grow in the tiny nation, the Ice-O-Topes were there to help shape its growth. Competing at the Iceland International Ice Hockey Cup, they were the only Vancouver-based club to compete during its early years. Of note, the Topes claimed three championships in a row but lost the 2012 championship to the host team.

Contested in the capital city of Reykjavik from October 5 to 7, the Topes experienced victory in three of their group-stage games in the elite-A division. During group-stage play, the club had defeated the eventual champions Iceland Red by a 3-2 count. In addition, they had bested a club from Toronto in a 3-1 win while another club from Icelandic was defeated 3-2.

Iceland Red would regroup in the championship game and shut out the Ice-O-Topes by a tight 1-0 score. Despite the heartbreaking loss final, the Topes incorporated an element of play and humor by wearing their third jerseys; a chicken costume. The origins of the costumer date back to Halloween 2007 when team captain Shan Saunders introduced them to the club. Goaltender Megan Spahan was dressed as the yellow-yolked egg.

Of note, former Canadian national team goaltender and CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small and her husband, Paralympic gold medalist Billy Bridges were at the Iceland Cup providing instruction to several players.

In 2012, the club captured their second consecutive title at the 13th Annual Apex Shoot-Out hockey tournament. Held outdoors in Penticton, BC (home to the Program of Excellence), the Topes claim the A Division crown with a victory over the Vancouver Raging Daisies.

With Megan Spahan between the pipes, the road to the title began with a 7-2 decision over the Okanagan Farmers. A 7-0 win over the Daisies in preliminary round play continued with a 6-1 semifinal win over the Vancouver Violent Femmes. Sarah Somerville was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. When not on the ice, the players helped promote the team pin-up calendar.

Celebrating winning the 2012 Apex Shoot-Out Tournament Women's A Division. Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett

Celebrating winning the 2012 Apex Shoot-Out Tournament Women’s A Division. Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett

During the 2011-12 season, the Topes logged 25 points in 28 games played with a 12-15-1 mark, scoring 85 goals and allowing 86. They ended their season with a three game winning streak, grabbing seven wins in their final nine games.

Naomi Smethurst was the leading goal scorer with 19 goals, while Kiera Scanlan, who played collegiate hockey with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, earned 11 assists. Of note, Scanlan also participated with the WBL North Stars in the 2008 Oregon Scientific Phoenix Cup, a women’s baseball tournament in Hong Kong.

Smethurt would finish the campaign as the leading scorer with 24 points. On special teams, Scanlan and Smethurst would make an impact as Scanlan led the squad in power play markers and Smethurst led in short-handed tallies.

Holly Quinn logged 18 penalty minutes. Between the pipes, Megan Spahan led the Topes with 10 wins. Milestones for the season featured Scanlan and Lindsay Trimble with the longest point scoring streak (8 games). Smethurst, Sonya Glover and Tara Loset each had four points in one game during the regular season. Smethurst had the finest performance as she scored four goals in one game on September 18 vs. Machette Betties. In that game, Glover would log four assists.

Spahan has competed with the Ice-O-Topes since 2007 with her finest season being in 2011. She logged a 14-11 win-loss mark and a 2.51 goals against average. In 2009, she had another strong season as she was 12-10-2 with a 1.98 GAA.

Re-creating classic hockey scenes for the 2013 edition of their popular calendar. This image re-creates Roger Neilson waving the white flag during the Vancouver Canucks classic playoff run. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Re-creating classic hockey scenes for the 2013 edition of their popular calendar. This image re-creates Roger Neilson waving the white flag during the Vancouver Canucks classic playoff run. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

The 2013 edition of the calendar was unique in the fact that Blissett opted to not re-visit the somewhat exhausted pin-up style. Attempting to employ a different concept, the women of the Topes recreated some of the most famous scenes in hockey. Classic scenes such as Bobby Orr’s leap through the air after scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal and Paul Henderson’s iconic goal at the 1972 Summit Series are just some of the exciting classic scenes re-interpreted through Blissett’s remarkable work with the camera.

Other classics included a new look at Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card a la Topes, along with Ken Dryden’s classic stance in the goal mouth where he leans on his stick along with Tiger Williams riding his stick after scoring the Maple Leafs. All given new life with the Topes re-creating such memorable moments, the fourth annual edition of the calendar employed a more challenging theme while trying to avoid the overused concept of classic pin-up shots.

While the Topes are not publishing a 2014 edition of the calendar, their efforts captured the hearts and minds of both male and female hockey fans while helping a worthy cause. All remarkable hockey humanitarians, the competitors of the Topes are true builders of women’s hockey in the Pacific region of Canada.

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