Meghan Duggan earns opportunity to throw ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park

A feeling of hometown pride was evident at Boston’s Fenway Park as Meghan Duggan took to the mound to participate in the ceremonial first pitch on April 25. The hallowed grounds of Fenway are nothing new for the world-class hockey player. Duggan graced its grounds in 2010 proudly donning her USA hockey jersey as the sun shined gloriously over the Fenway faithful. She was not alone on that memorable day as all her US teammates that had grown up in New England joined her for the first pitch ceremony.

Fast forward to 2013 and Duggan finds herself back at the historic park. This time, she is adorned in the white jersey of the Boston Blades, the first-ever American based in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to capture the coveted Clarkson Cup. Despite the rain-soaked conditions, Duggan and her Blades teammates proudly gather behind home plate for a pride-filled team photo.

One year later, Duggan returns for a third glorious time at Fenway, gracing the mound. Once again, the Red Sox show great sportsmanship and support by inviting all the athletes from New England that competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Duggan, who served as the captain for the US women’s hockey team at Sochi is a highly deserving candidate to earn first pitch honors. After suffering from a concussion in 2012, that kept her sidelined for close to one year, Duggan’s comeback is more than just another great chapter in New England hockey history. Contemplating retirement and being bed-ridden for a significant period of time, Duggan’s tenacity to overcome her concussion woes is a great source of inspiration, making her a true champion.

The key quality of Duggan at the first pitch ceremonies is that she likes to incorporate a sense of playfulness and humor to the surroundings. In 2010, she mimicked famed pro wrestler Hulk Hogan who would always place his humongous hand by his hear to get the crowd pop. With hand by ear, Duggan had the Fenway crowd roaring.

Just like her first pitch in 2010, Duggan could not help but make another memorable impression on the mound. Unlike 2010, Duggan is adorned in a Red Sox jersey, rather than her hockey jersey, for the 2014 edition of her first pitch at Fenway.

Considering that the opponents occupying the visiting team dugout were the New York Yankees, Duggan paid tribute to the newest chapter in this storied rivalry. Michael Pineda, the Yankees pitcher had been caught a few days earlier using pine tar. Hoping to get a better grip on his pitches, Pineda had the pine tar smeared on his neck for easy use.

When the umpire discovered the pine tar, Pineda pointed to his neck. Serving a 10-game suspension at the time of Duggan’s first pitch, even Pineda would have had a chuckle at what followed. Pointing to her own neck, Duggan mimicked Pineda being caught with the pine tar. Getting a rise out of the patrons watching in the stands, her first pitch would end up making national news as video footage was shown on ESPN. For the Fenway faithful, they were treated to a first pitch ceremony that not only tapped into the visceral rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees, but showed what makes Duggan such a fun and endearing sports personality.

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Winter Games gold medalist Meghan Agosta aspires for career in law enforcement

Having won three gold medals in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, Meghan Agosta has established herself as a living legend in the sport. Like all athletes, eventually the spotlight fades away and the rigors of the real world rear its sometimes ugly head. While Agosta is only 27, she is young enough and certainly talented enough to play in at least another three Winter Games, she already has her sights set on a career after hockey.

A major in criminology at Mercyhurst University, Agosta grew up dreaming of becoming a police officer. Having grown up in the county of Windsor-Essex, she is the second athlete from area with aspirations towards a career in law enforcement. Decathlete Jamie Adjetey-Nelson also has plans to pursue the same career.

In an interview with CBC Windsor, Agosta stated that hockey and policing have similarities. There is no doubt that a prison cell is the real world equivalent to the penalty box. She has already submitted applications to the Ontario Provincial Police, along with the police departments in Hamilton and Vancouver, the city where she earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2010 Winter Games. As a side note, the police force was even gracious enough to have Agosta ride with some officers.

Of note, she would not be the only female hockey player to pursue a career in protecting the public. Amy Turek, a former member of the Canadian national team, and Cherie Hendrickson (who ran in the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathon) both serve as paramedics. Ironically, Hendrickson played against Agosta in the 2013 edition of the Clarkson Cup championship. Amber Bowman, who called Tessa Bonhomme her teammate at Ohio State University is a firefighter for Central York Fire Services (located north of Toronto).

Considering the departments where Agosta has submitted an application, the most adequate setting would be Hamilton. Taking into account that her husband, Marco Marciano, is a goaltender coach with the Hamilton Bulldogs (the American Hockey League affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens), the chance to work and live in the same city would be a refreshing change from the somewhat nomadic life in hockey.

For fans of the Brampton Thunder, seeing Agosta serve among Hamilton’s finest may be a blessing in disguise. From 2011 to 2013, Agosta won two scoring titles with the Montreal Stars. With Hamilton approximately a one-hour commute from Brampton, the opportunity to have Agosta compete with the Thunder, even on a part-time basis would certainly inject new life into a beleaguered franchise.

Regardless of whether Agosta continues to compete at the club level, one reality is that there will be an adjustment period for the fans. The thought of Agosta issuing a speeding ticket to one of her fans would certainly require a sense of humor on both sides. Bearing in mind that a fan could state on social media (or mentioning in a hockey arena) that they were issued a speeding ticket by one of hockey’s living legends would not be surprising. Although Agosta’s standing as a sporting hero and a great example of what young people can achieve would only be enhanced by a career in law enforcement.

Three distinct athletes grace pages of SI’s 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue

As the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014, a trio of athletes graces its pages among the likes of models such as Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. While the highly popular issue gained criticism over the years for having nothing to do with sport, the presence of female (and the occasional male) athlete has brought a new element of popularity.

Since Steffi Graf turned heads as one of the first athletes to appear in the issue, it has opened the doors for many other athletes to follow. From Danica Patrick to Maria Sharapova to Jennie Finch, Natalie Coughlin once appeared in the issue adorned in nothing but body paint, the swimsuit issue has brought a venerable who’s who in female sport to a much larger audience.

In this year’s edition, three athletes from three very different sports and distinct backgrounds grace the pages. Former Notre Dame basketball star Skylar Diggins, part of the WNBA’s 3 to See Rookies in 2013 (also featuring Brittany Griner and Elena Delle Donne) revealed a warm, softer side beneath what fans know as a competitive and intense exterior. Hoping to bring the Tulsa Shock back in the playoff picture,

Diggins is highly popular for her fashion selections and red carpet pomp. The 23-year-old celebrated her appearance in the issue by going to social media. In a photo in which she is holding the magazine, the caption states “Surreal”.

A gold medalist at the 2012 London Summer Games, Alex Morgan has established herself as soccer’s girl next door. Having also made an appearance in the 2013 edition of the SI Swimsuit Issue, she is the only athletes in the class of 2014 to have appeared before. Like Diggins, she also shared her enthusiasm on social media, stating that she felt honored to be part of the anniversary edition.

The third athlete to be featured this year was certainly the least shy. Professional surfer Anastasia Ashley, who also dabbles part-time as a model, marks the second consecutive year that a surfer appears in the pages of SI Swimsuit. In 2013, surfer Alanna Blanchard graced the pages.

With a rapidly growing fanbase on Instagram, Ashley, who has published photos via social media in which she mimics Kim Kardashian with one of her infamous butt shots, does not exhibit any shyness in the SI Swimsuit edition. She has also openly talked about the sexuality of female surfers, most notably, in the Huffington Post.

Of note, Ashley is featured in some very risqué shots that are visible on the SI Swimsuit website, featuring photos of all three athletes not seen in the magazine. Among them, Ashley dons some see-through mesh tops, leaving very little to the imagination. As a side note, both Ashley and Morgan expose their bare backs in some photos.

While some sports fans may see the presence of these female athletes as controversial, this is a debate that will last for an eternity. The real topic of debate should be what the selection process is for the athletes that appear.

Perhaps a more unique approach could be utilized. Considering that many athletes have had to disrobe for calendars in order to raise funds for their sport or for charity, it would be refreshing if Sports Illustrated could help their cause. Featuring such athletes in their periodical while making a donation to an athlete’s charity of choice may be a more practical way of celebrating an athlete’s commitment to their respective sport.

101-year-old walker for cancer research recognized by Blue Jays with ceremonial first pitch

One of the true feel-good sports stories of 2014 took place at Toronto’s Rogers Centre during Mother’s Day (May 11). Kitty Cohen, a 101-year-old great grandmother was given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Blue Jays Mother’s Day contest against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Having participated since 2007 in various charitable walks as part of the “Weekend to End Women’s Cancers”, Cohen was recognized as the Walker of the Year in 2013. Praising daily exercise as her secret to aging well, she can now add another unique honor to her athletic career. By participating in the first pitch ceremony with the Blue Jays, she now becomes the oldest Canadian to do so.

Ironically, the ceremony is nearly as old as Cohen. The first-ever took place in 1910 when President William Taft participated. Being escorted to the mound by her granddaughter, both were adorned in Blue Jays jerseys. Cohen’s jersey had the number one gracing the back, while her granddaughter was given number two. In the stands, three generations of her family, along with her dentist, were proudly cheering her on.

Wearing a pink baseball cap, Cohen threw the ball in an underhand motion with Jays’ catcher Josh Thole receiving it behind home plate. In addition, Major League Baseball teams celebrated Mother’s Day throughout North America with pink ribbons on their jerseys and pink laces on the game balls.

Since the beginning of her charitable goals to raise money by walking, she has logged 360 kilometres (almost 224 miles) while raised $20,000. Having earned a degree from York University at the age of 60 years old, Cohen is a living example of empowerment for women and seniors like.

As the “Weekend to End Women’s Cancers” shall be holding an event in Toronto from September 6-7, with proceeds going to Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Cohen plans to participate. Considering it is a 30 km hike, the most impressive stat may be the fact that Cohen will have already celebrated her 102nd birthday by then.

SPHL stint for Shannon Szabados continues proud legacy of female athletes breaking barriers

In the last six months, female athletes have helped pioneer a revolution in the traditionally male dominated world of competitive sport. Devon Wills became the first female to be signed to a contract by a National Lacrosse League franchise (New York Lizards). Dr. Jen Welter, a two-time IFAF World Champion competed at the running back position for the Texas Revolution indoor football team.

The recently completed Columbus Cottonmouths hockey season featured female goaltending legend Shannon Szabados standing between the pipes for the club. Proudly following in the legacy of Wills and Welter, it would mark the fifth time that Szabados was involved in a league featuring men’s hockey.

As a teenager, Szabados competed in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) while her postsecondary career involved playing for the men’s team at Grant MacEwan College and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. In between, she would sandwich a stint with the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Ironically, one of her WHL teammates was Carey Price.

Both Szabados and Price were the winning goaltenders for Canada’s teams in ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
On the momentum of that memorable gold medal run at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Szabados would earn the opportunity of a lifetime. Participating at a March 5 practice with the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers was a dream come true for Szabados. Having grown up in northern Alberta, Szabados grew up as a fan of the club.

The outpouring of support on social media resulted in Szabados being offered the chance to compete for a club based out of Columbus, Ohio in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). Generating interest from media outlets throughout North America, Szabados made her debut in a 4-3 loss to the Knoxville Ice Bears in front of 4,295 enthusiastic fans at the Columbus Civic Center.

She would post 27 saves in a valiant performance that saw Columbus enjoy a 2-1 lead in the first period, with the goal allowed by Szabados resulting in a shot deflected by a skate. Of note, Knoxville would score three unanswered goals in the second stanza as Columbus could not mount a comeback in the third.

Since Manon Rheaume broke the gender barrier in hockey in 1992, a small handful of women have managed to follow in her footsteps. Erin Whitten became the first female goaltender to participate in an American Hockey League game, while Danielle Dube competed with the San Diego Gulls. In later years, Kim St. Pierre would practice with the Montreal Canadiens while Hayley Wickenheiser competed in a men’s league in Finland.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Szabados’ journey with Columbus has been the support of other female athletes. Tennis legend Martina Navratolova praised her efforts on social media. She would finish her regular season in Columbus with an 0-2-0 record, 118 minutes of ice time, a 3.55 goals against average and 59 saves, complemented by a save percentage of .894%, respectively.

While Andrew Loewen was the starting goalie for the Cottonmouths during the regular season, the 27 year-old Szabados generated a positive energy for the franchise. With the squad qualifying for the President’s Club Finals for the third time in ten years, the chance of a title to complement her gold medal seemed highly possible.

The road to the title game for the sixth-seeded Cottonmouths began with the elimination of the third-seeded Peoria franchise.
Employing a never say die mentality, a semifinal sweep of Huntsville resulted in a date with the Pensacola Ice Flyers.

Unfortunately, winning would not be in the cards for Columbus but hockey history continued to be made for Szabados. With Pensacola setting a league record for most goals in a championship game with nine, Will Aide was the only player who got on the score sheet for Columbus in a 9-1 whitewashing on April 10. During the second period, Szabados relieved Loewen, becoming the first woman to appear in an SPHL postseason game. She would manage to stop nine of 12 shots as Ross McKinnon of Pensacola stopped 28 of 29 shots.

Becoming the first woman to play in the SPHL is another small victory in the dream that one day a female goaltender shall one day compete in the NHL. The positive feedback and amazing outpouring of support is testament to the kind of warm and friendly personality that Szabados has.

Michelle Bonello’s comeback one of the great stories of 2013-14 CWHL campaign

As a member of the Toronto Furies during their inaugural season, Michelle Bonello was a key member of their blue line corps. Advancing to the championship game of the 2011 Clarkson Cup, it would be another three years before Bonello had the opportunity to compete for the title again.

Unlike 2011, the 2014 effort culminated in a championship victory for Bonello and her teammates, giving the city of Toronto its first major hockey championship since the 1975 Memorial Cup. Perhaps even more special was that Bonello enjoyed a heroic comeback with the blue and white.

Of note, Bonello was not part of the blue and white during the 2012-13 campaign. This was compounded by a very difficult 2011-12 campaign that saw the Furies finish with a losing record, while Bonello only recorded three points.

Despite not gracing CWHL ice for one season, Bonello managed to stay active. A former College Hockey America All-Star with the Mercyhurst Lakers (where she played alongside the likes of Meghan Agosta), Bonello emerged as a key member of the Canadian Inline women’s hockey team.

For the 2012 edition of the World Inline Hockey Championships, Bonello was named an alternate captain in a gold medal effort. Of note, several of her teammates had also competed in the CWHL. Such CWHL luminaries included the likes of LaToya Clarke, Amanda Parkins and former Furies teammate Kendra Fisher.

One year later, another CWHL alumnus, Samantha Shirley would join the Canadian squad. Unlike 2012, Bonello and her Canadian teammates would finish with the silver medal at the 2013 Worlds. The chance to compete with Shirley was made special by the fact that the two are teammates in the Mississauga Roller Hockey Association. CWHL players such as Joanne Eustace, Laura Hosier and Meagan Aarts (who also plays with Bonello on the Furies) were also part of the MRHA.

Such experience at the international level would prove to be beneficial for Bonello. With the Furies facing the loss of several key players due to Canadian centralization for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, there was a significant gap. Bonello’s return to the Furies fulfilled a need for more leadership. As the blueline corps already featured the likes of Martine Garland, Lexie Hoffmeyer, Shannon Moulson and Britni Smith, Bonello’s acumen and experience were the perfect fit.

Fortunately for the Furies, Bonello also re-emerged with a sparkling offensive attack. Finishing the season as the fifth leading scorer for the Furies, Bonello would manage to lead all defenders in scoring. Complementing such strong numbers was the fact that Bonello registered six power play assists, leading all defenders on the Furies.

In games where Bonello contributed at least one point, the Furies enjoyed a 7-3-0 mark. Statistically, her best performances this season were two-point efforts on December 1 (a 7-1 road win over Calgary) and February 1 (a 5-2 triumph against Boston). Although she did not earn any points in the Clarkson Cup postseason, her experience was crucial for a team stocked with rookies and fresh faces.

Ironically, she would follow up her Clarkson Cup triumph with another overtime hockey championship. Playing for the Royals in the MRHA’s Gold Division, she was part of the squad’s overtime victory, not only bringing a dramatic finish to the 2013-14 season, but another accolade in her distinguished inline career.

Bettez and Chartrand shine for Montreal Stars with numerous accolades

In a season that saw the Montreal Stars finish with the best win-loss record, it was only fitting that two of their finest added some hardware on CWHL Awards night. Representing a new generation of stars for the bleu, blanc et rouge, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand continued to build on the momentum of their superlative 2012-13 rookie campaigns.

Following up on her 2013 CWHL Rookie of the Year Award triumph, Ann-Sophie Bettez earned two awards. She would begin by claiming the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the highest scoring player during the CWHL regular season. In 23 regular season games, Bettez led the league in goals (16), assists (24), points (40), plus/minus rating (+23) and game-winning goals (7). Such a performance also garnered Bettez the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

In Stars lore, Bettez becomes the fourth member of the franchise to claim the scoring title. Following in the paths of Sabrina Harbec (2010), Caroline Ouellette (2011) and Meghan Agosta-Marciano (2012, 2013), it also marks the fifth consecutive season that a member of the Stars claims the title.

Another unique aspect in the road towards the scoring title for Bettez was the fact that the top four scorers in the league all played for Montreal. The runner-up for the scoring title was Sarah Vaillancourt, who registered 35 points. Finishing in third was Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson with 31 points.

Of note, Davidson led the league in power play goals with eight while becoming one of three Stars players to reach 100 career points during the campaign. Ranking fourth with 30 points was Cathy Chartrand, only the second team captain in franchise history. Considering that Davidson, Bettez and Chartrand played together for the nationally ranked McGill Martlets in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, they are proudly building a new legacy of remarkable women’s hockey in Montreal.

While Chartrand tied with Davidson for the league lead in power play assists with 13, she managed to lead all defenders in scoring with 30 points. Statistically, she was also the top scoring defender in goals (9), assists (21), plus-minus rating (+18) and power play goals (4). Of note, it marked the second consecutive season that she was the scoring champion among defenders. For her efforts, she was recognized as the CWHL Defender of the Year.

Boston rookie defender Blake Bolden, the first African-American selected in the first round in the history of the CWHL Draft ranked second to Chartrand with 19 points. Of note, Bolden’s 19 points were good enough to lead all rookie defenders. Of note, Chartrand was the only defender to finish in the Top 10 in the CWHL scoring race. Along with Bolden, they were the only two ranked in the Top 25.

Perhaps the most impressive stats for Bettez and Chartrand were their scoring streaks. Bettez would open the season by registering at least one point in the first 21 games of the season. Said streak began on November 9, 2013 for Bettez in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Blades and continued until March 2, 2014, a 3-2 triumph against the Toronto Furies.

Ironically, the streak would come to an end against the Boston Blades. The Stars’ March 8 fundraiser for breast cancer would see Bettez left off the score sheet for the first time all season. During her remarkable streak, the Stars enjoyed a sparkling 18 wins, compared to only one regular season loss and two losses in overtime. On three separate occasions, Bettez registered four point performances. She would log two goals and two assists in wins against Brampton (January 12 and February 8), while a hat trick and one assist versus Boston on January 18 represented her finest performance.

Another streak that Bettez put together was eight games with at least one goal. Beginning on January 11 versus Brampton, it would also end against the same club on February 8. Scoring 13 games during the streak, Montreal boasted a 7-0-1 mark, outscoring opponents by a cumulative mark of 43-17.

Similarly, Chartrand would open her season with a 12-game scoring streak. With the Stars enjoying a 10-1-1 mark during Chartrand’s streak, it would set the tone for the season. During the streak, Chartrand’s best performance was a three-point effort on January 12, a 9-2 whitewashing of Brampton.

In the last 11 games of the season, Chartrand would log a point in seven of them. When Chartrand registered a point during that stretch, Montreal boasted a 7-0-0 mark. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Montreal went 8-0-1 when Chartrand scored a goal in regular season play.

Considering how the complexion of the Stars had changed for 2013-14, with the inclusion of eight rookies, the leadership and presence of Bettez and Chartrand was invaluable. As many of the franchise’s original leaders are entering the twilight of their careers, the impact of Bettez and Chartrand not only promises that the strong tradition of winning is secure but it guarantees that the future is in tremendous hands.