Rebecca Johnston holds the hot hand during CWHL’s opening weekend

Heading into the 2014-15 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season, the Calgary Inferno boasted the finest off-season among the five franchises. In addition to the offseason trades for Mercyhurst Lakers legend Bailey Bram and 2014 Sochi gold medalist Haley Irwin, the biggest acquisition may have been the free agent signing of Rebecca Johnston.

A former first round pick of the Toronto Furies in the 2012 CWHL Draft, Johnston has enjoyed a career filled with accolades and awards, including two gold medals at the Winter Games. During the CWHL’s opening weekend of the 2014-15 campaign, Johnston’s signing already began to pay dividends for the franchise.

RJCal

Starting the season against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Toronto Furies, Johnston recorded two goals in a 5-4 shootout loss. Despite the loss, the presence of Johnston, Bram and Irwin, certainly Calgary’s Big Three on offense, constantly added pressure on the Furies. Of note, the Inferno reached double digits in shots for each period (17 in the first, 16 in the second, 14 in the third).

While Kristy Zamora, appearing in her 172nd career game, four away from breaking the league’s all-time record for games played, opened the scoring at 2:20, Johnston led the charge to tie the score. With an assist by Jessica Wong (the first overall pick in the 2013 edition of the CWHL Draft), Johnston slipped the puck past former Canadian national team member Christina Kessler at the 7:12 mark.

Although the first period ended in a 3-3 tie, featuring power play goals from each side, Johnston provided the Inferno with its first lead of the game at the 14:42 mark of the second stanza. With assists going to Jacquie Pierri and Madison Haller, the youngest player in the CWHL, it provided the Inferno with confidence.

Despite the fact that Tessa Bonhomme would tie the game for the Furies, forcing overtime and a proceeding shootout, Johnston led all players in the game with two goals scored, earning one of the game’s Three Stars. Her presence certainly created a positive influence. Of note, the Inferno outshot the Furies by a convincing 52-29 margin. Other offensive highlights on the night included a pair of assists by Bram, a power play goal by Irwin, and the first CWHL points for rookies Sarah Davis and Louise Warren.

The following day, the Inferno travelled to Brampton to challenge the new-look Thunder. With Brampton’s rookie backstop Erica Howe making her CWHL debut, it would prove to be a baptism of fire.
Of note, Jenna Cunningham scored a hat trick, while rookie Brittany Esposito logged three assists in only her second CWHL game. Their contributions were complemented by a three point night by Johnston.

Although Howe was solid between the pipes, nullifying four Inferno power play attempts in the first period, Calgary would jump out to a 1-0 advantage. Cunningham logged the first goal of the game at 9:02 with Johnston and Esposito earning the helpers.

During the second stanza, Calgary jumped out to leads of 2-0 and then 3-1. Johnston would score at 4:16, while Haley Irwin logged a power play goal just 17 seconds into their first power play of the second, with Johnston earning her third point of the game. Ironically, Laura Fortino, the first pick overall of the 2014 CWHL Draft was serving a cross checking penalty.

As a side note, Fortino would log her first career CWHL point during Brampton’s goal at the 5:56 mark of the second. Carly Mercer would score on the power play, while Fortino and 2014 Kazmaier Award winner Jamie Lee Rattray earned the assist. Coincidentally, it was the first career CWHL point for all three of the players.

Cunningham would score two more times in the final frame while Mercer logged another tally in the 5-2 final. For the second consecutive game, the Inferno would reach double digits in shots in each of the periods. A total of 13 shots were registered in the first, followed by a game-high 15 shots in the second, while the squad peppered Howe and backup goalie Sonja van der Bliek with 14 more shots in the third.

Perhaps the most irmpessive statistic was the fact that seven different Inferno players registered at least one point (Cunningham, Esposito, Irwin, Johnston, Hayleigh Cudmore, Madison Haller and Jessica Wong). With a proud franchise looking to build on its first postseason appearance in 2014, Johnston may be the catalyst that brings them to even bigger heights in 2015, as the club looks to win its first regular season title and qualify for its first Clarkson Cup finals.

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Running back Carmen Bourseau speaks out on domestic violence

In the aftermath of the infamous domestic violence incident which involved a pro football player from Baltimore, it did not take long for an outcry of frustration. Among the prominent female athletes that spoke out was Los Angeles Temptation running back Carmen Bourseau.

Her roots in indoor football trace back to qualifying for the inaugural roster of the Regina Riot as a US import player, alongside fellow Las Vegas native Nikki Johnson. Bouncing back from injuries, Bourseau had a strong comeback year in 2013, integrating herself as a member of the Las Vegas Sin’s offensive attack. Coincidentally, All-Pro quarterback Nikki Johnson was the Sin’s starting quarterback.

Bourseau’s breakout year came in 2014 with a soild season in Los Angeles. Her 201 rushing yards ranked fourth in the league, helping to propel LA to a playoff victory over arch-rival Seattle. For her efforts, she was nominated for an award named after the league’s commissioner, recognizing dedication and perseverance.

From a blonde-haired beauty in Vegas, Bourseau came to LA with jet black hair, embracing the team’s take no prisoners, bad-ass mentality. Such a mentality was evident in Bourseau’s commentary about the barbaric attack that occurred in a hotel elevator.

Of note, the football player dragged his fiancée out the elevator door while she was beaten down. Footage of the video made international news, augmenting debate and prompting some to believe that pro football needed to distribute tougher punishments for domestic violence.

With great bravura, Bourseau provided a rebuttal online, challenging the disgraced Baltimore running back (facing a one-year suspension) to one down of female football. Her challenge was accentuated by video footage, featuring unforgiving this by the captivating women of indoor football. Making an impact, her remarks gained commentary on social media, complemented by positive feedback supporting her statements.

Stating how appalled she was that someone as strong as the Baltimore running back would prey on the weak, one could see the anger emanating from Bourseau. In a season where she impressed with powerful, bruising runs on the gridiron, her comments about one of the most disgraceful cases of domestic violence by an athlete, may have been the most significant.

Calling him a coward, with an expletive to accentuate her anger, there is no question that her feelings represent those of so many women in indoor football. No man has the right to abuse a woman, and the involvement of women in sport like Bourseau may ensure that such misogynist behavior will become a thing of the past.

Japan solidifies status as baseball power with Women’s World Cup win

Complementing Japan’s bronze medal at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the Japanese women’s team has claimed a gold medal at the 2014 Women’s Baseball World Cup. Known as “Madonna Japan”, the squad posted an undefeated mark on home soil.

With the gold medal game in front of 14,500 fans at Sun Marine Stadium, Japan blanked the United States by a 3-0 mark, while Australia bested Canada for the bronze medal. Of note, the gold medal triumph marked the 13 consecutive World Cup win for Japan in World Cup play. The streak dates back to 2012 at the World Cup in Edmonton, Alberta, when the United States defeated Japan in an opening round-robin contest.

Japan capitalized on two errors from the US, which provided the squad with a pair of unearned runs. It was part of a remarkable pitching battle between 17-year-old American pitcher Sarah Hudek and Ayami Sato. Hudek gave a valiant performance, allowing four hits over six innings, along with four walks.

Despite outhitting Japan seven to four, the US could not claim its third World Cup title (having also won in 2004 and 2006). Sato logged the complete game shutout against the US. For her efforts, which included a 2-0 record and ten strikeouts, she was the recipient of the World Cup’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Keeping their position atop the IBAF World Rankings, Japan has claimed its fourth consecutive World Cup victory (dating back to 2008). At the 2014 edition of the World Cup, Japan was nothing short of dominant, outscoring opponents by a 63-2 combined score. The only country to score against Japan was Canada. Of note, the team had a combined .421 average while committing just one error.

Anne Schleper skates with NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning

For the second time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Lightning has invited a woman to participate in practice. Following in the proud footsteps of Manon Rheaume, who first skated with the Lightning in 1992, defender Anne Schleper joined the Lightning in an October 13 practice at Amalie Arena.

Having won a silver medal with the US national team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Schleper was paired with Lightning blueliners Eric Brewer and Mark Barberio. Coincidentally, Hilary Knight, who played with Schleper at Sochi, and both won a Clarkson Cup with the Boston Blades, took part in an October 3 practice with the Anaheim Ducks.

Of note, both of their involvements with NHL teams were part of their participation with the 2014 IIHF Girls Hockey Weekend. Given number 15 to wear, the native of St. Cloud, Minnesota could not hide her smile as she graced the ice. Working on drills with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, she also took the chance to skate with Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, who was a member of the US men’s team at Sochi.

As part of Girls Hockey Weekend, Schleper took part in street hockey clinics and a multi-panel discussion for local girl scouts. In addition, there was a scrimmage between members of the women’s ice hockey club, the Lady Vipers in Kissimmee, Florida.

She was also part of a ceremonial puck drop before the Lightning’s October 11 match against their expansion cousins, the Ottawa Senators. Like Knight practicing with the
Ducks, Schleper’s involvement with the Lightning will only help grow the girls’ game in the Sun Belt.

Wrestling Hall of Famer Trish Stratus part of 2014 Topps release

One of the most accomplished WWE Divas inside and outside of the squared circle, seven-time Trish Stratus is one of the key wrestlers featured in Topps newest wrestling card release, The 2014 WWE Road to WrestleMania. Voted as the Diva of the Decade on Monday Night Raw’s 15th Anniversary Program, Stratus is featured in her own 8-card insert set titled the Queen of WrestleMania.

The odds of finding such cards are 1:12 packs (two per box). Of note, she actually wrote her own copy on the card backs. Other wrestlers that have their own insert card set include the late Jim Hellwig (otherwise known as the Ultiwate Warrior) and the Undertaker. As a side note, the 110 base-card set, which possesses a design similar to the 2013 Topps release titled Best of WWE does not feature Stratus (all of her cards are randomly inserted).

Her first WrestleMania appearance came at WrestleMania 2000 in Anaheim, California. At that time, she was a ring valet for a tag team known as T&A (wrestlers Test and Albert comprised said team). The involvement in that event is featured on the first card of her 8-card insert set.

In terms of singles competition, it was not until WrestleMania X8 in 2002 did Stratus make her in-ring debut. Held in her hometown of Toronto, Stratus wore trunks that bore the Canadian flag. Despite losing the triple threat match for the Divas title, she was certainly one of the most popular performers that night. The following year, Stratus would finally earn a win in WrestleMania. Competing at Safeco Field in Seattle, she would defeat Victoria and Jazz in a triple threat match for the Divas title.

Three other WrestleMania appearances would follow in her career. In 2005, she beat Christy Hemme at WrestleMania XXI but would suffer a loss to Mickie James at the 22nd edition of WrestleMania the following year. Although Stratus would retire in 2006, she made one more WrestleMania appearance. Held in Atlanta, WrestleMania XXVII featured Stratus in a mixed tag team match. Teaming up with John Morrison and reality TV star Snooki, the trio would defeat the team of Dolph Ziggler, Layla and Michelle McCool.

While she first earned the trading card treatment in 2001, as Fleer issued a WWE Divas set, the 2014 Road to WrestleMania offering may be the most extensive offering of Stratus cards. Several relic and autographed cards comprise even rarer issues by Topps which feature her image. There are two different relic cards that feature swatches from pants she has supplied. One relic card features a green swatch, while the other is purple.

Another unique collectible includes an offering that consist of a piece of the actual mat used at WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. Of note, Stratus is one of 16 WWE legends to have signed some of those soon-to-be highly desirable collectibles.

Despite not competing at the event, it still held an emotional component for Stratus. During the week-long festivities at WrestleMania XXIX, Stratus became the youngest individual (at 37 years of age) to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The induction is commemorated on the eight card of her insert set. She would hold the honor of inducting former rival Lita into the Hall prior to WrestleMania XXX.

In addition, she is featured on a dual autographed card with the immortal Hulk Hogan, who was the host of WrestleMania XXX. It marks the first time that the legendary champions (and WWE Hall of Fame members) have been featured on a card together. As a side note, she is also featured on a dual autograph card with WWE Diva Eve.

United States grabs gold at milestone-filled FIBA Women’s Worlds in Turkey

A common theme throughout the 2014 FIBA Women’s World Championships was milestones. The medal round was filled with plenty of unique accomplishments that added to the excitement of the event. Heading into the gold medal game for the first-time ever was Spain.

Competing against the favored United States, both clubs entered the gold medal game with identical 5-0 undefeated marks. Fenerbahce Arena in Istanbul would be the setting for another dominant American performance.
Maya Moore would set the tone early on as she contributed eight points as the US emerged with a 15-5 advantage. As a side note, Spanish head coach Lucas Mondelo has coached Moore’s club team in China, Shanxi Xing Rui, winning the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association title in 2012-13.

By halftime, Moore logged 16 points while Diana Taurasi recorded seven assists as the United States enjoyed a 48-29 lead. With Spanish scoring leader Sancho Lyttle having already picked up three fouls, it only added to their woes. Despite their best efforts, the Spaniards would fall to the US in a 77-64 victory.

In the gold medal game, Sancho Lyttle led all Spanish players with 16 points and 11 rebounds, along with 4 steals and 1 block. The top player statistically for the USA was Tina Charles, who logged 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists for an efficiency rating of +19. Of note, Maya Moore would lead all players in gold medal game scoring with 18 points. In addition, she would post 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal as the US captured its fourth gold medal in the last five attempts.

On her way to the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, Maya Moore ranked fourth overall in points per game with 15.3. Lyttle of Spain emerged as one of the elite competitors in the event, as she led all players with 18.2 points per game. She would also show great versatility by posting a tournament-best 3.3 steals per game.

In WNBA circles, Lyttle is a competitor with the Atlanta Dream. Like many of her peers, she spends her WNBA off-seasons playing abroad. Having won four Euroleague titles in her distinguished career, her most recent win came with Galatasaray in 2014.

Statistically, American players were peppered throughout the leader boards. Diana Taurasi averaged 4.5 assists per game, tied for third overall with Katerina Bartonova of Russia and Cuba’s Oyanasis Gelis. For Taurasi, it was her third career medal for the United States. She would join fellow Americans Tamika Catchings, Delisha Milton-Jones, Katie Smith, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley (who was a coach for Team USA in 2014), Jennifer Azzi, Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain with three career medals.

Brittney Griner of the WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury ranked second in blocks per game with 2.0, while LaToya Pringle of Turkey led all players with 2.7. Like Griner, Pringle was also a first round pick of the Phoenix Mercury. She would be selected by the club in the 2008 edition of the WNBA Draft. Her last WNBA appearance came in 2012 with the Washington Mystics. Pringle was a key factor in host country Turkey finishing with a 4-2 mark, plus appearing in the bronze medal game to Australia.

One of the feel-good stories of the event belonged to Australia’s Penny Taylor. One of the statistical leaders in assists per game, Taylor emerged as a key contributor in the Mercury’s road to the 2014 WNBA title victory over the Chicago Sky. After knee surgery sidelined her for most of 2013, her return to the club near the end of the 2014 regular season was essential. Of note, it was Taylor’s third WNBA title, having also won titles in 2007 and 2009 (also with the Mercury).

Helping Australia to a bronze medal, it was Taylor’s third FIBA medal. She would help Australia win its first-ever gold medal in 2006, while earning another bronze in 2002. A first-round pick of the Cleveland Rockers in the 2001 WNBA, she was selected first overall by the Mercury in the 2004 dispersal draft.

In addition, Taylor was named to the 2014 FIBA World Championship All-Star Five. She was joined by Lyttle and Alba Torrens from Spain. Maya Moore and Brittney Griner were the two Americans named. American captain Sue Bird became the player with the most medals in the history of the FIBA Women’s Worlds with four. In her career, Bird earned three medals (2002, 2010, 2014) and one bronze medal (2006).

Hilary Knight breaks barriers with Anaheim Ducks

In what continues to be a banner year for Hilary Knight, she continues to ride the wave of momentum by participating in a practice with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks. After the 2014 Sochi Winter Games (where Knight emerged with a sliver medal), there was speculation that Knight would possibly compete against men at the Division III level in Sweden.

Knight joins the company of other women’s hockey forwards that have been involved with the NHL. Back in 1998, Hayley Wickenheiser attended the Philadelphia Flyers rookie camp. In the autumn of 2013, Fannie Desforges and Dominique Thibault were among a group of Montreal Stars that took part in a practice that was open to the public from the Montreal Canadiens.

Taking into account that the Ducks have engaged in a week-long campaign with a focus on girls hockey, it was only fitting that Knight was involved. As a side note, IIHF World Girls Hockey Weekend takes place on October 11 and 12. In a year that has seen Knight grace the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, appear on NBC television and have her own trading card issued by Topps, she has emerged as the It Girl for United States women’s hockey.

After participating in an October 3 practice session with the Ducks, Knight took part in a meet-and-greet prior to the Ducks match with state-rival San Jose on October 4. It was part of the Ducks’ Girls Play Hockey Night at Honda Center. In addition to an autograph session, Knight also took part in a ceremonial puck drop with girls from local youth associations such as the Lady Ducks and The Rinks.

At 5-foot-10, Knight was not intimidated on the ice. With great speed and an impressively quick wrist shot, she impressed Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. Of note, Boudreau has never seen a women’s hockey game live. Of note, Knight took part in the first 25 minutes of the Ducks workout, participated in skating and passing drills. She would return for another session of shooting, although Ducks goatlenders Frederik Andersen and John Gibson looked much bigger than any of the women’s goalies that she traditionally faced. Later that day, Knight also served as a guest coach for a women’s team in another part of the Ducks’ training complex.

In addition, Ducks defender Ben Lovejoy grew up in the same town in New Hampshire that Knight did. The two became fast friends discussing their hometown roots. While Knight would love to play in an NHL exhibition game, there is certainly no shortage of talent. Earlier this year, Shannon Szabados practiced with the Edmonton Oilers and four time Winter Games gold medalist Caroline Ouellette would be ideal to participate with the Montreal Canadiens. With the quantum leap that women’s hockey is enjoying in North America, there is no question that such a dream may become a reality very soon.