Atlanta Steam competitor Tiana Lopez a portrait in courage

As the Atlanta Steam approach the upcoming 2015 indoor football season with ambitions to win an elusive championship, the club has even greater motivation. Just before training camp was set to begin, Steam player Tiana Lopez was brutally injured in a motorcycle accident. News of the accident sent a ripple of shock throughout the club, saddening fans and friends alike.

Through determination, the power of prayer and support of best friend and fellow teammate Leanne Hardin, the good news is that Lopez is on the road to recovery. Having been in the hospital for over 20 days, the first 17 of those frightening days were spent in the intensive care unit. Surgeries to address internal bleeding and clots were essential for survival. While there are still broken bones to heal and internal organs that must recover from the shock, the mental strain is one that will require even more support.

Unfortunately, the accident has resulted in an abrupt end to her playing career. Forced to approach life with a prosthetic limb, her survival is testament to a toughness that made her a highly valued member of the Steam. From a sporting perspective, there is a parallel which may result in a glorious end. After the Detroit Red Wings hockey club won the Stanley Cup in 1997 (their first in over three decades), a tragic event occurred where defender Vladimir Konstantinov suffered a career ending injury in a limousine accident, confining him to a wheelchair.

The Red Wings not only dedicated the following season to him, but they won a second straight Cup. Only adding to the magic of the second straight win was that Konstantinov was brought to centre ice to hold the Cup. Should the Steam manage to win their first championship in franchise history this year, it would be very fitting to have Lopez at the 50-yard line holding the coveted trophy alongside her teammates.

Despite a future without gridiron glories, the greater victory is that Lopez can still tackle life for many more years to come. Her ability to endure shall be the hallmark upon which the upcoming Steam season is based on, one that should propel the club to greater heights. Upon a full recovery, perhaps there will even be an opportunity to remain a member of the Steam family in an administrative capacity, or in a role as a trainer or coach (of which there needs to be much more in female football).

From Providence to the Clarkson Cup: Buie and Weber become Blades heroes

Despite coming from two different hockey backgrounds, Minnesota-raised Corinne Buie and Austrian national team member Janine Weber established a strong on-ice chemistry that culminated in the Boston Blades capturing the 2015 Clarkson Cup, their second in franchise history. In a tightly contested championship game against archrival Montreal, Buie and Tara Watchorn (the 2015 CWHL Defenseman of the Year Award winner) would earn the assists on Weber’s Cup-clinching goal, breaking the 2-2 overtime deadlock.

The uniqueness of Buie and Weber’s hockey odyssey is that the two were also teammates the season prior (2013-14) at historic Providence College, competing for the Lady Friars. Making the jump together from the NCAA to the CWHL Draft, where both were selected by the Blades, they would join fellow Providence alumnae Ashley Cottrell and Genevieve Lacasse, the Blades’ starting goaltender. As a side note, Cottrell would score against Providence in a January 3, 2015 exhibition game that saw the Blades prevail by a 3-1 score.

Buie and Weber would both make their CWHL debuts on November 15, 2014, defeating the Toronto Furies by a convincing 6-2 final. Both would also log points in their CWHL debuts. Buie would log an assist on Weber’s first CWHL goal, scored in the second period against Christina Kessler. Finishing the campaign with nine points, the black and gold posted an 8-1-0 mark when Buie logged a point, while the club enjoyed an undefeated mark of 6-0-0 when Weber registered at least one point.

While Buie competed at the high school level in Minnesota, earning All-State selections while at Edina High, where she would finish her career as a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award, Weber’s experience stemmed from time with the EWHL’s Vienna Sabres. With the Sabres, she won two league championships, and suited up for the Austrian national team at both the Under-18 and Senior levels, respectively.

In the autumn of 2013, their paths would cross for the first time. While Buie was entering her senior season for Providence, Weber would suit up for the Lady Friars as a graduate student. A former Hockey East All-Rookie selection, Buie would become the 33rd Friar to reach the 100-point career plateau. Bringing her strong hockey background to the same school that produced the likes of Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato, Weber would make her first mark in New England women’s hockey very quickly.

Competing in the 19th annual Mayor’s Cup, a match-up featuring the two NCAA programs in Providence, Rhode Island (the Lady Friars and the Brown Bears, where Digit Murphy holds the record for most women’s hockey games won by a coach), it would provide Weber with her first opportunity to become a New England hockey hero. Scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to provide the Lady Friars with their seventh Mayor’s Cup in program history, it was the highlight of Weber’s only NCAA season.

One season later, Weber would add to her legend with another Cup-winning goal. Playing together on an all-rookie line with Buie and Jordan Smelker, their presence was testament to a strong 2014 draft class for the franchise. While the early rounds featured the likes of Jenny Potter, Monique Lamoureux and Brianna Decker selected by the Blades, Weber (41st overall), Smelker (43rd overall) and Buie (55th overall) would emerge as a trio of unearthed gems.

These gems earned the chance to shine brightly in the Clarkson Cup final. Of note, Weber’s goal would make history in multiple ways for the black and gold. From the outset, Weber became the first European player to log a Cup-winning goal. In addition, she became only the second European player ever to hoist the coveted Cup. Ironically, the first was also a member of the Boston Blades. Czech Republic national team member Katka Mrazova contributed to the Blades first Cup win in 2013.

Said goal also resulted in the Blades becoming the first American-based franchise to win two Clarkson Cup titles, while head coach Digit Murphy became the first female head coach to win achieve two Cup wins. Murphy’s role as an advocate for sporting equality and her support for pay equity in the game certainly rang home for Weber.

The occasionally harsh economic realities of the women’s game created a conundrum for Weber. Considering that the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted Weber’s stick on display, the soon-to-be artifact was one of only two sticks in Weber’s possession (and the other was broken). Although Weber acquiesced to the Hall’s request, online support resulted in manufacturer STX Hockey (who also sponsors Blades superstar Hilary Knight) graciously supplying Weber with a new stick to replace the donated one. With the stick earning a place in the Hall, Weber now shares a unique place with fellow Providence alumnae Granato, the first American woman inducted into the Hall.

From a Mayor’s Cup triumph to the privilege of having their names engraved on the Clarkson Cup, Buie and Weber have carved admirable hockey legacies. Coming from different areas, their unlikely path towards establishing themselves as New England hockey heroes now becomes part of another special chapter in women’s hockey, one which helps to establish the early mythology of the coveted Clarkson Cup.

Dream season for Digit Murphy culminates with Clarkson Cup

One of the most accomplished coaches in New England women’s hockey, Digit Murphy continues to add new and notable accomplishments to a distinguished career. Always inspiring and encouraging players with her trademark phrase, “Everyday we are making history”, those wondrous words represented her memorable brush with history during the 2014-15 CWHL season.

In the aftermath of leading the Blades to an emotional overtime win in the 2015 Clarkson Cup, it would prove to be part of a sparkling trinity of coaching milestones. Beginning in December 2014, Murphy became the first coach in league history to win the CWHL All-Star Game as Team Red fought back from a 2-0 deficit to prevail by a 3-2 mark at Toronto’s fabled Air Canada Centre.

This was followed by Murphy leading the Blades to the best record in the regular season, which provided the franchise with the Chairman’s Trophy. The Blades league-best 15 wins resulted in a 35 point season, finishing two points ahead of the upstart Calgary Inferno. Concluding with the Clarkson Cup triumph, Murphy became the first coach to win all three in the same CWHL season.

Such a historic feat was complemented by two other milestones that would add to Murphy’s legacy as one of the finest coaches in American women’s hockey history. Having won her first Clarkson Cup title in 2013, the 2015 triumph allowed Murphy to become the first female head coach to capture the Cup twice. In addition, Murphy also gained the unique distinction of becoming the first American-born coach to win two Cups.

Of note, the first coach to win the Cup twice was Patrick Rankine, leading Montreal to the summit in 2011 and 2012. Prior to Murphy’s first Cup win in 2013, only one female coach had even led her team to a Cup win (Montreal’s Isabelle Leclair in 2009, the inaugural year that the Cup was contested). In 2014, Toronto’s Sommer West (who played against Murphy’s Blades) would become only the third female coach to claim the Cup.

Although Montreal would score first in the championship game of the 2015 edition of the Cup, Murphy did not panic. Being interviewed by CWHL co-founder and Sportsnet sideline reporter Jennifer Botterill (the only player to win back-to-back Patty Kazmaier Awards), Murphy showed remarkable composure and stayed positive, signs of her strong leadership.

Murphy’s positive influence would prove to be crucial for the black and gold as Montreal would tie the game late in the third to force overtime. With Janine Weber becoming the first European player to log a Cup-winning goal, it also represented great redemption for Murphy and the Blades, who were bested in overtime by a visceral 1-0 tally one year earlier.

Widely admired and respected for her efforts in sporting equality, while helping to strengthen the women’s game for future generations, Murphy’s ability to inspire is one that can hardly be matched. Her devotion to providing instruction for elite hockey talent currently represents a transformative era in the game. Hopefully, Murphy’s efforts shall promise better days ahead, including pay equity in the game, which would certainly represent Murphy’s greatest victory.