Heartwarming rally of support for Denna Laing highly encouraging

In what has proven to be Boston hockey’s finest hour, the remarkable outpouring of support for one of its own has proven to be nothing short of heartwarming. After Denna Laing crashed into the boards at the Women’s Winter Classic in Foxboro, Massachusetts, no one could have foreseen that it would be the final game of her season, let alone the beginning of a long recovery.

Suffering from a spinal cord injury, Laing has been in hospital since December 31, 2015 (the day of the Women’s Winter Classic), as the hockey community has been distraught over such a tragic outcome. With significant sporting figures such as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Boston Bruins alum Cam Neely all issuing public statements of well wishes, the result has been a wave of encouragement.

Marissa Gedman is one of many Pride players that have visited Laing in hospital. Not only is she a teammate, but also one of her best friends. Having first played together for the Assabet Valley club team at the age of 12, the two would become teammates at Noble and Greenough prep school, growing up together around hockey. Visiting her in hospital has only added to an unbreakable bond, as Gedman draws admiration from her strong spirit.

During the week of January 17, 2016, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins have both shown their support. This is attributed to the fact that both teams competed on New Year’s Day at Foxboro, in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The day prior, Les Canadiennes de Montreal from the CWHL competed against the Boston Pride, Laing’s club team.

The Canadiens have shown great compassion, honoring Laing with a tribute video prior to their January 19 contest with the Boston Bruins. As both teams wore the same jerseys from the Classic, it was a stunning visual that resulted in a show of solidarity from both teams.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 final for the Bruins, said jerseys were auctioned online to benefit Laing. For Montreal goaltender Mike Condon, the game had a more profound impact. Both Condon and Laing attended Princeton University and competed in NCAA hockey. Having seen a member of the Tigers family suffer such a life-changing injury, he was proud of the way the Bruins and Canadiens worked together for such a great cause.

Following the accident, the Princeton team engaged in a show of support that became commonplace throughout many NCAA programs. Although Laing wore #24 with the Pride, her number with the Tigers was #14. The Tigers roster formed the number 14 on the ice, with a photo posted on social media.

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing's number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing’s number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Adding to this momentum was the fact that several of Laing’s former teammates at Princeton went to social media with thoughts and prayers. One of the most notable was Gabie Figueroa. A former captain at Princeton during Laing’s time there, she was one of the first to post messages of support online.

Since then, programs have emulated the Tigers initiative, including the Pride, of course. The Concordia Stingers women’s ice hockey program, coached by Canadiennes forward Julie Chu have also paid tribute to Laing with the #14 formation on the ice. In addition, all teams in the NWHL have yellow-colored stickers with number 24 in black font on the back of their helmets. Adding to this momentum is a limited edition wool hat issued by the Bruins, with Laing’s #24 on the back. As a side note, players that competed at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds in St. Catharines, Ontario wore stickers on the backs of their helmets that read “DL”, Laing’s initials.

On January 21, the Bruins honored Laing with a pregame ceremony before facing off against the Vancouver Canucks. Of note, her image was also featured on the Bruins’ game-day posters issued to fans. Laing’s former teammates from Assabet Valley High School and current teammates with the Boston Pride were on-hand to sell 50/50 tickets, raising an astounding $20,063 to assist with medical expenses.

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

With Laing still in hospital, a message on video was aired on the scoreboard, resulting in a highly emotional standing ovation. The day prior to the match, Bruins captain (and 2011 Stanley Cup champion) Zdeno Chara visited Laing in hospital. Telling her to never give up, Chara’s words will have strong meaning as Laing has ambitions to go to law school, having balanced hockey with work as a witness advocate.

Laing’s sisters, Brianna and Lexie participated in the ceremonial face off. In addition, they were guests of Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, who enjoyed the game from his suite. This was an extension of the strong support shown by the Jacobs Family, whom along with the Boston Bruins Foundation and TD Garden has offered a donation of $200,000 for The Denna Laing Foundation.

Another member of the Bruins that has also offered financial aid is Patrice Bergeron. Of note, he announced a raffle, in which the winner would see the January 26 contest against the Anaheim Ducks from his suite. With tickets at $5 each, he also declared that all proceeds would go towards the Foundation.

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NWHL founder Dani Rylan part of The Hockey News Top 100

As the accolades and gratitude continue to grow for NWHL founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan, all are well deserved. Having revolutionized women’s hockey by introducing player compensation, the first of its kind in North America, Rylan is forging an empowering path forward.

Such effort alone is not the only reason that Rylan is gaining unprecedented recognition on The Hockey News list of the 100 Most Influential and Powerful People in Hockey, which also included NWHL competitor Kelli Stack being named. The reality is that Rylan’s efforts in the game have gone beyond just compensation.

(L-R): Hayley Moore, Erika Lawler and Dani Rylan at the Women's Winter Classic. Image obtained from Facebook

(L-R): Hayley Moore, Erika Lawler and Dani Rylan at the Women’s Winter Classic. Image obtained from Facebook

While the NWHL gained prominent attention in the media as the first of its kind to pay players, it has proven to be only the initial step in Rylan’s effort to create the finest hockey league for eilte female competitors. The hard work has continued past the inaugural puck drop.

Equally important is the need to give back to the community, establishing the league and its players as hockey humanitarians, a cause that Rylan was very passionate about when she helped to form the NWHL Foundation. Such initiative was met with outstanding results.

From fundraisers for military, cancer research, the admirable Do It for Daron mental health foundation, along with teams locally holding food drives and teddy bear toss events (for needy children during the holidays), one quickly gains the impression that the players enjoy participating in these events, truly a win-win for the game and the community.

Exhibition series have also proven to be another outstanding method of developing the game, while acknowledging the efforts of others in the hockey community. Rylan invited the Minnesota Whitecaps, the first American-based team to win the Clarkson Cup, to participate in a pair of pre-season exhibition matches with the New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale.

Before the holidays, the Boston Pride would visit the Whitecaps at their home rink, providing Minnesota, also known as the state of hockey, with the first professional women’s hockey matches there. Ensuring that the Whitecaps were somehow part of the NWHL’s inaugural season is testament to Rylan’s respect for those who paved the way.

Another key highlight was the opportunity to land the league’s first corporate sponsor, Dunkin’ Donuts, an encouraging sign that the league is destined for growth. With the Dunkin’ Donuts logo featured on all NWHL jerseys, the names of the players on the back of said jerseys are nothing short of impressive.

Featuring world class talent, including an exceptional number of competitors from the United States national team, it injected instant credibility to the league. Rylan’s strong leadership has led to a credible reciprocation, one where players are given percentages of jersey sales. Such sales could grow as the league has enjoyed television exposure on the New England Sports Network and ESPN3, part of the expanding interest that the league has enjoyed.

The reality is that Rylan has brought more exposure and generated unprecedented interest in women’s hockey over the last six months than some people have managed in close to a decade. It can also be said that without Rylan and the presence of the NWHL, there would never have been a women’s outdoor game at the Winter Classic.

In addition, Rylan has been highly supportive of the formation of a player’s association. Led by Winter Games silver medalist and former Wisconsin Badgers scoring legend Erika Lawler, it is part of a commitment to build and develop player morale, part of proficiency for not only doing all the right things, but respecting the athletes who are equally committed to developing the NWHL brand.

Such mutual respect has proven to be among the ingredients towards a very successful future that should see Rylan, and hopefully other members of the NWHL family, as fixtures on the Top 100 for many seasons to come.

Canadian female sporting heroes shine on The Social

As one of the most popular talk shows on Canadian television, it is commendable that the all-female cast of The Social address the quickly expanding relevance of women as sporting heroes. While there are still many obstacles to overcome on the road towards total acceptance for women in sport, the presence of the three athletic heroes that were part of the interview panel displays that the future holds tremendous promise.

With the effervescent Melissa Grelo and inquisitive Lainey Lui handling the interviewing duties, the result was a pleasant discussion with a group of women that cover a breadth of competition. From soccer goalkeeper Karina Leblanc to hockey blueliner Tessa Bonhomme, along with pugilist Mandy Bujold, each are highly accomplished women in their field.

(L-R): Karina Leblanc, Mandy Bujold and Tessa Bonhomme. Image obtained from Twitter

(L-R): Karina Leblanc, Mandy Bujold and Tessa Bonhomme. Image obtained from Twitter

The most obvious aspect of all three was their confidence. Each has accomplished so much, while placing women’s sport in a much bigger part of Canadian popular culture, their careers are symbolic of why girls in sport should keep competing as they mature.

As today’s generation of young women enjoy the chance to look up to a growing number of positive female role models, there are many redeeming qualities in the likes of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc. Even young women that are not athletic can look at them and admire their ability to excel and challenge social convention.

Coincidentally, social aspects were also a key defining factor in the reasons that these women first became involved in sport. Leblanc revealed that she was shy during childhood, joking that she would not have had her current hairstyle (spiked with a streak of blonde near the top) in those formative years. She further revealed that sport filled a void as well, connecting her with other people. Bonhomme also attested to the social impact as getting to know people and connecting with them as key factors in her earliest sporting roots.

Having announced her retirement in the aftermath of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was held on Canadian soil for the first time, Karina Leblanc was one of the most underrated soccer stars that the country ever produced. Although the medal round evaded the ambitious Canadian squad, who were hoping to build on their fairy-tale run to the bronze medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, their effort was a tremendous source of pride, adding another great chapter to sporting Canadiana.

Bonhomme also appreciates the chance to compete in a world-class event on home soil. After a remarkable career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Bonhomme landed a spot on the Canadian national team, capturing the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. During the interview, she mentioned how great it was for Bonhomme and her teammates to hear from parents how awesome they were after the victory in Vancouver.

Perhaps more impressive was her career following such heroic heights in Vancouver. From becoming the first-ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL Draft, to landing on the cover of The Hockey News, Bonhomme would be catapulted into celebrity status after winning the Battle of the Blades, the first female hockey player to do so. Currently with TSN (she once interviewed Will Ferrell with LeafsTV), Bonhomme has become a crossover star, with the likeable potential to become even more famous for her work as a TV personality than her empowering run as an elite athlete.

Proudly displaying her championship belt, Mandi Bujold is part of a tremendous change in the sporting landscape as women are now headline competitors in boxing and mixed martial arts. Holly Holm, who shall be immortalized in the sporting pantheon as the woman who beat UFC champion Ronda Rousey was a former boxing champion herself, having defeated the legendary Mia St. John.

In discussing her boxing career, one very visceral and sobering reality hit home for the guests, hosts and the remainder of the panel. Bujold had discussed how judges that were not deemed competent for male matches were assigned to serve in a similar capacity for bouts featuring women. For the viewer at home, a collective sigh of surprise (and perhaps shock) could clearly be heard as such conditions are demeaning and dehumanizing.

Later in the segment, Grelo made an excellent point of acknowledging that to be an elite athlete, hardcore training was essential, in essence, akin to a full-time job. Sadly, such effort has resulted with being compensated differently, one of the great gender inequities of the modern era. Leblanc had emphasized in the interview that the prize money for the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team was tens of millions less than the male victors, a real-life example of the effort that lay ahead in the off-field fight for equality.

While there is no question that women in sport have to work harder to be taken seriously, such work will eventually bear prosperous fruit. For the future female sports athletes how grew up emulating the efforts of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc, it will add to a proud legacy. Each one of them stirred the hearts of sports fans, making them proud to be Canadians, and for that, they will always have their gratitude.

Forgiveness needed for footballer turned beauty queen

As jubilation has turned to desolation for Stormy Keffeler, the saddest element may be that she has become tabloid fodder. In having to make the visceral decision to relinquish her crown as Miss Washington USA, showed great courage and integrity, the result has been an onslaught of criticism and objectification, unfairly transforming her into a pop culture target.

While beauty pageants have been a lifelong passion for Keffeler, another source of enjoyment involved athletics. Among her sporting achievements, she was most famous for being part of the Seattle Mist’s roster in Legends Football League play. Participating with the club in the 2014 regular season, she contributed towards a return to the postseason, while fans quickly admired her for the ability to balance beauty pageantry and athleticism in an empowering and confident package.

StormyMist

Having experienced unprecedented heights as Miss Washington USA, the chance to be a role model and an exemplary citizen came with the expectation of being held to a higher standard. Sadly, this shattered expectation by some was attributed to the fact that Keffeler had been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) last April.

Considering that this occurred months before her crowning as Miss Washington USA, a public apology and a commitment to undertake community service should have been satisfactory compromises, allowing her to keep her crown. In a field where beauty pageant competitors are accustomed to being judged in a rather merciless and sometimes ruthless field of play, it is hard to say if judges at future pageants would have been forgiving.

Stormy

The reality is that many beauty pageant winners are thrust into the same role as actors, musicians and other celebrities, becoming the subject of scorn and ridicule should some former skeletons in the closet be removed and revealed for all. Sadly, those pointing the finger of ridicule have forgotten what it is to be human.

Through it all, the most redeeming aspect may be the outpouring of love and support from friends, family and teammates. Many current and former Mist players, having enjoyed the chance to call Keffler a teammate have heartwarmingly stood by her, truly embodying the spirit of teamwork, proving that such bonds do not dissolve once a player hangs up her helmet.

Considering that the emotional suffering endured from just relinquishing the crown is more than anyone should have to endure, the focus must now be about healing. Keffeler is facing a fourth down situation, one that can only be her finest hour with the roar of the crowd behind her.

Corina Froese captivating as winner of Inside Fitness Hot & Fit 100

As the winner of the annual Inside Fitness Hot & Fit 100, Corina Froese has attained into celebrity status with her winning smile gracing newsstands nationwide. On the surface, she may give the impression of a sex symbol, but there is also a profound inner beauty that makes her highly admirable.

Among her greatest qualities are the maturity and modest background she possesses, proving that being fit is more than just looking good in a swimsuit. Such a philosophical sensibility was evident in her interview with Inside Fitness when she sympathetically stated that women take on so much in today’s world, understanding the pressures that come with success and expectation.

Taking into account that accomplished women, especially those in the sporting realm, can also be appreciated for their beauty as much as their achievements, Froese successfully maintains both. As today’s generation of young women have a growing number of female role models to look up, Froese is an empowering individual that certainly meets such criteria.

InsideFitnessCorinaFroese

Measuring in at 5’6″, her roots involved dirt biking and snowmobiling. While she still enjoys lounging in jeans and a T-shirt, with the occasional weakness for carbs found in bread and butter and comfort foods such as poutine and chicken burgers. Such a humbling revelation shows that even an accomplished individual such as Froese holds the same cravings and gastronomic temptations that others endure, an empathic situation that anyone could understand.

In addition to being a Canadian Pro Bikini Model with affiliations to the WBFF (earning her Pro Card in 2014), Froese is an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Taking into account that she has engaged in a heroic line of work where she places her own safety at risk in order to preserve it for others, fitness is not the only release for Froese, as she also finds relaxation in painting.

Discovering fitness in 2009 during Primary Care Paramedic schooling, her love of fitness became a significant factor in helping to motivate her to prepare for the RCMP, accomplishing a lifelong dream of being a police officer, becoming part of a healthy balance in her life.

Of note, Froese is not the only female athlete with service in the RCMP. Former women’s hockey player Kristen Marson, a Clarkson Cup champion in 2014 with the Toronto Furies, currently serves as an officer in the region of Nanton, ALberta. Marson, who grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and earned a degree in criminology at Ottawa’s Carleton University is a constable with the RCMP detachment in Nanton, Alberta.

Raised in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Froese is proud of her Prairie Roots. During her nascent years in fitness, Froese found an idol in fellow Prairie girl Samantha Green. Her abilities to excel in competition were a tremendous source of motivation for Froese, as she was pursuing her own dreams in law enforcement. Seeing Green’s success, she wanted to emulate her while also being able to inspire others.

As a side note, Froese may be part of an empowering movement as she is not the only notable fitness model from Saskatchewan. Before relocating to Louisiana where she currently works as a research associate in a university, Ashley Richter competed at Rx Muscle competitions including the 2013 NPC Greater Gulf States and the 2014 NPC Southern Classic. Of note, she held an impressive athletic background, competing with the Vermont Catamounts women’s ice hockey program, along with a promising career as a female tackle football player with the Regina Rage.

Via social media, Froese is establishing a strong network, happily connecting with others and motivating them to pursue their own fitness journeys. Achieving friendship through fitness, she is highly enthusiastic, looking to encourage people to find a way to make it happen. Through it all, the most admirable quality of Froese is her integrity, the ability to truly be real. Such an approach is in place due to her personal foundation of staying true to your own belief system and values. It is part of Froese’s amazing positive image, is something that all can aspire to.

Lindsey Vonn maintains her winning ways with strong start to 2016

Following a tumultuous 2014 that saw Lindsey Vonn endure emotional struggle with injuries, missing the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and a relationship with Tiger Woods reaching its end in 2015, she is on her way back towards staking her claim as the greatest skier of her generation. Strongly focused, Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins is still within reach for Vonn.

During a series of Alpine Skiing World Cup races in Zauchensee, Austria, Vonn continued her record chase by grabbing a win in the super-G race. Overall, said win allowed Vonn her 73rd career victory across all Alpine disciplines, and 25 in the super-G.

Photo credit: (Andrea Solero, EPA)

Photo credit: (Andrea Solero, EPA)

The first super-G race of the season was contested in December 2015 at Lake Louise, which was also won by Vonn. World Cup points leader Lara Gut of Switzerland finished second to Vonn by the merest fraction of a time, just 0.7 seconds.

In addition, she managed to equal a 36-year-old downhill record, only adding to her jubilation. Said record had first been set by Annemarie Moser-Proell in 1980 with the 36th World Cup downhill victory of her career. As a side note, Moser-Proell was in attendance at the event.

The win also represented the second in two days for Vonn as it was the first women’s downhill race since 2002 to be contested over a pair of runs. During the first downhill race event, Canada’s Larisa Yurkiw finished in second place, just one second back of Vonn’s winning time. For Yurkiw, the resort was where she made her World Cup debut in 2007.

Riveters and Whale play for Mandi Schwartz Foundation

In continuing with the NWHL’s growing legacy of giving back to the community as hockey humanitarians, the Connecticut Whale hosted the New York Riveters in a highly emotional match on January 9. With proceeds raised for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, it rekindled memories of a former competitor whose career was cut abruptly by cancer.

Having played her NCAA hockey with the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, Connecticut, Mandi Schwartz lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 23. Led by Aleca Hughes, teammates showed a remarkable rally of support by hosting a bone marrow drive, in the hopes of finding a matching donor for Schwartz. Although such an outcome did not occur, a positive aspect was the fact that six matches were found for other patients.

In tribute to Schwartz and her lasting impact at Yale, the Whale took to the Bulldogs’ home ice at Ingalls Rink to host their fundraising match. Of note, $2 from every ticket and half of all 50/50 raffle proceeds were donated to the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.

Since her passing, the Bulldogs have named a team award in her honor, while the ECAC Conference has also introduced an award to commemorate Schwartz’s life. As a side note, it is only the second time that the ECAC named an award after a former player, also recognizing former Dartmouth three-sport star Sarah Devens.

The contest definitely had the feeling of a home game for Whale captain Jessica Koizumi, as she is one of the assistants on the Yale coaching staff. Tara Tomimoto, a member of Yale’s Class of 2014 was a member of their roster when Schwartz passed away in April 2011.

The fundraiser also held emotion for Bray Ketchum of the Riveters. A former teammate of Schwartz at Yale, Ketchum has helped organize several events as the Bulldogs honor her memory and continue to find suitable donors to save the lives of others affected by leukemia. Of note, Ketchum is a board member of the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and wears Schwartz’s #17 with the Riveters.

Adding to the impact of the event was the fact that NWHL founder and Riveters general manager Dani Rylan signed up for the bone marrow registry, representing her own dedication to bringing betterment to the community.

The Whale prevailed by a 4-3 margin with goals by Shiann Darkangelo, Kelli Stack and a pair by Danielle Ward. For Ward, it was a career milestone as it signified the first two-goal game of her career, garnering First Star of the Game honors in the process. Bulldogs alum Jaimie Leonoff took the win for the Whale in an emotional contest. During her career at Yale, she competed in several White Out for Mandi Games, which raised funds to find a cure for leukemia.

#WePlayForMandi