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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


Highly emotional weekend for bobsledding legend Kailie Humphries

In a career filled with milestones, the weekend of January 8-10, 2016 may represent the most meaningful for two-time Winter Games gold medalist Kailie Humphries. Competing in Lake Placid, Humphries was part of a pair of events, including a historic race against a field composed of men in a four-person World Cup bobsled event.

On Friday, January 8, Kailie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz achieved a second place finish behind Americans Jamie Greubel and Cherrell Gareett in a women’s World Cup bobsled event. The margin of victory was separated by just 43 seconds as the American team finished with a time of 1:53.48. Of note, it was the second win of the season for Greubel, trailing Humphries by just 10 points for the overall World Cup title.

Humphries was racing with a heavy heart as the race represented the first since the passing of coach Malcolm “Gomer” Lloyd on January 3. As the coach who taught Humphries how to drive the sled, he was one of the key architects in her world-class career.

Coincidentally, Gomer trained Humphries in Lake Placid and was a supporter of women getting the opportunity to compete in bobsleighs. Quite possibly the most influential person in her career, it was so unfortunate that he was not on-hand to witness the second race to follow for Humphries.

Despite a last place finish, Humphries and her crew emerged as empowering winners, one that would have made Gomer proud. The native of Calgary was part of an all-female team that included Cynthia Appiah of Toronto, Quebec City’s Genevieve Thibault of Quebec City and Barrhead, Alberta native Melissa Lotholz. Of note, Thibault, a former track star at Laval University and former competitor with Canada’s national rugby sevens team, and Appiah were making their bobsled debuts.

Enduring a difficult 17th place finish out of 17 teams at Mount Van Hoevenberg, such an outcome was attributed to physics. Of note, Humphries’ crew, whose time was 4.77, were over 200 lighter than their male competitors, meaning that achieving the same level of speed was not possible. The winning time was 1:49.70, achieved by Maximilian Arndt of Germany.

There was more Canadian content in the race as Justin Kripps led his team to a third place finish in 1:50.07. As a side note, John James Jackson of Britain finished in 16th place ahead of Humphries team, finishing ahead by 2.67 seconds.

For Humphries, the real victory was the proud statement made about eventually adding a four-woman division to World Cup racing. With the words “girl power” adorned on her socks, it is part of Humphries’ goal to see a four-woman division before retiring from active competition. Next month in Igls, Austria, there shall be another exhibition race featuring a four-woman bobsled team, with the continued push to see the event become part of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Another vocal athlete about such a worthy cause is American-born Elana Meyers Taylor. Last season, both Humphries and Meyers Taylor were approved to race with men’s teams, with Meyers Taylor piloting a sled with three male teammates. Traditionally, all women’s races have consisted of just teams composed of two competitors, while men’s races include both two- and four-man teams.

Serena Williams recognition as Sportsperson of the Year the best moment in women’s sport for 2015

From the outset, the most significant impact concerning Serena Williams gaining the prestigious honor from Sports Illustrated is that it is no longer the Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year Award. Instead, it is the Sportsperson of the Year, marking an evolution in the Award’s history. With such change, it is only fitting that Williams represented it, subsequently becoming the first woman in over 30 years to be recognized with the award.

Mary Decker was the last female athlete to gain the recognition by herself, gaining the prestigious honor in 1983. Although other women in sport such as gymnast Mary Lou Retton, speed skater Bonnie Blair and basketball coach Pat Summitt have earned the nod as well, all shared it with men. With regards to tennis, the last female player to receive the honor was Chris Evert, winning in 1976.

Of note, Williams was not the only woman considered for the award. Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, bringing the US its first championships since 1999, made her mark as an American sporting hero. Conversation was even augmented over the naming of a winner, even including a Triple Crown winning horse known as American Pharoah.

In a year that saw so many women make their mark in sport, from Janine Weber becoming the first European player to score the Clarkson Cup clinching goal, to Dr.Jen Welter becoming the first female assistant coach in the NFL, it signified a landmark year for women. As a side note, when Williams was the guest editor of the publication Wired in October 2015, she featured Welter in a two-page piece.

Considering that she won 53 of 56 matches, including three of the prestigious Grand Slam events, it was the most dominant sporting performances of the season by any athlete, male or female. The one achievement that Williams has not reached (although it is attainable) is the record of 21 Grand Slam titles, held by Steffi Graf.

Although 2015 saw her add to an incredible sporting legacy, her return to Indian Wells may have been the most significant moment. Considering that the event marked one of the first milestones in her career (defeating Steffi Graf there in 1999), it helped bring closure to a sullen chapter in an otherwise superlative career.

Having last appeared at the event in 2001, it proved to be a difficult moment in her career. With accusations by a player (who later apologized) at the event that her father, Richard, decided matches between Serena and her older sister, Venus, it led to a firestorm of controversy as the two were scheduled to face each other in the semifinals.

After Venus was forced to withdraw from the match due to injury, the crowd booed, resulting in harsh criticism by some in the press. The booing would continue in the finals as Serena faced Kim Clijsters. In the aftermath, she made the visceral yet courageous decision to boycott the event, which displayed a show of support for her older sister, only strengthening an already unbreakable bond.

Throughout her career, she has challenged perceptions and stereotypes about athletes, body image (even appearing nude from behind in the final issue of Jane magazine) and raised the bar for the impact that visible minorities can have in sport as more than just leaders, but individuals capable of making positive change. Along with Venus, they would become the first female African-American owners of an NFL team, purchasing a stake in the Miami Dolphins.

In the process, she has proven to be an empowering role model for women of all sizes, ages and backgrounds, while establishing herself as one of the most famous female athletes (and women) in the world. Despite being 34 years of age, Williams shows no signs of slowing down, possibly setting a new standard on Grand Slam victories before her career reaches its twilight.

Everyone wins at Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival

In a year that saw Caroline Ouellette become the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer, followed by a final yet inspiring appearance with Canada’s national women’s team in Malmo, Sweden, such a memorable 2015 has culminated with the second annual Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival. Its success was quickly assured with a remarkable doubling in the number of registered players.

Held at Le Centre Etienne-Desmarteau, home of the CWHL’s Canadiennes de Montreal, the significant increase in registered players resulted in the need to use two rinks at the centre. Having also participated in the first annual Festival, Canadiennes captain Cathy Chartrand quickly noticed the increase in participants this year.

Chartrand’s presence does more than just set a strong standard of leadership, testament to her captaincy with Les Canadiennes. From also competing with the nationally renowned McGill Martlets and the Canadian national women’s team, an exceptional competitor such as Chartrand embodies the love of the game, which sends a positive message to the young girls in attendance at the Festival.


“Compared to last year, there are so many more girls that have registered. It has roughly doubled. We had to use two rinks at the arena here as there was not enough ice time for just one rink.

At this level, the majority of us who continue to play with Les Canadiennes are passionate and even more passionate because of the sport. This event is a chance to pass it forward. When we were kids, we did not have the chance to participate in these kinds of events.”

Teamwork was definitely a defining factor at the Festival, as several members of Les Canadiennes graciously donated their time to participate as instructors, on and off the ice. Such dedication was not lost on Ouellette, who was very proud of their efforts,

“I am so thankful. I do not know how to thank them. During the on-ice skill sessions, there were eight of us on the ice. Mostly members of Les Canadiennes but we also had a few college players included. I was so proud to see the players demonstrate their skills to the young girls.

Many of these young girls had never seen such skills on the ice. For them to see that it was successful female hockey players showing them was important. They are at an age where they are still building their dreams.”


Adding to the Festival’s impact was the presence of younger players from Les Canadiennes as instructors, displaying that the franchise’s future is in good hands. Among them were the likes of Katia Clement-Heydra and Cassandra Dupuis, two exceptional examples of local players that have realized their hockey dreams.

Despite both being rivals at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Clement-Heydra with the McGill Martlets and Dupuis with Les Carabins de Montreal, even playing against each other in the gold medal game at the CIS Nationals, the two are unified in the collaborative goal of bringing Les Canadiennes its first Clarkson Cup championship since 2012.

Both under the age of 25, the two have seen the game experience unprecedented growth in the last decade. While there remain many more opportunities to reach newer heights, the two understand that fostering a positive future is just as important for the young players to absorb as the glories on the ice.

“To see the young players and see how talented they are, they are amazing. After the on-ice practices, to see their smiles, it is fantastic. To see the game evolve year after year is due to the chance to practice,” remarked Dupuis.

The first round pick of Les Canadiennes in the 2015 CWHL Draft, Katia Clement-Heydra is not only a former winner of the Brodrick Trophy, recognizing the best player in CIS women’s ice hockey, she was recently named to the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game. Possessing great potential, her outlook on the game is one that is very positive, observing the bigger picture and the great possibilities that it entails.


“It is good to give back. To see these girls here and how we can make a difference in their lives. You never know when you can spark that little girls’ passion for the game. Sometimes, just being around them makes a difference.

During the on-ice practices, we enjoyed teaching them and giving them some of our knowledge. To be able to show them, and then see them do it afterwards, it is the most enjoyable part.”

Such sentiments were reciprocated by Ouellette’s teammates. Among them was Charline Labonte, one of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation, male or female. Having played with Ouellette for over a decade on the Canadian national team, she is more than just a teammate, but a friend, one that is proud to participate in such an event,

“Certainly, I was proud to help. Caro is one of my best friends and we have always been teammates, especially for a very long time on the Canadian team. What she does for women’s hockey in Quebec, no one is more dedicated. I like to help out as much as possible. She has established a fantastic experience which cannot be compared.

Another teammate that has experienced glories with Ouellette on both the Canadian national team and the CWHL level is Marie-Philip Poulin. From capturing the first Clarkson Cup to a pair of Winter Games gold medals, Ouellette was an extremely positive influence in those formative years.

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Already a hockey immortal, with a legacy that is entrenched in the hearts and minds of Canadian hockey fans, Poulin retains a remarkable perspective. Blossoming into an exceptional leader with strong maturity, she has found inspiration in Ouellette’s leadership and kindness.

The result is one where Poulin carries the torch with a sense of pride and importance. The chance to donate her time and participate in Ouellette’s Hockey Festival is a chance to reciprocate the appreciation and admiration of fans and teammates alike, setting a positive example. In addition, Poulin’s enjoyment and fulfillment from participating in such an environment emphasizes to the younger players that the key value for the game is fun.

“It is fantastic to be able to share in this great event. When you see how the kids have their eyes wide-opened, nothing is better than that.

This is an important event as we all want to see women’s hockey grow in Quebec. If we can give the next generation a great start with this event, it will be helpful.”

Along with Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau was a teenage phenom who helped the former Montreal Stars capture the inaugural Clarkson Cup in 2009. After an exceptional career with Cornell University and a Winter Games gold medal in 2014, Rougeau has blossomed into more than just the future of Les Canadiennes, but a fine example of the game’s growth.

Surrounded by teammates from Les Canadiennes not only made the event so much more enjoyable, but it helped to reinforce the feeling of friendship and support, as the primary objective was fun. Considering that Rougeau was also part of the inaugural Festival in 2014, the chance to give back to the game is one that she cherished, working towards creating a positive experience for the young players on the ice.

“It was great. We did not use to have these kinds of tournaments when we were girls. To watch them play and have fun, get an opportunity to practice with Olympians, was great to see. To share this time with young girls, some who may dream to be future stars with the Canadian national team, it starts here. It is all about giving back.”

Having won two Clarkson Cups with Ouellette (and appeared in four finals overall), Emmanuelle Blais is in awe of her teammate and her remarkable contributions. Both alumnae of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the two have also given back to the game as coaches. Of note, Blais volunteered in seasons past as a coach with the famed Dawson College. Her reflections truly place the event in a glorious perspective, hopefully setting the stage for an even more exciting event next year.

“She has been working all year long for this to happen. It is fun to see this event give little girls a chance to try the game for the first time. Caro is the type of person you want as a friend and as a teammate. She has such a big heart and she is always giving back. She knows where she was once and her support in this game is huge.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Mark Staffieri