Legacy of OVWHBL intertwined with Canada’s golden glories at ISBHF Masters

Originally published through ISBHF

Since the inception of elite female competition at the ISBHF World Championships, Canada has emerged as one of the premier countries, enjoying a podium finish in each event. Such consistency has also extended to Masters play, where the highly successful Canadian contingent has captured the first three gold medals in the event’s history, including the most recent, at the 2018 edition of the tournament in Bermuda.

Throughout this splendid chronicle, a unique linkage has enhanced the Canadian presence in both ISBHF World Championship and Masters competition. Boasting some of the best ball hockey talent to have emerged over the last decade, the Ottawa-Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL) has provided a seemingly endless supply of competition that have worn the Maple Leaf, representing a significant hallmark in its heritage.

Consistently producing a roster of elite talent that is among the top teams at the annual CBHA Nationals, the legacy of said teams assembled by the OVWBHL, whether it be the nomenclature of Ottawa Capitals, Ottawa Rebels or the Vanier Mooseheads, is part of a profound sequence of events, woven together into a brilliant tale of athletic magnitude. One that has seen an astounding number of its players represent Canada on the international stage.

The presence of the OVWBHL was most evident on Canada’s roster for the 2018 Masters. From the outset, Mandi Duhamel and Érika Pouliot, league veterans and alumnae of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey program served on the coaching staff. Originally appointed to Team Canada as head coach, signifying Duhamel’s second consecutive stint in this capacity, commitment to her team took on the unforeseen yet inspiring role of an emergency player, racking up a solid four points, supplying leadership and competitive acumen.

With Pouliot assuming her duties, serving as acting head coach, the victorious results remained the same, as Canada rolled on, advancing to the gold medal game. As a side note, she once competed for Canada, capturing a gold medal at the 2013 edition of the ISBHF Worlds. Taking into account that several of the OVWBHL players on Canada’s roster called Pouliot a teammate in seasons past, most notably at the 2015 Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) Nationals in a bronze medal outcome, her experience in big games was an essential asset in Bermuda.

“It was nice to represent Canada with some Ottawa local friends. The women’s ball hockey community is a small world and it was definitely fun to travel and shared that experience with my Ottawa friends. I am also lucky to have met the rest of the team who are all amazing people that I will keep contact with. I missed them all already!”

Undeniably, star players from the OVWBHL emerged as key contributors in the golden effort, just as essential in Canada’s success as Duhamel and Pouliot. An alum of Canada’s gold medal roster from the 2007 ISBHF Worlds, Isabelle Aubé continued to display her superlative skills, amassing six points en route to the Most Valuable Player Award.

Having called Aubé a long-time teammate at the OVWBHL level, donning the jersey of the Rebels squad, Stephanie Brunette-D’Souza proved to be just as efficient on the offense. With five points, there was also some synergy between the two, with Aubé earning assists on both of Brunette-D’Souza’s goals in tournament play.

Reflecting on her reaction upon the revelation that she was among numerous ladies from the OVWBHL that earned roster spots, it served to bring a heightened awareness of what it meant to hone her skills in the league along such world-class competitors, a label that was now fitting for her as well,

“I actually first learned about the Team Canada Masters team from my Ottawa teammate Isabelle Aubé. She is the one that encouraged me to apply for the team. So, when I found out I made it I contacted her immediately and shared my news! She had obviously also made the team so we were both ecstatic!

Then, I found out Nat and Kendra (Antony) were also successful. It was amazing to share this feeling over overwhelming joy with others close by! Sharing the emotion with others on social media is great, but sharing it face to face is a whole lot better. I was not only happy for myself but I was extremely proud of my fellow teammates (and Ottawa opponents), for which I have a lot of respect for as people and athletes!”

Despite Kendra Antony being unable to compete at the 2018 Masters, which would have meant four Ottawans on the roster, she still maintains a key connection. Along with Danika Smith, an alum of the Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey program, and a gold medalist at the 2013 ISBHF World Championships, they were part of Duhamel’s coaching staff in a winning effort in Banff, Alberta, site of the 2016 Masters. In addition to the aforementioned, Aubé, Brunette-D’Souza and Girouard were part of Canada’s roster in 2016.

Irrefutably, Girouard embodies the captivating connection between the ISBHF and OVWBHL, representing what is great about the league and the game. Holding an exceptional place in the unfolding history of modern female ball hockey, her domestic legacy involves the CBHA National Championship plus the honor of the Sarah Butterworth Memorial Award. Such excellent skills have also allowed her to excel internationally at the ISBHF Worlds and the Masters, winning gold in both events, respectively.

Among the longest serving, and most accomplished, players in the OVWBHL, Girouard displayed a tremendous consistency and reliability in Bermuda, emerging with an undefeated mark, complemented by Player of the Game recognition in the Gold Medal Game. Holding an esteemed place in the event’s unfolding legacy, as evidenced by her three gold medals, the achievement enhances a charismatic career including a collection of podium finishes at the ISBHF Worlds.

While the thrill of wearing the Maple Leaf remains a strong point of pride, her efforts have proven crucial to Canada’s success in Master’s play, a steadfast example of continuity. Commenting how the linkage to league and city alike enhances the jubilation of winning, adding a localized touch to an excellent gathering of ball hockey talent,

“It is always fun to play with these girls that I also call my friends. I am used to competing against them, so it is always an amazing experience to bring those strengths together and compete at an international level. Also two players on the men’s team are from Ottawa and so it was great to be able to share the winning experience with them.”

In addition to the aforementioned, notable names from the OVWBHL that have graced the slab internationally for Canada include the likes of Alicia Blomberg, Fannie Desforges, Elysia Desmiers, Jessica O’Grady, Jamie Lee Rattray and Danika Smith, just a fraction of such select competitors from Canada’s Capital Region that read like a who’s who of female ball hockey. Enhancing the league’s legacy is the fact that alumnae such as Melissa Boufounos plus Samantha Delenardo and Annalisa Mazzarello have also suited up for the likes of Greece and Italy in past ISBHF Worlds.

Worth noting, there is also a distinct and reciprocal element in the OVWBHL’s growing lore. Sara Seiler, who donned the jersey of her native Germany for women’s ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Games, is among the world-class women that have competed on the intense slab of the league, completing her legacy in Canada’s capital region as a prominent university ice hockey competitor.

Throughout this fascinating evolution, the pioneering presence of Shelley Callaghan furthered its impactful influence; involved in key leadership roles as the former President of the OVWBHL, and later, the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation (OBHF) and the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA). As her integral ascent to prominence has run parallel with Canada’s standing as a revered ball hockey power, it was somewhat fitting that she was among the participants at the 2018 edition of the ISBHF Masters.

Such an event also allowed for a compelling connection, bringing the career of Callaghan full-circle, while enhancing another. Having played in the OVWBHL for nearly two decades, the highly talented Girouard, whose legacy has transcended generations, has called Callaghan both teammate and coach with the Vanier Mooseheads. Among their highlights with the club, one of their most cherished involved the gold medal at the 2014 CBHA Nationals, affirming their status as contemporaries in Canadian ball hockey.

Girouard’s journey towards her third consecutive Masters gold medal was certainly not without circumstance. Taking into account that the 2018 Masters resulted in two different Canadian rosters competing, the other hailing from New Tecumseth, Ontario, known by the sobriquet X-Treme, Girouard became an emergency replacement for this second entry.

While switching allegiances for one contest was surely a surreal experience, the most enduring aspect involved the treasured chance to call Callaghan a teammate once again. Rekindling both local and national glories as members of the Mooseheads, it was among a series of unique moments during competition in Bermuda.

“The locals were very friendly; the venue was incredible, the organizing committee and all the volunteers did an amazing job at keeping things rolling smoothly. Having a cool down by walking to the beach was swimming as a team in an unbelievable setting.
Having to dress for the other Canadian team (their goalie could not finish the game due to an injury) and reuniting as teammates with my best friend and forever Mooseheads Shelley Callaghan. Reuniting with my roommates, my family away from home. PLAYING BALL HOCKEY IN BERMUDA!”

Of note, Girouard shares the rare distinction of gold medals in both ISBHF World Championship and Masters play with Aubé. Fittingly, this duo enjoyed a significant haul of hockey hardware in Bermuda. While Aubé garnered MVP nods, Girouard earned recognition as the Most Outstanding Goaltender. Worth noting, along with British Columbia’s Silvia Traversa, they were part of a unique sorority of competitors that held roster spots on both Canada’s bronze medal team at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds, plus the gold medallist squad from the most recent Masters in Bermuda.

Statistically, Aubé was one of Canada’s leading scorers, providing an integral presence towards the path for gold. Tied for fifth with USA Blue’s Karen Levin in tournament scoring, each racking up a pair of goals, plus four assists for six points, she assembled a solid pair of multi-point performances.

During Canada’s victory against New Tecumseth X-Treme, the second Canadian-based team on-hand in Bermuda, Aubé registered two assists in an 8-1 victory. With a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win versus Team USA Red, there was a strong sense of emotion for the eventual tournament MVP.

Gaining the assist on the first goal of game, which Brunette D’Souza scored, it brought the feeling of representing Ottawa full-circle. Representing a proud achievement for Aubé, she displayed admirable leadership by encouraging Brunette D’Souza, a vaunted teammate in the OVWBHL to try out for the national team. Upon the revolution that she had qualified for the Canadian roster, there was an incredible feeling of pride for Aubé,

“Of course. BD is a very talented player and an even better person! She brings so much to the game on the slab and even more away from the rink! A class act individual that I would always want on my team!”

Suitably, the assembly of talent from Ottawa brought a combination of relevance and astuteness to Canada’s roster, creating an opportunity to thrive in another international scenario. Through the accumulation of success and triumph, the reputation of the OVWBHL in supplying talent of such prominence is truly immaculate.

While the game continues to grow on both of Canada’s coasts, with elite talent emerging from as far east as Newfoundland, while the province of Alberta mirrors its ice hockey brethren, producing a growing number of ball hockey superstars, the OVWBHL was the template upon which all others have evolved.

For Girouard, one of the beacons from a generation of impeccable achievers from the OVWBHL, simultaneously serving as a role model for teammates, locally and nationally, her series of achievements have enabled her to become one the game’s most decorated Canadian female goaltenders.

Reflecting on the most recent international experience, one akin to so many other events that Girouard has been part of, the 2018 Masters illustrated how the necessity to become acquainted quickly, while maintaining the values of collaboration and work ethic creates both chemistry and heart, are the most crucial elements in creating a tournament-winning team. While winning is certainly synonymous with Girouard, the return home from continued glories is a continued reminder of both, what and why, she plays for, a key chapter in a spectacular narrative of OVWBHL hockey that constitutes a greatness applicable to both civic and national pride.

“Oddly enough, in the big picture, I think winning as a National team makes the immediate winning experience so much more special than winning with my Ottawa teammates. When you have not met all your teammates until you get off the plane and arrive at the tournament you literally start from zero and have a few days to connect, create relationships that will allow you to mesh on and off the slab.

The fact that 19 people from across our nation can rally together and bring home the gold medal is such a special feeling. I feel like we won in all spheres of sports and sportsmanship! We bonded on and off the slab! We rose together when it was time because we all had the same goal in mind: win!

However, after it is all said and done and we are back in Ottawa, I do think it is special to be able to continue riding the high a little longer with my Ottawa teammates. It is definitely awesome to see that our city is creating great ball hockey players!”

”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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