Aurora Games adds new element to international competition

In the midst of a tumultuous time for women’s ice hockey, an opportunity to celebrate the game, rather than mourn what has been lost emerged as a key theme at the Aurora Games, a premier event which helped launch the 2019-20 Women’s Ice Hockey season with a feeling of empowerment, standing as a focal point towards an exciting new future.

Hosted in Albany, New York, the raison d’etre for the Games is to recognize and celebrate women in sport. Built with the similar bravura of the Goodwill Games from the 1990s, the statement about sportsmanship was a rather powerful one. Featuring an Athletic Advisory Board consisting of a who’s who in women’s sport, there was also a proud ice hockey influence, as Digit Murphy and Kelli Stack both left an indelible mark on the game.

Murphy, whose hockey resume includes 300 wins at the NCAA level with the Ivy League’s Brown Bears, along with a pair of Clarkson Cup championship wins, also took on the head coaching duties at the Games. Stack, a two-time silver medalist in the Winter Games and one of the greatest players in Boston College Eagles history, played for Murphy twice at the CWHL level.

With the Boston Blades, capturing a Clarkson Cup title, Murphy and Stack were also part of the Kunlun Red Star’s expansion season, where Stack enjoyed the feat of becoming the first American-born player to be recognized as the CWHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Although Stack would not play at the Games, a handful of Red Star alumnae, including Zoe Hickel, Jessica Wong and Madison (Maddie) Woo were on-hand. Worth noting, Hickel, would be part of a rare sorority in CWHL history, appearing in consecutive Clarkson Cup Finals with different teams.

Part of the Red Star squad that qualified for the 2018 edition of the Finals, Hickel would sign with the Calgary Inferno in the following off-season. On a roster, which featured former Boston Pride teammates Kacey Bellamy and Brianna Decker, Hickel enjoyed the chance to win a second championship alongside them. Having won the Isobel Cup in 2016 with the Pride, this trio would hoist the Clarkson Cup in 2019, marking a notable first for Hickel.

Adding the prestige of the Aurora Games to her celebrated career, Hickel was competing for Team Americas. As the competition consisting of six events, athletes were divided into Team Americas and Team World, the assembly of world-class talent saw an astounding 15 countries represented. Competing for the Babe Didrickson Zaharias Trophy, as each event represented a number of points, Team Americas would enjoy the first Trophy win.

From a hockey perspective, in addition to the talent from Canada and the United States, players from Czech Republic, Finland, Japan and Russia also participated, although the feeling of home ice advantage for one particular player.

Raised in New York State, where she starred between the pipes for the Clarkson Golden Knights in the Upstate community of Potsdam, the privilege of competing in Albany for Lauren Dahm rekindled fond feelings of her formative years in the game.

Having also enjoyed three professional seasons with the Boston/Worcester Blades of the CWHL, where fans were enamoured with her remarkable work ethic, constantly among the league leaders in saves made and shots faced, the Games served as a validation of Dahm’s tireless efforts.

For a Finnish team that captured the silver medal at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, becoming the first European nation to attain this pinnacle, the Games allowed an extension of this euphoric run for a handful of its players.

Among them was Venla Hovi, whose collection of hockey hardware includes a Canadian university championship with the Manitoba Bisons, plus a Clarkson Cup title with the Calgary Inferno. Having also played collegiately with the Niagara Purple Eagles in the United States, Hovi is definitely a well-travelled hockey citizen.

With the prospect of the Games becoming a bi-annual event, with plans underway for 2021 and 2023, the inaugural edition of the Games enjoyed significant coverage as EspnW provided a highly important credibility.

Zoe Hickel

The evolution of the Aurora Games…

“Digit and I worked together a lot since it was in the making a few years ago… we stayed in touch and when the time came we worked together to get a unique group of amazing women to be apart of this inaugural event! I was honored she wanted me involved and to see how it all came together was pretty special.”

Reflecting on the impact of the Games …

“Looking back on the Games, I would have to say my favorite part was being on the ice with so many of my teammates I have shared so many different memories with from over the years.

It seemed like the group really jelled and with such a range of backgrounds, it was amazing to see how much fun everyone had together. It was like being back at hockey camp with all you’re buddies, but this time making a difference for women in a powerful environment”

Venla Hovi

Taking on a leadership role for Team World at the Aurora Games…

“I embraced that role and was really humbled to captain team World. I knew I was one of the older and more experienced players on the team. It makes it really special knowing the amount of talent and good people on the team,and they’re all leaders on their national teams,which made my role very easy.”

The unique first in her career of calling players from Japan, Russia and Czech Republic as teammates…

“This was the most exciting part in my opinion; Having played against those girls for so many years, it was so much fun getting to know them a little bit more and the skill coming from Europe and Japan as well is undeniable. Such a great experience having players on the same team from so many different countries.”

Maddie Woo

Discussing the reaction of being given an opportunity to participate…

“I was certainly excited when approached about the Aurora Games – it was a unique opportunity to take part in something that had never been done before in the women’s sports space. It was a great opportunity to add to the conversation of women in sports, and be at the vanguard of competition and celebration and positive change.

Being able to act as an accessible role model alongside the rest of the athletes involved to empower the younger generation and inspire them is certainly something else to come out of the experience, and something I was very honored to take part in.”

On the thrill of playing for Team World alongside numerous other international stars…

“It was really fun to represent Team World and to play alongside elite, international hockey players. Not only were the players really competitive on ice, they were also just genuine, kind people off-ice. Despite being from all corners of the world and some language barriers at times, we definitely had some laughs and and made memories.”

Lauren Dahm

Reflecting on the privilege to play with numerous Olympians on Team Americas…

“Getting to play with everyone on Team Americas was incredible. Going into the week I knew who mostly everyone was, but only from playing against them. It was really cool how by the end of the week we knew each other so much better and were sad to be saying goodbye after such a short but amazing week together.

That was a special group since it was the inaugural Aurora Games and the energy the entire week was incredible in that we knew what was taking place that week in Albany had such huge meaning.”

On playing for iconic coach Digit Murphy for the first time,

“Digit was really fun to play for, especially in this type of event. She had us laughing in the locker room, made so much of it about the kids who we were interacting with every day, but still made sure we knew it was about us and female athletes too.

She has been an absolute trailblazer for women’s sports and has dedicated so much to progress our sport and others. We owe it to her and the other legendary women who were at the Aurora Games (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Donna De Varona,etc) to keep fighting and paving the way for a better future for female athletes.”

Discussing the fact that the Aurora Games took place in her home state….

“I loved that the Games took place in my home state! It was closer to home than anywhere I’ve played in the last couple years so some friends and family were able to come watch. It is actually very cool and significant that this all-female, multisport festival took place in Albany.

If we think back to the women’s suffrage movement, those women wanted women to get the right to vote nationwide, but they knew their first step would be to get NYS to pass the law and hopefully that would lead to a nationwide change. Not too far off is the mission of the Aurora Games and time will tell if it spreads like the movement in the 1800s did.

Give women the platform and treat them as true professionals, and watch what happens! We are seeing it constantly with women’s soccer, ncaa softball, and even the PWHPA. Showcase our sports in ways that are worthy of the talent that is out on the field and you’d be amazed at what can happen.

Overall, it was beyond incredible and meant so much to me to be part of the first Aurora Games and it is awesome to see it will be back in Albany for at least the next 2 cycles. The city wanted us female athletes and the Games to come to Albany and the way they treated us showed us they were honored we chose Albany!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Becky Dobson a shining beacon for Team USA at ISBHF Worlds

Originally published by the ISBHF

For an American team looking to build on the momentum of a highly successful and unprecedented run to the gold medal game of the 2017 ISBHF World Championships, elite scorer and highly skilled playmaker Becky Dobson comprised an integral component in such objectives. Among a bright and exciting generation of young competitors for the squad, Dobson, who grew up in Pennsylvania, competing on the ice with West Chester University, capturing an ACHA National Championship, now represents the potential of the US to become firmly entrenched as a women’s ball hockey power.

Ascending to the status of an All-World superstar at the 2019 edition of the Worlds, contested in Kosice, Slovakia, Dobson, who was recognized as the tournament’s Best Forward, already holds a treasured place in American ball hockey lore, as she scored the game-winning tally that defeated Canada for the first time back in 2017. That win also holds legendary connotations as it allowed the US to advance to their first-ever gold medal game. In that same year, Dobson cemented her status as a prime time player by capturing Tournament MVP honors at the North American Ball Hockey Championships with the Atlantic Crush.

Photo credit: Terry Milby

The outcome of the 2019 Worlds held dual joys for Dobson, contributing towards the US gaining another podium finish, finished as Team USA’s leading scorer. Amassing five points, on the strength of three goals, ranking tenth overall in tournament scoring, it marked an upward progression for Dobson, who continues to reach new heights with each successive event. Reflecting on such scoring proficiency, it is her humility that rises to the surface, quick to acknowledge that her accomplishments were equally attributed to the others that wore the Stars and Stripes in Kosice, symbolic of the culture of solidarity that defined the team,

“I did not even realize I was…that is pretty cool, but it was a total team effort all tournament long. Everyone contributed whether or not their name appeared on the scoresheet, and that is what made us so successful. No one cared about individual points or who was scoring, we all just wanted to win together as a unit and it showed on and off the court.”

Among the milestones that Dobson experienced, perhaps the most satisfying was the opportunity to serve as an alternate captain. Taking into account that all players were part of the process in selecting the team’s captains, the result was a tremendous display of respect bestowed upon her.

Accepting the honor with pride, the opportunity motivated her to expand her role, adopting the dual role of both, team leader and offensive catalyst, signifying a key growth in her evolution as a member of Team USA. Revered for constantly displaying leadership through her work ethic and solid effort on the slab, the addition of an A to her jersey brought about new perspective. Employing tremendous maturity and acumen, Dobson discussed how she became more assertive in the capacity of being vocal, a key aspect for any player in the role of captaincy,

“I was voted as an assistant captain by my teammates and I think I really appreciated and embraced that role. I am more of a lead by example player with how I play on the court, always trying to give 100% effort and motivate my teammates with how I play; but I think this time around I made it a point to be more vocal in the locker room too.”

Undeniably, Dobson’s efforts were essential in the United States returning to the gold medal game for the second straight tournament. Although the consecutive result of silver was not the desired outcome, many key positives took on symbolic victories. From the outset, the US proved that luck was certainly not an element in their remarkable run from 2017. Instead, it served as a paradigm shift, altering the game’s balance of power.

Qualifying for the medal round was clearly a key goal for Dobson and her teammates. Knowing that they defeated their eternal rivals from Canada in the previous Worlds, the sentiment of a golden outcome was within reach. Building on the empowering experiences of 2017, Dobson observed that the team definitely brought confidence heading into Kosice,

“Definitely, we had been there before and knew we could get there again. When we beat Czech Republic in the round robin, we knew then, that we could beat every team at the tournament because we beat Canada in ’17 for the first time. The entire team had confidence in one another and trusted their teammates to always give all that they had. Unfortunately, we were not able to beat Canada this time around, but it certainly was not due to a lack of confidence or effort.”

As Team USA ponders the potential in the decade to come, they definitely have a gem in Dobson. Employing skill, tenacity and a tremendous love of the game, it has made her the kind of player that ball hockey fans the world over can appreciate.

Certainly, that appreciation is reciprocal. Enjoying the opportunity to wear the USA jersey abroad, it has transformed Dobson into an ambassador for the game. Reflecting on her latest experience, her enthusiasm shines through, simultaneously recognizing the heroic efforts of one of her seasoned teammates, scoring a landmark goal against the host country, providing the US with another monumental milestone to add to its expanding lore.

With the emergence of superstars like Dobson, the future of women’s ball hockey in America holds limitless potential, while adding another element to both, the quality of play, and the intensity of the rivalries, in ISBHF tournament play.

“The entire experience was amazing. One moment that definitely stands out is when Karen Levin scored in OT against Slovakia in a must-win game to set us up for the gold medal game. It was nerve-wracking and awesome; and I could not have wished for a better player and person to score that goal.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”