Sion Ormond makes brave stand for Canadian Artistic Swimmers


Four members of Canada’s artistic swimming team, training in Montreal, are speaking out about what they call a toxic environment.

Last month, allegations of abuse and harassment from swimmers and people outside the program led to the shutdown of the senior national artistic swimming team’s training centre, pending a review by an external firm.

Due to their fear of reprisals, Radio-Canada has agreed to protect the swimmers’ identities and to refer to them as Caroline, Sarah, Patricia and Rose.

“It’s been going on for too long within that organization,” said Caroline. “There is a toxic environment in artistic swimming.”

According to the swimmers, the alleged incident that sparked last month’s shutdown was troubling to several athletes.

During a conversation with team members, head coach Gabor Szauder is said to have made what were qualified as racist and hateful remarks.

“He was talking about what’s happening in China, the Black Lives Matter movement and Muslim people,” said Rose.

“He said all Muslims were extremists,” said Patricia. “And then he added: ‘When is the last time you saw a white person crash a plane?'”

When one of the swimmers confronted him about the comment, Szauder allegedly became verbally aggressive.

“He answered: ‘This is a free country. I can say whatever I want. Who are you to tell me what hate speech is? Are you God?'”

Verbal abuse

Another swimmer, Sion Ormond, isn’t surprised by these events. She says she retired two months ago because, amongst other reasons, the atmosphere at the training centre had become unbearable.

“The abuse that I witnessed regularly at the pool — It was just something that I did not want to be a part of anymore,” she said.

Ormond claims she and some of her teammates were victims of verbal abuse last year in China, during a competition.

“He said that if we kept swimming like that, he would hit us so hard, we wouldn’t know what happened,” she added.

Those comments were allegedly addressed to substitutes with the entire team present after a pre-competition warm-up deemed inadequate by the head coach.

“Maybe it was like ten minutes before our competition swim,” said Rose. “And there were various adults who were there that witnessed what was said.”

The coach apparently explained his comments after the fact, but the swimmers say they were not satisfied.

“He just said that we all misunderstood what he had said and that he was going to hit us really hard with a hard workout,” explained Patricia.

Screams and tears

According to the swimmers, Szauder would often zero in on one athlete to pick on.

Patricia recalls one incident in Hawaii during training camp.

“There was a girl that was publicly shamed for her weight, in front of the whole team. The staff was there. It was made clear to us that she was being publicly shamed. He verbalized that to us,” said Patricia.

“I felt sick listening to the conversation,” Rose said. “It was a really inappropriate way to handle that type of subject.”

Ultimately, the swimmers say these types of incidents became a burden, affecting the mood at the centre. They say Szauder is prone to mood swings and can get carried away, causing tears and anxiety.

“There’s been times when he’s yelled at girls to the point that they have panic attacks in the pool, in the gym,” Patricia said.

“And then he will continue to yell at them and harass them and swear at them. He will call them babies and tell them to stop crying, to compose themselves.”

The coach is also alleged to have made sexist comments on more than one occasion.

“He told us that girls should learn how to cook and clean, to take care of our men, or else they won’t want us,” Sarah said. “And that was all men looked for in a woman.”

They also say Szauder made comments of a sexual nature.

Ormond recalls one incident that took place in Prince George, B.C..

“He said: ‘Sion, zip up your hoodie before I get too excited,” Ormond said. “It was in front of multiple athletes. This is a 47-year-old man.”

Ormond is emotional as she recounts what happened. She claims she only found the courage to tell her parents about it after her retirement.

“I knew how inappropriate that comment was, that it never should’ve been said and I was scared,” she said. “I was afraid of what my dad would either say or do. I was afraid he would get involved and I would be perceived as a troublemaker.”

Fingers pointed at Canada Artistic Swimming

The four swimmers are critical of Canada Artistic Swimming for not taking the situation seriously enough, when incidents were reported.

Caroline says she often heard the same thing.

“We were constantly told: ‘You know, he comes from Eastern Europe.'”

“They would often meet with us after the fact to tell us we weren’t resilient enough and could not deal with anxiety and stress in training situations,” said Patricia. “It only made us more and more fearful to report it.”

Canada Artistic Swimming declined Radio-Canada Sports’ interview requests, citing the ongoing review that is being carried out by an outside firm.

In a written statement, coach Szauder denied the allegations. He says he is confident that the report will ultimately negate any sort of misconduct on his part.

The four swimmers say if nothing changes, they will seriously consider following Ormond’s lead and retiring — with the next Olympic Games less than a year away.

The Hawk flies with hockey-themed podcast

With one of the current trends in sport being the significant growth in podcasts, filling a gap caused by a pandemic, it has provided opportunity for an exciting new chapter among one of the most esteemed builders in women’s ice hockey. Having worked towards establishing itself as a brand, from its number of “Ambassadors” to establishing an Academy, the Women’s Hockey Life podcast, part of The Hockey News series of podcats, represents the next step in its evolution.
Taking the lead for this new initiative is WHL founder Jaclyn Hawkins, former player in the collegiate and professional ranks, along with a return to her alma mater, the University of Connecticut, as an assistant coach. Serving as host, one of the key elements is the fact that the tone of the podcasts comes across as friendly yet informal, as if the viewer/listener was part of the conversation.

The Role I Played by Sami Jo Small represents a portrait in resiliency

Revered as an accomplished athlete, articulate public speaker, and inspiring leader, Sami Jo Small has now added the title of author to an already impressive repertoire. Published by Toronto’s ECW Press, The Role I Played goes beyond chronicling a decade spent with one of the most dominant teams in both, Canadian sporting, and international hockey, history.

A compelling account that displays a highly profound human element, Small’s memoir consists of a compelling sincerity, balanced by a sometimes, visceral tone. Providing a fascinating glimpse into the sacrifices made, and the tremendous physical and emotional toll that the pursuit towards glory encompasses, elements of pathos and paradox are just as prevalent as the glorious achievements.

Adding substance to the achievements of being a three-time Olympian and proud owner of five IIHF Women’s World Championships, Small simultaneously helps to fill an important gap in sports literature. Certainly, a topic that deserves more pages dedicated to it, the number of books on women’s ice hockey is slowly expanding as Small’s memoir joins a celebrated bookshelf that includes works highlighting past teammates. Among them includes HEART by Cassie Campbell and Lorna Schultz-Nicholson, Angela James: The First Superstar of Canadian Women’s Hockey, plus Hayley Wickenheiser’s Gold Medal Diary: Inside the World’s Greatest Sports Event.

The Role I PlayedRecently, the game has enjoyed two other works. The acclaimed Offside, by Rhonda Leeman Taylor, chronicling her lifetime of service to the game, highlighted by her instrumental efforts in making the inaugural Canadian women’s national championships a reality in 1982. Coincidentally, Small would play at the Nationals numerous times in her own accomplished career, hoisting the Abby Hoffman Cup.

Released in 2019, Bob McKenzie’s Everyday Hockey Heroes, Volume II features essays by accomplished referee Katie Guay, Jessica Platt, a teammate of Small on the Toronto Furies, plus Daniele Sauvageau, the coach for Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. Such contributions are highly essential for the sport’s legacy to have the lives of its heroes chronicled.

While the concept for The Role I Played was one several years in the making, the process towards the finished product reached an understandable stoppage as Small became a mom. Also juggling responsibilities as a public speaker, while eventually returning to the roster of the Toronto Furies, emerging as a highly dependable back-up, making history as the oldest goaltender to win a regular season game in CWHL history, remaining an impact player when needed, a series of transitions would see her bring pen back to paper. With her daughter attending kindergarten, a significant milestone for any child, while the last season of CWHL hockey saw Small do an admirable job as General Manager, the focus towards finishing her memoir resulted in more than a fait accompli or another proud milestone in a tremendous career.

Upon seeing the radiant red cover, highly visible on bookstore shelves, also holding a proud place in the library of her former high school, Small found a remarkable fulfillment. Although she was apologetic in her introduction, very tactful in the realization that some individuals may be portrayed as antagonistic, she also makes a very important point that the role she did play in such a dynastic time was one that is based in appreciation, recognizing that the players positively impacted each other.

“I am not sure if it has really hit me that I am a published author. I worked for so long on the manuscript, but there was never really one day that made it all real. Especially given the current state of the world, I have been doing my “Book Tour” virtually so not being able to see the end reader has been strange.

However, I think moments that stick with me are when I submitted my final manuscript for publication, seeing my cover for the first time, having the finished product arrive at my house, seeing it in bookstores and then ultimately, hearing from people who have read the book.

All these were momentous moments, but not a crescendo like what happens in sports. There is a final game, a big moment or tournament. With a book, it feels more like a marathon, with new and exciting moments happening all the time.”

Having first graced the ice at the tender age of five in her hometown of Winnipeg, quickly identified as “the girl who played hockey”, having to occasionally tolerate abhorrent and insensitive remarks, Small persevered, excelling in multiple sports. Becoming a two-sport star, Small gained a track and field scholarship to prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Participating in events such as discus and javelin, Small enjoyed a place between the pipes on the men’s club team. As many of Small’s athletic experiences from her youth constitute an integral facet of the memoir, it would have been interesting for the reader had there been more detail about Stanford. Equally impressive, Small displayed a highly cerebral side, earning an impressive degree in Mechanical Engineering, it served as the exclamation point for a fascinating time in her personal and athletic journey.

From an athletic standpoint, Small’s personal best in the Discus involved a distance of 166-11 (50.88 metres), while her proficiency in the javelin remains one of the finest in Stanford history. In pre-1999 records, Small owns the fourth longest distance among female javelin throwers for Stanford, recording a solid 175-11 (53.62 metres), trailing only teammate Jen McCormick, Mary Osborne and Erica Wheeler, who holds the mark with a distance of 192-2 (58.58). In the post-millennium era, the only Stanford athlete to come close to these four fantastic record holders involved Brianna Bain, enjoying a mark of 183-10 (56.03 metres)

Other notable athletes during Small’s time at Stanford included Val Whiting and Kate Starbird, both All-America selections in women’s basketball, Casey Martin and Tiger Woods, both graduating to the PGA Tour. In addition, future Major League Baseball player AJ Hinch wore Cardinal colours, while quarterback Steve Stenstrom and wide receiver Justin Armour were both members of the 1995 NFL Draft Class; Stenstrom claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs while the Buffalo Bills selected Armour.

Running parallel to this unique experience in Stanford was the fact that her older brother, Luke, was pursuing his own studies across the Bay. Enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, Luke, a former NCAA swimmer, participated with the Golden Bears club hockey team, calling Sami Jo an on-ice rival, simultaneously adding a unique element to Pacific-10 conference play. While he would prove to be one of her biggest supporters, attending national team games dressed up as “Captain Canada”, of which there are photos published in the memoir, neither could anticipate the roller coaster ride en route to Nagano.

Joining the Canadian national team near the end of 1997, it brought with it a tremendous aspect of serendipity, as she would meet her new teammates in San Jose, located roughly 18 miles south of Palo Alto. Crediting Wally Kozak with discovering her potential as a National Team goaltender, Small was actually among four goaltenders at a Team Canada camp earlier in the year. Including Danielle Dubé and Lesley Reddon, members of Canada’s roster in a gold medal effort at the 1997 IIHF Worlds, and legendary Manon Rheaume (coincidentally, she was also featured in a book released in 2020), six years removed from her NHL experience, embarking on a comeback, Small was the one released from the camp.

Recognized for pushing the other goaltenders, Small was encouraged by head coach Shannon Miller not to give up on her dream. With the objective of returning to Palo Alto, prepared to begin her senior season at Stanford, Small’s life took an unexpected turn, as her worlds of Stanford and hockey collided. Informed that was eligible for an opportunity to be the third goaltender on the National Team, this exciting time was quickly defined by a car ride with her Canadian teammates in San Jose.

Embarking on a car ride with a handful of new teammates, including Vicky Sunohara and fellow Manitoban Jennifer Botterill, it proved to be a unique team bonding experience. Along with numerous other experiences described by Small, emphasizing the theme of appreciation and the positive impact that teammates made on each other, enjoyed the utilization of a unique narrative device. From the chronicles of heartbreak to the description of triumphs, it also involves Small sharing stories about her youth and how it built character. Transporting the reader throughout numerous stages in her athletic odyssey, the reality of what sport meant to her as a youth, and its structure, served as an ideal template in teaching life’s lessons, instilling the values that served her well.

“It certainly brought back a lot of memories for me, both good and bad. I loved relived all the great moments and important people in my life, but it was also difficult to have to re-live intimately difficult moments in my life. However, the process was cathartic, helped with the grieving process, and allowed me to see moments from different perspectives, from a new lens of a 44-year old coach, administrator and mother.”

Channeling the essence of two other celebrated sports books, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, plus Jackie Robinson’s I Never Had it Made, although unintentional, the parallels are somewhat evident in Small’s memoir. Although considered provocative for its time, Ball Four, now celebrated as a classic in sporting literature, was the first to chronicle the lives of athletes in baseball beyond the confines of the diamond. Based on Bouton’s diary of his experiences during the 1969 Major League Baseball season, split between the Houston Astros and the expansion Seattle Pilots, tremendous candor was employed. Discussing the anxieties that can affect a player’s confidence, conflicts with coaches, romantic interests, among other subjets, demonstrating how the lives of the heroes of the diamond went beyond the myth making of the game, resulting in a refreshing perspective on sport.

Undoubtedly, The Role I Played stands as the first book about women’s ice hockey to take a deep dive into the sacrifices needed to garb Canada’s paraphernalia and the experiences of so many that Small called teammates, undergoing their own life changing moments and difficult decisions in the pursuit of golden glories.

Among the unique social facets that encompass part of Small’s narrative involved Centralization tales. Including a gruelling triathlon that pushed players to exhaustion, a mountain bike excursion with a squirrel emerging as a central character, to the harsh reality of players being cut, from the anxiety such moments bring, to the combination of empathy and tears when a friend sees their dreams shattered. Along with new friendships made, many strengthened in club play, brings with it a very strong emotional component.

In terms of a hockey context, the symmetry to I Never Had it Made, applies to the struggles in both, Small’s career, and the game’s bigger picture. The fact that women’s ice hockey has constantly struggled for equality in the sporting landscape, best defined by the fact that a living wage remains elusive, Small recounts the financial strain in the aftermath of Nagano. Subsisting rather than existing, dependent on a stipend from the federal government allocated to athletes, it remains a difficult reality of life. Although some of the game’s modern stars have benefited from celebrity endorsements, the breakthrough towards the financial winfall stands as a struggle.

Citing some of the personal examples in Small’s book, not having it made explores the jubilation of many great milestones matched by heartbreaking desolation. In the same year that Small captured her first gold medal at the Winter Games, she was part of a distinguished group of athletes privileged to enjoy an audience with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. That monumental moment was accompanied by a devastating event, tarnishing what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Receiving a phone call from the coach of her club team, the Brampton Thunder, the focus of this conversation took on undercurrents based on hearsay. With the supposed rumour that Small had an interest to compete in Vancouver, she was informed of her release, the club having already recruited her replacement. The fact that it took place via telephone possibly perceived as a highly unprofessional move. Not only could such a move have waited upon her return, the release taking place in person, but one can argue that this was among one of the worst decisions in club history, the method especially reflecting poorly on the organization overall.

The Role I Played Alternate Cover

Statistically, Small was masterful in two seasons with the Thunder. With cumulative statistics of 32 wins, compared to merely five losses and five ties, complemented by a superb nine shutouts, and a sparkling 1.72 Goals Against Average (GAA), Small should have been one of the Thunder’s franchise players, a cornerstone akin to Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara. Surely, Small’s replacement could have been traded.

Landing with the North York Aeros, it proved to be the better move. Playing for iconic head coach Ken Dufton, whose playing background was also between the pipes, his perspective was not only methodical, but empathic, recognizing the value of a strong goaltender. In her first season with the Aeros, sharing goaltending duties with Kendra Fisher, a future teammate in the CWHL ranks, Small went 14-1-0, highlighted by four shutouts and a phenomenal 0.93 GAA, the statistical brilliance serving as a direct rebuttal to the Thunder’s decision.

Sadly, the release from the Thunder was prologue for an ever more heartbreaking moment during the decade for the sensational Small. Amassing 55 wins and 16 shutouts over the course of three NWHL seasons (2002-05), she should have been favored to be the number one goalie for Canada heading into the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

Taking into account that Small was the most experienced goaltender in the national team program at that time, she had certainly established herself as highly reliable. Having captured the IIHF Directorate Award as Best Goaltender at the 1999 and 2000 Women’s Worlds, helping Canada bounce back from the haunting, and embarrassing, loss at Nagano 1998, Small was integral towards instilling the belief that the eternal rival Americans were fallible and that golden redemption at Salt Lake 2002 was within reach.

Relegated to the role of the number three goaltender for Torino was made worse by the fact that the Canadian head coach declared that she felt worried when Small was in net. Similar to football, where quarterback controversies are grist for the rumour mill, the fact that an embarrassment of riches in Canada’s goaltending picture did not generate any goalie controversies, especially during an Olympic year, was testament to the maturity and mutual respect which existed.

With great stoicism, Small and fellow Manitoban Delaney Collins, a world-class player relegated to a reserve role on Canada’s team for the Winter Games, displayed national pride, on-hand at Torino, perched in the stands, cheering on their fellow players. As a side note, they were joined by Tyler Stewart, the drummer for the Barenaked Ladies, whose own sporting narrative involved competing with future NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph in Newmarket, Ontario. Becoming a friend to Small, playing in the same recreational league, Stewart also attended her wedding and participating in the Bride vs. Groom game that served as one of the seminal moments of the nupitals.

Before the decade expired, there would be another event, which caused considerable distress. Unceremoniously released from the National Team in 2008 by letter, with no detail whatsoever (perhaps for legal reasons), the fact that this document did not even mention appreciation for a decade of service reflected a lack of gratitude, another example of athletes treated as disposable.

Considering that Small’s release took place in the same year that the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships were held, the nascent years of Canada’s U18 program would have benefited from Small’s expertise. It would have shown a touch of class had the release included the option of transitioning into either the role of a goaltending coach or consultant with the U18, or U22, national team. Undeniably, a new generation of goaltenders would have benefited tremendous from Small’s mentoring.

While the key pillar of Small’s work lies in its authenticity, recounting the jubilation and desolation that defined the path towards a brilliant career best identified by championships, accolades and honors, there were also heartbreaking elements of pathos and paradox. Revealing a raw emotion and compelling content that display the sometimes, difficult side to life as an athlete, the context could pull at the heartstrings of a non-sports fan. Indubitably, there were also many positive moments that allowed for an enjoyable read, supplying a lifetime of memories.

Among the most heartwarming of these moments included Small becoming an impromptu goalie for a Swedish contingent that featured a 15 year-old Kim Martin. With Canada enjoying a 5-0 lead versus the Swedes at the October 2001 3 Nations Cup in Verumaki, Finland, injuries to both goaltenders resulted in the need for an emergency replacement. Summoned by Canadian head coach Daniele Sauvageau, Small entered the game for Sweden in the latter half of the second period. Supplied with a yellow Swedish jersey during the intermission, the experience not only signified a very unique and fascinating anomaly in IIHF play, it provided Small with compelling perspective, gaining a newfound appreciation for the goaltenders that face Canada.

Chapter 9 highlights a breakthrough for both Small and women’s ice hockey in Canada. Competing at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) for the second annual TSN Challenge. As a side note, Small would be the Esquire Player of the Game for the 1999 edition of the Challenge, adding to an expanding body of work in Canadian colors.

Part of a week of festivities during NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto, the All-Star logo highly prevalent at centre ice, the legacy of the Challenge served as affirmation of the standing of these players as world-class athletes. With over 12,000 fans in attendance, including celebrity Terri Clark, whose accoutrement included a signed Team Canada jersey, Small would register a shutout against a talented American roster, which featured five future Hall of Famers, including Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heaney and Jayna Hefford, along with Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero.

Not only would Small grace the ACC once more, an astounding 14 years later for the CWHL All-Star Game, many competitors of the Challenge, American and Canadian, crossed paths with Small a decade later in the CWHL. US goaltender Erin Whitten would be the first General Manager for the Boston Blades, while Ruggiero would be a charter member. Of note, Hefford would retire as the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer, while Canadian captain Cassie Campbell would serve on the broadcast team for all of the CWHL All-Star Games during the 2010s.

Undoubtedly, Small’s most positive moment may be her efforts to rebuild club play after the unforeseen dissolving of the NWHL. Demonstrating a combination of perseverance and dedication, trademarks of her game, Small was integral as a co-founder of the CWHL. Crafting a brilliant legacy in the league, spanning from 2008-19, her contributions went beyond her beginnings as a co-founder.

Becoming one of the league’s most well-known, and respected, individuals, Small established herself as a record setting player, Clarkson Cup champion, and later, an assiduous general manager, marking a fascinating progression. Although Small’s memoir covers the early CWHL years with brevity, one element that validates the sweat and sacrifice occurs at the inaugural Clarkson Cup, when Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, one of the classiest and most kind-hearted individuals in hockey thanks Small, expressing that without her, none of this would have been possible.

Certainly, Small’s CWHL years could merit a second book, as her career with the Canadian contingent only represents the first half of a brilliant playing career. In theory, a sequel could feature a blue cover, with Small in her Toronto Furies gear. The league, which was a constant for elite hockey during the 2010s, resulted in many phenomenal achievements made by Small as a player whose legend grew with every game. From her All-Star status, gaining entry in the Triple Gold Club, to becoming the first (and only) goaltender in the league to win a game in her forties, this body of work runs parallel to another facet of Small’s hockey narrative.

Married to Billy Bridges, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Canadian national ice sledge hockey team, also a highly underrated figure in modern sporting Canadiana, Small has watched him play for Canada at three Winter Paralympic Games over the last decade. Reciprocating his kind support, having encouraged Small durig her CWHL career, appearing at the Clarkson Cup, Definitely, their dual experiences wearing the Canadian jersey represents a strong point of national pride. Worth noting, Bridges career in a sport that merits much more coverage, would serve as compelling content for an outstanding autobiography of his own.

While Small’s legacy in hockey exemplifies a combination of dignity and resiliency, displaying a tremendous dignity that established her as a true treasure in the game, The Role I Played, is an uplifting piece, showing a human aspect to the life of an athlete, while supplying a message of encouragement. Having successfully allowed the reader to walk in her shoes, many of the obstacles, and triumphs, that Small experienced are just as prevalent for individuals engaged in academic pursuits, the workplace, and in personal goals.

While a distinguished number of achievements has propelled Small into a cherished place in sporting Canadiana, her character and positive attitude also making her an in-demand public speaker, the most admirable trait may be the ability to move forward. Despite setbacks and difficult decisions, Small is able to bounce back, learning valuable life lessons while remaining a tremendous role model for a new generation of competitors.

The substance of Small’s memoir is one where the reader feels a close connection. The beauty of her composition is one where, any individual, regardless whether readers are sporting enthusiasts or not, an ambiance allows one the impression of being alongside as the saga unfolds. Certainly, the peaks and valleys experienced by Small not only reveal a visceral, yet compelling, human element to the athletic experience, peeling away the layers of a persona sometimes perceived as infallible, to reveal that although one is not shatterproof in the sporting realm, the ability to persevere represents a greater victory,

“I tried to bring the reader along for the journey with me. So I hope, that ultimately, the reader, whomever they might be, can see themselves in the words. Can find moments in their lives that have similar emotions and feel as though they are on a journey of self-discovery as I was.

I think every reader is going to get a different message and life lessons based on where they are in their lives. I did not want to impose my judgement on situations, but instead have the reader imagine what they would have done.

Ultimately, I want the reader to be able to find joy in their passions as I did when I played and appreciate the gifts that come with each new day and experience.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Remarkable repertoire highlights fascinating hockey journey of Jamie Huntley

Prior to officiating, Huntley enjoyed a sensational run as a competitor. Skating for the Elmira College Soaring Eagles, one of the most accomplished programs in NCAA Division III hockey, she established herself as a two-sport star, also excelling on the diamond with the softball program, it propelled Huntley into exalted status. Reflecting on the experience of donning the purple paraphernalia of Elmira, campus life was akin to a small village.

“Playing for Elmira College, I was able to play competitive hockey for a top Division III program, as well as play Softball.  Playing for Elmira, you are able to play sports as well as have a social life along with your academics.  Elmira was a small school and you were really able to make lifelong friendships with different people, not just your teammates.”

As an official, the number of milestones accumulated reflects a sterling career poised for even greater heights. Having enjoyed the chance to work both Olympic qualifying and World Championship events, it stands as testament to her potential.

“Being able to work an Olympics qualifying tournament and a few World Championships was a great opportunity and an honor to be selected to work such important events.  Being able to serve the game to the best of my abilities, no matter what level, is the goal as well as to continue to grow and learn.  As the game continues to grow, we as officials have to grow with them in order to continue to be selected for these high level events.

Just as impressive her officiating endeavors, Huntley was also found behind the bench. Admirably serving in the capacity of head coach with the Junior Gulls, it has provided her with tremendous perspective. Undeniably, her background as an official has allowed her to be a much more effective coach, bringing a cerebral approach, a strong background allowing the youth players the opportunity to benefit and grow from a highly knowledgeable individual. Remaining focused on the key objective of providing a fun environment for the players, it serves to strengthen Huntley’s standing as a role model.

“I believe my officiating background helps as a coach because you see the game a little differently, and I know how to explain the rules to the kids.  I think having the officiating background, along with the playing background helps with the overall knowledge of the game and helping youth grow in a positive, fun, as well as in a competitive nature.”

Propelling Huntley into part of an empowering movement in sporting equality, her work as an official reached a new apex. Working with Erin Blair at a Southern Professional Hockey League game, it marked another remarkable chapter in the league’s history.

In addition to their collaborative efforts, the SPHL has seen Katie Guay, who also officiated an event at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, grace the ice in the referee’s zebra stripes. Additionally, multiple Winter Games gold medalist Shannon Szabados stood between the pipes for the Columbus Cottonmouths , making history, and generating significant excitement, with every subsequent appearance.

With fond recollections of the event, gaining the opportunity to officiate a professional men’s ice hockey contest, it stands as one of her proudest achievements, “Being able to work an SPHL game with Erin Blair was a great opportunity.  Being able to skate with and learn from an experienced official, such as Erin, is always a plus.  Being able to work a different level game, especially on the men’s professional side is a step in the right direction for all female officials looking to grow the game for all.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Seattle Storm reign supreme in the bubble with phenomenal Finals Sweep

Source: Angela Andaloro

The Seattle Storm experienced one of the most beautiful and meaningful accomplishments on October 6.

The team crushed the Las Vegas Aces in a 92-59 victory. The Storm swept the WNBA finals, earning the championship. The record-breaking margin of victory wasn’t the only special thing about the evening. After a tumultuous and emotional season, the Storm had made it through. They secured their fourth title in 16 years.

Cianna Lieffers brings prominent presence to Prairie Hockey

With the 2010s having signified a remarkable generation of female hockey heroes emerging from Prairie Canada, the tremendous impact made extended beyond the players. Running parallel to this time involved an unprecedented growth in the number of women that have donned the referee’s zebra stripes, expanding the possibilities

Among Prairie Canada’s most impressive female referees, Cianna Lieffers, a resident of Saskatchewan, has already experienced a series of brushes with history. Having officiated numerous events, Lieffers enjoyed the opportunity to become part of an exclusive sorority. Joined by the likes of Michelle Stapleton, Krista Funke, and Alex Clarke, this empowering all-female officiating crew at a Midget AAA game in Saskatchewan.

“This AAA game held in Moose Jaw, SK was a game I will never forget. Not only did I get the chance to skate with 3 close friends (Michelle Stapleton, Krista Funke, and Alex Clarke) but I also got to be apart of the first ever all female crew to officiate a AAA game. 
In the last 5 years, Saskatchewan Referee division has had significant growth and development within its female program. This was our chance to showcase how far we have come in the last five years. The fact that we were able to put 4 qualified females on the ice at a AAA level was an amazing accomplishment.

However, this game had underlying significance for us 4 on the ice and our officials coach. One of our officiating mentor/coaches, who was also the AAA league assignor for officials, had a dream of having an all female crew work a game in his league. He had passed away before we had the chance to accomplish this goal.  Finally making this dream of his come true, made this AAA game even more special to us and there is no doubt that he was in the rink that day, proud of what we accomplished.” 

On officiating in the SJHL and working Humboldt Broncos games, finding inspiration by the way the team has bounced back after such tragedy

“I have been working in the SJHL as a linesman for the past five seasons.  This was a great opportunity to work faster and more skilled hockey. This has allowed me to further develop myself as an official for two reasons; the elevated skill level and the opportunity to work with and learn from other senior officials within the league.  I am fortunate to be one of few females working in this league as I truly believe this league has made a crucial impact on my development as an official in both male and female hockey.

It truly is amazing how the team has responded and it is inspiring being on the ice working their games. They have full support within the community and it is shown at every single home game.”

On getting the chance to officiate at the 2020 World Youth Olympics

“I was honored to be selected by the IIHF to officiate at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. This was an amazing event that allowed me to work with officials and supervisors from all around the world. The 17 days spent in Lausanne Switzerland were incredible.  Events like these are truly amazing, as they bring together people from various different countries. This was the first year that they had the 3 on 3 events at the Youth Olympics and this allowed for individual players to represent their country at the Olympic level.  The second week was the 6 nations tournament. It was a great experience to be there for both events (3 on 3 and the 6 Nations tournament) and I was honored to be selected to work the gold medal game for both championships.”

Reflections on having officiated in Scotland and Mexico City.

“I have been very fortunate to have had some amazing travel opportunities to officiate hockey. My first taste of international hockey was as a linesman in Mexico City for an Olympic Qualifier. This was very exciting as it was my first international event. My second event was as a referee in Dumfries, Scotland.

The countries that host have spent countless hours preparing for these events and the support from the volunteers and fans demonstrate this.  It really is awesome to see the support and love for hockey in these countries. Regardless of where you go or what language is spoken, you’re all there for the same reason and that’s hockey.

These international opportunities have combined two of my passions, hockey and travelling (as I have spent two summers backpacking South East Asia and South America). I will be forever grateful for the memories, travel opportunities, and lifelong friends that hockey has given me!”

”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Jeanie Buss adds to Lakers legacy as first female owner to capture an NBA championship

Source: Cassandra Negley

Jeanie Buss made history late Sunday when she came down to the court to accept the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Buss, who took over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017, is the first female controlling owner to lead an NBA organization to a championship.

“I look forward to celebrating with you. Until then, I will bring back the trophy to Los Angeles, where it belongs.” – @JeanieBuss— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 12, 2020

The Basketball Association of America formed in 1946 and merged with the National Basketball League three years later to form the NBA. It’s been more than 70 years without a woman winning a title as the principal owner.

Buss, 59, took over as controlling owner of the Lakers in 2017 after a legal battle with her brothers. The Buss Family Trust owns the organization, and Buss serves as president. Her father, Jerry Buss, won 10 NBA titles as owner of the team from 1979 until his death in 2013.

Jess Leclerc making her mark as a highly accomplished official

At the tender age of 12, Leclerc was already garbed in the referee’s stripes, earning $10 a game as a youth hockey official. Following in the footsteps of her father, Alain, also a long-time official, Jess has carved her own remarkable legacy. Raised in Augusta, Maine, she reached a revered pinnacle, part of a group of 19 women (including four Americans) serving as officials at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. As the 2018 Games composed a new and historic chapter in the legacy of female hockey, from a shootout deciding a gold medal, an exhilarating first, to the Unified Korean team enjoying their Olympic debut, Leclerc enjoyed the opportunity to participate in two of Korea’s contests, including their historic first appearance. In addition, she was also part of the officiating crew when Randi Griffin scored Korea’s first-ever Olympic goal, achieving the feat versus Japan’s Akane Konishi in a 4-1 loss.

Wrapping up her duties with the bronze medal game between Finland and the Olympic Athletes of Russia, part of a crew that included fellow American Dina Allen, plus Canadian officials Justine Todd and Gabrielle Ariano-Lortie. With a lifetime of memories were made during an absolutely career-defining experience, reflections on this fascinating time are a constant source of satistfaction and attainment,

“The Olympics were incredible. It certainly was an experience that I will never forget. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work some very historic and memorable games (such as) the first Unified Korean game, their game against Japan when they scored their 1st goal, and the Bronze medal game. From the opening ceremonies to watching the incredible gold medal game between USA and Canada, it was an experience that has had lasting impressions on me.” Officiating ran parallel to Leclerc’s solid playing career, as some weekends would include a balance of both. Whether it was mornings in the role of referee, following by an evening match with her club team, her playing resume includes Deerfield Academy, one season in the powder blue of the University of Maine Black Bears, where she studied Kinesiology and Physical Education. Followed by competition with Utica College, Leclerc enjoyed two seasons (2007-09) as team captain, where she specialized in their Therapeutic Recreation program. In three seasons spent as a member of the Pioneers, playing for head coach Dave Clausen, Leclerc also earned All-Conference honors thrice.

Amassing a respectable 36 points while never missing a game, enjoying 79 appearances, Leclerc was also a two-sport star, playing for the varsity lacrosse team. As her career milestones have involved a degree of commendable coverage on the part of the college, the Utica connection remains a highly strong point of pride,

“The best part about playing at Utica, other than my teammates and coaches, was that I was able to be a student, an athlete (I also played lax), and a college student. I was able to continue to officiate through college as well.

Utica helped me to balance all of my passions. It meant a lot for them to continue to follow my officiating career. Officiating is not something that is directly linked to my Utica experience and so it was nice for them to acknowledge the success of an alumni in an area not linked to a degree.”

Obtaining her international license as a linesman, Leclerc gained the opportunity to officiate the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships in Buffalo, signifying an incredible leap forward in her career evolution. Among the most notable games she worked at the event involved the fifth place game between Finland and Sweden, joined by Canadian Jennifer McMahon and British official Deana Cuglietta as Anni Keisala recorded 12 saves in a 3-0 shutout win for the Finns. Currently, Leclerc’s remarkable schedule can involve working in 15-20 games during an average month, taking to the ice in both Maine and Massachusetts. While her slate of games covers a wide breadth, including high school and NCAA Division III competition, including working at men’s games, the fact that she has also been adding lustre to her growing legacy, along with female professional hockey. The linkage to professional hockey is one that even saw Leclerc cross over into the realm of the NHL. With a series of milestones over the last two years involving all-female officiating crews at the 2019 NCAA Frozen Four and at an event part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend festivities, one of the most fascinating elements of Leclerc’s officiating jersey involved attending the 2019 NHL officiating combine at Buffalo’s Harbor Center. “The NHL combine was a great experience. It gave us an opportunity of not only where we stood amongst some very talented officials but also showed that gender really did not matter. The experience helped to show that women could compete amongst the men and it was a matter of the job done on the ice.”

With standing as the State Referee in Chief for the state of Maine, Leclerc is also a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, its induction taking place at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. As many young women and former players now view officiating as a viable option after hanging up their skates, such individuals have a great role model in Leclerc, who truly merits the well-earned title of role model,

“Yes, I absolutely see myself as a role model. Being a role model has been one of the most gratifying parts of my officiating career. My advice is to continue to work hard to follow any dream you have despite the mountains you have to climb. Do not ever let gender be a reason why you cannot do something.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

Hockey humanitarian Jessica Campbell makes history with exciting selection to Battle of the Blades

In the aftermath of a Stanley Cup Final contested in September, the sixth season of Battle of the Blades brings with it a unique element of history. From the outset, the competition shall feature three female hockey players, an unprecedented first. Featuring multiple Winter Games gold medalists Meghan Agosta and Jennifer Botterill, who has also made a name for herself as a respected broadcaster, recently employed with the NHL’s New York Islanders, this trinity of elite talent involves another tremendous individual whose inclusion embodies the sense of history. Born in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, Jessica Campbell becomes the first non-Olympic women’s ice hockey player to compete on the highly popular program.


Known affectionately as Boof and Soupy, Campbell, also an entrepreneur, having established JC Powerskating and Prairie Built Hockey, is a revered teammate whose compassion and empathy exemplifies a tremendous character. While playing for Cornell University in the Ivy League, racking up 100 points, serving as team captain in her senior season, one of her teammates was Morgan Richardson, whose younger sister Daron, tragically lost her life to suicide. As the admirable cause Do It for Daron (DIFD) was founded in the aftermath of such a devastating loss, supporting numerous initiatives at The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, the Big Red hosted fundraisers in the cause’s honor among Morgan’s arrival in Ithaca.


With many Big Red competitors graduating to the professional ranks, their admiration for DIFD never wavered. In addition to the Big Red continuing to host fundraisers following Morgan’s graduation, which even saw Ivy League rival Princeton host an event this past season, it is not uncommon to see the trademark DIFD Purple Heart logo on the back of many players helmets throughout North America. From Alyssa Gagliardi organizing a DIFD fundraiser for her club team, the NWHL’s Boston Pride, to Campbell, raising awareness of the cause in the paraphernalia of the Calgary Inferno, their efforts, among so many others, is a remarkable testament to the positive impact of DIFD.


That impact continues in Battle of the Blades, as Campbell, an advocate for mental health, and recipient of the CWHL’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award, shall be competing on their behalf. Her skating partner, Asher Hill, who can also be seen in co-hosting duties on the CBC Sports’ YouTube series That Figure Skating Show with Dylan Moscovitch, will be skating for the Black Legal Action Centre. Worth noting, Agosta and Botterill, each former Angela James Bowl winners both share the common thread of CWHL hockey with Campbell. Agosta, who holds the league record for most points scored in one CWHL season, like Campbell, both have their names engraved on the Clarkson Cup. Botterill, whose skating partner is Eric Radford, is not only a charter member of the Toronto Furies, holds the franchise single season scoring record.


Known affectionately as Boof and Soupy, Campbell, also an entrepreneur, having established JC Powerskating and Prairie Built Hockey, is a revered teammate whose compassion and empathy exemplifies a tremendous character. While playing for Cornell University in the Ivy League, racking up 100 points, serving as team captain in her senior season, one of her teammates was Morgan Richardson, whose younger sister Daron, tragically lost her life to suicide. As the admirable cause Do It for Daron (DIFD) was founded in the aftermath of such a devastating loss, supporting numerous initiatives at The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, the Big Red hosted fundraisers in the cause’s honor among Morgan’s arrival in Ithaca.


With many Big Red competitors graduating to the professional ranks, their admiration for DIFD never wavered. In addition to the Big Red continuing to host fundraisers following Morgan’s graduation, which even saw Ivy League rival Princeton host an event this past season, it is not uncommon to see the trademark DIFD Purple Heart logo on the back of many players helmets throughout North America. From Alyssa Gagliardi organizing a DIFD fundraiser for her club team, the NWHL’s Boston Pride, to Campbell, raising awareness of the cause in the paraphernalia of the Calgary Inferno, their efforts, among so many others, is a remarkable testament to the positive impact of DIFD.


That impact continues in Battle of the Blades, as Campbell, an advocate for mental health, and recipient of the CWHL’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award, shall be competing on their behalf. Her skating partner, Asher Hill, who can also be seen in co-hosting duties on the CBC Sports’ YouTube series That Figure Skating Show with Dylan Moscovitch, will be skating for the Black Legal Action Centre. Worth noting, Agosta and Botterill, each former Angela James Bowl winners both share the common thread of CWHL hockey with Campbell. Agosta, who holds the league record for most points scored in one CWHL season, like Campbell, both have their names engraved on the Clarkson Cup. Botterill, whose skating partner is Eric Radford, is not only a charter member of the Toronto Furies, holds the franchise single season scoring record.