Sam Faber on the ground floor of another New England hockey revolution

As the NWHL becomes the first professional hockey league for women in the United States, there is a feeling of relevance with the on-ice involvement of veteran star forward Sam Faber. One of the first players to sign with the Connecticut Whale, she is part of a new era of promise for the hockey-mad state. On the momentum of strong women’s hockey programs at the NCAA level such as Storrs’ UConn Huskies, New Haven’s Yale Bulldogs and Hamden’s Connecticut Bobcats, Faber shall be the cornerstone of an offense looking to capture the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Raised in Mount Sinai, New York, Faber’s first brush with New England women’s hockey came as a member of the University of New Hampshire’s Huskies. With an astounding 51 points in her freshman season, she would compile 189 points (on the strength of 112 assists) and an astonishing 23 game winning goals during her distinguished NCAA career. In addition, she would skate with the US National Team in a gold medal effort at the 2008 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Perhaps an element of greater importance may be her experience at the professional level in New England women’s hockey. Of note, the Whale does not reflect her first sojourn into pro hockey. When the Boston Blades became the first American-based in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Faber was one of the club’s charter members.

Playing alongside the likes of CWHL co-founder Mandy Cronin, All-World blueliners Caitlin Cahow and Angela Ruggiero, along with current Boston Pride GM Hayley Moore plus Huskies leading scorer Jaclyn Hawkins, Faber was part of a remarkable chapter in American women’s hockey.

During that inaugural Blades season (2010-11), Faber brought an offensive flair and playmaking ability that resulted in finishing said season as the Blades scoring leader. Although Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette captured the scoring title that season, Faber’s 30 points helped propel the Blades into the postseason, simultaneously demonstrating that there was a market in the United States for professional women’s hockey. As a side note, she ranked second to Julie Chu that season among American-born scoring leaders in CWHL play.

Faber’s first career point with the Blades came in their inaugural game. Along with Karen Thatcher, both would earn the assists on Jessica Koizumi’s third period goal, the first in Blades franchise history, part of a 3-0 win against the Burlington Barracudas. The following day, Faber would contribute 4 points, including her first career goal with the Blades, sweeping the Barracudas.

Accumulating at least one point in 15 games played, Faber also registered eight multi-point efforts. Her finest single-game performance was a five-point output which included her first career hat trick in a 6-5 win against eventual Clarkson Cup champions Montreal on January 30, 2011. Earlier that season, Montreal would provide another memorable moment for Faber.

Just six days before Christmas, the Blades did more than just spoil Montreal’s bid for an undefeated season. Fighting back from a 2-0 deficit, Faber would score Boston’s first goal of the game, signifying a shift in momentum. Ruggiero would score the dramatic game-winning tally in overtime while Cronin made an astounding 74 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in league history.

Such experience shall place Faber into a key leadership position with the Whale this season, as she also holds the unique distinction of being the first player signed in franchise history. Taking into account that former Blades teammate (and two-time Clarkson Cup champion) Jessica Koizumi shall be joining her on the Whale, it only adds to the veteran impact that should contribute to a fundamentally sound game on the ice. As a side note, both have also worked as coaches, with Koizumi serving on the Yale Bulldogs staff and Faber with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.

Among the crop of youthful free agents that should benefit most positively from their leadership includes the likes of Quinnipiac grads such as Shiann Darkangelo and Kelly Babstock, plus Clarkson Cup champion Kaleigh Fratkin. The younger players shall definitely reciprocate as they bring enthusiasm and high energy, strong motivational factors for Faber.

Having last played during the Blades inaugural season, Faber has remained in the game off the ice as the Chelsea Piers Youth Hockey Director in Stamford, Connecticut. Among her accomplishments with Chelsea Piers includes the fact that she oversees the largest Mite League program in the state. The chance to return to the rink for the first time since 2011 shall serve as an opportunity to inspire the young players that have passed through Chelsea Piers. Being part of the NWHL’s inaugural season as a member of the Connecticut Whale presents Faber (and Koizumi) with the rare opportunity to make history twice in New England women’s hockey.

Sporting sensation Sam Gordon a legend in the making

While her focus has shifted from football to soccer, Sam Gordon is a role model and an inspiration for women of all ages. Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over, Gordon is destined to continue making an impact for women in sport.

Football sensation Sam Gordon, WSF President Angela Ruggiero and Amanda Rivera, GoGirlGo! participant from the New York Junior Tennis League at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards.  (Getty Images)

Football sensation Sam Gordon, WSF President Angela Ruggiero and Amanda Rivera, GoGirlGo! participant from the New York Junior Tennis League at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards. (Getty Images)

In October 2013, she had the opportunity to be part of the 34th Annual Women’s Sport Foundation gala. With more than 50 female athletes in attendance, including living legends such as Billie Jean King, Annika Sorrenstam and Julie Foudy, it was one of many memorable moments during a year to remember for the 10 year-old Gordon.

Of note, she had the opportunity to appear on stage at the gala, along with Amanda Rivera, a participant from the New York Junior Tennis League. Both were joined by Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Winter Games medalist who talked about the life lessons she learned from playing ice hockey. It is a remarkable privilege to be able to share from the wisdom of Ruggiero. She also met Diana Nyad, who successfully swam from Cuba to Florida, showing that age knows no boundaries in sport.

Meeting swimmer Diana Nyad at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sam_Gordon6)

Meeting swimmer Diana Nyad at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sam_Gordon6)

Upon reflection, it seems hard to fathom that so much global acclaim could have emanated from just one online video posting. On November 5, 2012, her father Brent Gordon uploaded a video of gridiron highlights which resulted in over 2 million views. With her ponytail sticking out, the pint-sized Gordon cutting across the football field became an internet phenomenon.

Having compiled 35 touchdowns and 1,911 rushing yards in 2012, her first season of playing football, she would average 8.2 yards per carry, while also accumulating 65 tackles on defense. Hailing from South Jordan, Utah, Gordon competed in pee-wee football with the Herriman Mustangs (Gremlins age group of the Ute Conference). Nicknamed Sweet-Feet, she is only 28 kilograms but outran players twice her size.

Prior to playing pee-wee tackle football, Gordon played football with boys at recess, which actually created concern among one of the female teachers at her school. Through the encouragement of her father and the instruction provided to her from her older brother, Gordon did not quit football.

Quickly becoming a media darling, Gordon was interviewed by Katie Couric, appeared on Good Morning America and received an award at the Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game show. With her video having gone viral, the sports world also became intrigued with her highlight reel performances.

Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated Kids

Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated Kids

The National Football League would be the most influential member of the sports world to pay attention. In addition to tackling Marshall Faulk on the set of the NFL Network, she huddled up at a practice for the San Francisco 49ers. It would prove to not be the last time she had a connection to the 49ers.

As the invited guest of NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, Gordon and her family had the opportunity to attend Super Bowl XLVII, where the 49ers clashed with the Baltimore Ravens. Of note, she previously met the commissioner in December 2012 and attended a New York Giants game with him and his twin daughters. She even did a scripted segment with Alec Baldwin for an NFL awards show while the NFL made a $20,000 donation to charity in Gordon’s name.

Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment was the fact that she earned the special privilege of appearing on the cover of the Wheaties cereal box. It was such a newsworthy event that Gordon was interviewed about it on ESPN. A landmark moment in any athlete’s career, not only is Gordon one of the youngest athletes ever to appear on the box, she is also the first female football player to be honored.

Appearing on ESPN to discuss being featured on the famed Wheaties box

Appearing on ESPN to discuss being featured on the famed Wheaties box

With the transition to soccer, her sport of choice, she had the opportunity to meet the US National Women’s Team in Glendale, Arizona. The squad was there to compete in an exhibition match against Ireland, whom they defeated by a 2-1 tally. Prior to the game, she had the opportunity to kick soccer balls and throw footballs with members of the team.

Receiving one-on-one training from her idol, Abby Wambach, it was a dream come true for Gordon. After Gordon’s video went viral, Wambach was one of the first athletes to reach out to her on Twitter. Wambach gave her a tour of the stadium and even provided her with her own personalized US soccer jersey.

Perhaps one day she will wear a US soccer jersey with the Under-14 Development Team or at a World Cup, even possibly a Summer Games. While Gordon told Sports Illustrated Kids that she sometimes felt too much pressure in football because if she makes a mistake, it lets down the whole team, she also mentioned that she likes soccer because it is more fun with the other girls and others can help if she makes a mistake.

For now, sports fans can read about her remarkable journey in a book she has authored with family friend Ari Bruening. Titled Sweet Feet: Samantha Gordon’s Winning Season, it was published by Walker Books for Young Readers.

Signing copies of her book at The King’s English Book Store in Salt Lake City (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sam_Gordon6)

Signing copies of her book at The King’s English Book Store in Salt Lake City (Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sam_Gordon6)

Released on October 15, 2013, the book features a foreword appropriately composed by Wambach. Including quotes from famous people she has met, there are also photos from her travels and celebrity encounters. The popularity of the book resulted in a book signing at The King’s English book store in Salt Lake City. Archiving and commemorating her journey through the printed word, it is more than just a keepsake but a resource of encouragement for any girl that wants to push the boundaries of what is expected of them and challenging the cultural norm.

Having emerged as a household name, she has maturity beyond her years. Competing as a midfielder in the beautiful game, it is the game she truly enjoys and in the end, the most important lesson learned from Gordon’s remarkable sporting journey is that one should compete in the sport that provides them with the most fun.

Missy Franklin headlines Annual Salute to Women in Sports as Sportswoman of the Year

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans during the 2012 London Summer Games, swimmer Missy Franklin earned the highest honor bestowed by the 34th Annual Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan. Former WSF President Aimee Mullins and freeskier Grete Eliassen presented Franklin with the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award.

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Following her remarkable performance at London that saw her capture four gold medals and a bronze, she staked her claim as the world’s greatest female swimmer two months ago. Competing at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Franklin claimed a record six gold medals. Entering her freshman year at the University of California, she beat out fellow nominees Serena Williams, figure skater Mao Asada and wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden.

Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker grabbed the award for the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Team Sport Award. Having helped the Sparks to a 21-10 record during the 2013 WNBA regular season, her season was complemented by claiming the league’s MVP award and posting a league-high 25.7 points per game.

Another highlights for the WNBA was the league being recognized with the Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Founded in 1997, the league has served as an inspiration for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Women’s Football Alliance, proving that women have every right to compete as professional athletes.

Vivian Hao won the Annika Inspiration Award named after golf legend Annika Sorenstam, who was also in attendance. A student at famed Duke University, she has contributed to various social causes and is also an accomplished tennis player.

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

One of the true highlights of the evening was the fact that many amputee athletes (including some that have competed in the Paralympics) were in attendance. From Alana Nichols to Scout Bassett, Mallory Weggeman and Tatyana McFadden, they were also joined by Melissa Stockwell, the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Winner. The criteria for the award is a female athlete that has displayed tremendous courage, having had the ability to overcome adversity and make significant contributions to sports

Stockwell is a true American hero. A former U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart winner, she lost her leg during service to her country in Iraq. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she took the opportunity to embrace a new endeavor. Becoming a Paralympic swimmer and accomplished triathlete, she put it best when she stated that she has accomplished more with one leg than she ever thought she could.

With McFadden having been nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award, it shows the positive impact women are making to the significant growth of paralympic sports. These remarkable women are a true inspiration for disabled people the world over.

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson. (Getty Images)

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson.
(Getty Images)

Sponsored by espnW and Gatorade, the event is a remarkable celebration of women in sport. The awards presentation was only half of the fun during a glorious evening. A remarkable red carpet to the Grand March of Athletes represented a sterling celebration for the accomplishment of women in sport. Of note, Mary Carillo and Julie Foudy co-hosted the Grand March, featuring 50 athletes.

Several heartwarming events helped define the spirit of friendship and sisterhood at the gala. Diana Nyad, who swam successfully from Cuba to Florida received a thunderous roar of approval. The recipient of a special tribute award, her commitment to making her goals come true was an inspiration.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to peek into the future. Two junior athletes, Sam Gordon, a 10 year-old football phenomenon and Amanda Rivera from the New York Junior Tennis League, graced the stage. They were joined by four-time Winter Games hockey participant Angela Ruggiero, who discussed life lessons learned from hockey. These two future stars could not have a better mentor in Ruggiero.