Diana Brown the jewel in the crown for Greater Toronto Area ball hockey

In a sterling playing career that lasted an astounding 22 years (1991-2013) on the ball hockey court, very few people have carved a legacy as spectacular as Diana Brown. An ambassador for the sport provincially (with the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation), nationally and internationally, her career has included roles as player, coach and league founder.

Having enjoyed the opportunity to compete in the national championships 15 times, including four different Toronto-based teams, she was also a pick-up player, a sign of respect in the ball hockey community. Twice she competed with Vanier United, an Ottawa-based club, along with a club from Edmonton.

Managing a podium finish on eight separate occasions, she would emerge with five gold medals. The recipient of the Sara Butterworth Award (2008), Brown gained entry into the CBHA Hall of Fame, gaining the honor in 2013. As a side note, she is among the first women to be inducted, part of an empowering group of women breaking new barriers, following the likes of Shirley Cameron, Carol Zaborski and Stéphane Arsenault.

Starting her career with the Toronto Dragons, she would have the privilege of calling Hockey Hall of Famers Angela James and Geraldine Heaney as teammates. Her first gold medal at the nationals came during her inaugural ball hockey season, her first with the Dragons (1991). As a side note, James would score the gold medal clinching goal. Brown and the Dragons would follow it up with silver in 1992 and 1994, along with three straight provincial titles (1991-93), respectively.

Internationally, Brown had represented Canada on three occasions, including the inaugural World Championships held in Pittsburgh in 2005. She would capture two world titles, while also earning a silver medal. As ball hockey continues to grow internationally, perhaps one day it shall be contested at the Summer Games.

Brown would transition into coaching in 2012, adding several more milestones. Serving as a player and coach from 2012-13, she led the Toronto Shamrocks to the 2012 CBHA National Title. In 2013, she built on such momentum by appearing once again as a player/coach at the OBHF Provincials.

With the ISBHF Worlds being hosted on Canadian soil, Brown was also involved. Gaining valuable international experience, she served as an assistant coach for Team Italy.

Of note, Brown already possessed a strong coaching background. During the 1990s, she served as an assistant coach on Karen Hughes’ coaching staff with the University of Toronto Varsity Lady Blues. Joining the program in 1992, she would capture several OWIAA (known today as OUA) conference championships.

She would also manage to juggle a successful career as a women’s ice hockey player. Competing with the University of Toronto Varsity Lady Blues for six seasons, she was the team captain during the 1989-90 season. Patrolling the blueline, Brown would capture five conference crowns, and would capture the Jay Westlake Award, given to the Lady Blues most outstanding defender.

Some of the players that Brown coached included Justine Blainey, an activist for women’s hockey in the 1980s, Jen Rawson, who would become a head coach with York and UBC. She would also have the privilege of coaching several players who would carve a legacy with the Canadian national women’s team.

Among them were Andria Hunter (the founder of whockey.com), Laura Schuler, a silver medalist at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, and Lori Dupuis, who is currently serving as the general manager of the Brampton Thunder.

Her greatest legacy may be yet to come. As a co-founder of the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League in 2014, an extension of her legacy may be her role as a builder. Recognizing the need for a Canadian junior women’s ball hockey program (a program that exists on the men’s side), it may present the next opportunity for a new venture in her career.

For now, Brown’s remarkable leadership has resulted in the ability to recruit elite talent with the Toronto Shamrocks. Quickly emerging as the GTWBHL’s signature club, Brown’s leadership, along with the efforts of co-founder Flora Panunzio has provided the league with the opportunity to attain status as one of Canada’s finest.

Since transitioning to coaching, no year may have been as memorable for Brown as 2015. Working with Team Canada GM, Gwen Ranquist-Lemieux, the two were an ideal pair to help Canada defend its gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland.

Following such a milestone moment in her coaching career, Brown successfully navigated the highly competitive waters of the CBHA National Championships, emerging with another title to solidify her standing as one of the greatest. Contested in the ball hockey hotbed of Ottawa, Ontario, Brown had an exciting Shamrocks team that consisted of a blend of veterans and new players.

Veterans such as Meagan Aarts, Lexie Hoffmeyer and Kristy Zamora, complemented by new faces such as Carolyne Prevost, Jamie Lee Rattray and Rebecca Vint, all working in perfect cohesion, testament to Brown’s strong abilities behind the bench. Fittingly, the gold-medal winning goal was scored by Jenny Brine, who is considered one of the 50 greatest Canadian women’s ball hockey competitors of all time.

Employing wisdom, positivity and mentoring, Brown may be the most influential and important force for women’s ball hockey in Toronto. As the defining quality of Brown’s career is a remarkable respect for the game and the women who play it, the future holds potential to already build on a Hall of Fame career that is a standard of excellence for younger women in the sport to aspire to.

References: CBHA.com