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.

Charline Labonte’s decision makes her an even bigger role model

With an announcement that made national news throughout Canada, long-time Canadian national women’s hockey team member Charline Labonte declared her same-sex relationship with speed skater Anastasia Buscis. Sharing her story was a heartwarming and dignified moment that captured the hearts of many devoted hockey fans.

This year alone, Labonte has followed in the footsteps of two other world-class women’s hockey players that have declared their same-sex preference. Caitlin Cahow (whom Labonte played against in the championship game of the 2013 Clarkson Cup) made her announcement prior to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. She would serve on President Obama’s delegation at the Closing Ceremony for the Games, a direct rebuttal to Russia’s anti-gay legislation, while providing encouragement for other LGBT athletes competing at Sochi.

Jayna Hefford, a teammate of Labonte for over a decade on the Canadian national team, discussed her role of motherhood after the Games. Sharing her life with partner Kathleen Kauth, a 2006 Olympian and co-founder of the CWHL, the two have an infant girl named Isla.

Although Buscis declared her preference before the Games, Labonte chose to declare her feeling afterwards. In reflection, it was a move that needed to wait. With the appointment of Kevin Dineen as head coach before Christmas 2013, a difficult losing streak to the United States and a decision to change captains, Labonte’s announcement could have possibly been one more distraction for a team that many in the media labeled as “dysfunctional”.

Heading into Sochi’s Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies, Labonte mentioned in her story how she stood beside Buscis. Despite the feelings of unease over athlete safety and political tensions over the anti-gay legislation, there is no question that the presence of Buscis provided a sense of comfort and support for Labonte.

As a side note, Labonte shares another heartwarming tale in her story. After Canada’s miraculous come-from-behind victory against the United States in the gold medal game, Buscis actually rode her bicycle to a McDonald’s in the Olympic Village. Having ordered 50 cheeseburgers and 50 packets of McNuggets for the entire women’s team, her heroic trek represented a kind gesture that was highly appreciated by Labonte and her teammates.

While there are likely many more female and male athletes that are part of the LGBT community, the reality is that it should not be seen as controversial or front-page news. While athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam certainly endured a media circus, coming out should be liberating and celebrated, not something to be dissected by society.

Realistically, it may take another generation before such things happen. In the meanwhile, everyone has a right to life their lives as they choose. The WNBA and WFA have had world-class athletes such as Sheryl Swoopes and Sami Grisafe declare their preferences. Such decisions have not diminished their careers. Instead, their courage to disclose such details is applauded. As does Labonte and Buscis deserve to be applauded. In hockey circles, women such as Cahow, Hefford and Labonte are courageous individuals. Just like Magic Johnson once turned his issues with being HIV positive into one of determination, raising global awareness about the issue, Labonte et al are helping challenge cultural norms, changing preconceived notions, while serving as a positive influence in helping a generation of women in hockey have the courage to be proud of who they are.

Hockey legend Caitlin Cahow a courageous symbol of empowerment

A member of the US squad that captured a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Caitlin Cahow will be returning to the world’s biggest stage. With the 2014 Games being hosted in Sochi, Russia, Cahow shall be serving on US President Barack Obama’s delegation that shall represent the US at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Having retired from ice hockey after leading the Boston Blades to the 2013 Clarkson Cup championship, Cahow has managed to remain involved in the sport. In addition to attending law school at Boston College, she appeared at the Boston Blades’ first-ever “Women in Sports” series, recognizing Meghan Duggan.

Appearing on NBC's Today Show

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show

Introducing Duggan at the event, Cahow also spoke about being an openly gay athlete and the struggle for equality. As Cahow is part of a modern-day group of accomplished female athletes challenging cultural norms about the role of women in sport and society, she is a champion for the cause of acceptance.

Ivy League educated and articulate, Cahow is also a proud member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. With the CWHL a proud partner with the You Can Play! Foundation, looking to remove bullying and homophobic behavior, Cahow also reinforces a courageous message that athletes have the right to not feel shame or stereotyping based on the way they identify themselves.

In travelling to Sochi, Cahow brings a powerful message about values such as equality and empowerment. An openly gay athlete, her presence is a direct rebuttal to the law that the Russian government passed in June 2013 prohibiting the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations. In addition, she will be joined on the US delegation by tennis legend and champion for women in sport Billie Jean King, another gay athlete.

King shall be part of the delegation that will appear at the opening ceremonies. Joining her are University of California president Janet Napolitano, the first female secretary of Homeland Security, Michael McFaul, the United States ambassador to Russia, deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors and Brian Boitano, a gold medalist in figure skating at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

Of note, McFaul shall also participate in the delegation for the closing ceremonies. Cahow shall be part of said delegation, joined by speed skating legend Bonnie Blair, Dr. Eric Heiden and William Burns, the deputy secretary of state.

Having been interviewed for CBS News, along with making an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Cahow is truly paying it forward. As the Modern Olympic Movement preaches the removal of ignorance and working towards social progress, Cahow is part of a diverse yet inspiring group of delegates that prove the US is dedicated to preserving and reinforcing civil and human rights.

Also serving as an advocate for concussion research, an injury which sidelined her for most of 2012, Cahow is symbolic of today’s intelligent, strong and ambitious women. For all the LGBT athletes that have endured fear or lived in silence, Cahow and King are part of a bold statement that encourages freedom. Their mission is also one of a humanitarian nature, extending sport, where the hopeful outcome is one where ignorance can be eradicated and a greater understanding of celebrating the human spirit.