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”

Digit Murphy spearheads exciting movement in lacrosse with arrival of new league

Women’s hockey fans are familiar with the name Digit Murphy. Evoking a standard of coaching excellence, Murphy’s legacy is without dispute. The first woman to be inducted into Brown University’s Wall of Honor, she led the Bears to over 300 wins, a program mark that is poised to stand for generations.

In a remarkable three-year run with the CWHL’s Boston Blades, Murphy became the first female coach to lead her team to three straight Clarkson Cup appearances, and the first female coach to also win two Clarkson Cups. In addition, she was also the winning coach for the CWHL’s inaugural All-Star Game. Although her absence from the Blades this season marks a significant loss for CWHL hockey, she is still heavily involved in women’s sports.

Noted as a Title IX champion, Murphy is working with Aronda Kirby (also co-founders of the Play It Forward Sport movement), who was the Blades’ General Manager during such a magical time, and have blazed an empowering new trail in women’s lacrosse. The result is the UWLX, the first professional league of its kind for women in lacrosse, one that shall see its first chapter written in the spring of 2016.

While Murphy acquired a remarkable skill set as a head coach with Brown, molding a generation of young women into leaders and role models in society, her three seasons with the Blades also resulted in business acumen. Along with Aronda Brown, the two conceived numerous marketing ideas, including a charitable golf tournament.
Their collaborative efforts are poised to transform the UWLX into the next great venture for female sport in America. Considering that the sport has been contested for years at the NCAA level, many of these talented women in the sport had no place to go after their collegiate careers reached its twilight.

Adding to the growing awareness of women in lacrosse was the legendary Devon Wills. Of note, Wills was signed by the National Lacrosse League, a professional men’s league that has existed for over two decades, breaking the gender barrier. Currently, Wills works as an associate head coach with the University of Southern California’s lacrosse team.

Since the hiring of Michele DJ Dejuliis as the commissioner for UWLX, there has been no shortage of interest among players, eager to extend their careers. Young stars that could serve as a cornerstone for the league include Covington Stanwick and Sarah Mannelly, a remarkable duo with Boston College, Kayla Treanor from Syracuse and Michigan’s Katie Mezwa. Recognized as one of the top Division I players in the US Lacrosse Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates, Mezwa led the Wolverines to a 15-1 record and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

With programs such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia constantly among the best in the country, it would come as no surprise if they become the power plants for producing elite long term talent for the UWLX. As a side note, such regions would also be ideal spots for franchises, helping provide a strong voice for women’s professional sports.

Considering Murphy and Brown held backgrounds in hockey, their decision to venture into lacrosse may have been perceived as unforeseen. As the architects of a sustainable business model for women in sport, their inspiration came from several sources.

Through the efforts of their PR company, “The Barnyard Group”, several events in New York were the catalyst to augment discussion and encouragement in the fight for pay equity, one that has hovered over women’s hockey like a black cloud for far too long. Among said events was an invitation to the Impact Leadership 21 Summit at the United Nations, which brought much needed awareness to the struggles of pay equity, especially the unfair dismissal of fellow coaching legend Shannon Miller.

The stage where discussion and planning evolved into reality took place in the unlikeliest of places, with a coincidental link to hockey. Every spring, coaches from throughout the United States attend the AHCA convention in Naples, Florida, a focal point where individuals gather for learning, idea sharing and the opportunity to expand their set of contacts.

While there, Murphy ran into a pair of representatives from STX, a manufacturer of sporting equipment. One of the representatives, Ed Saunders, had hockey roots in New England, where he once worked for Hockey East in a media relations capacity. Having known Murphy from that role, as Brown was based in Rhode Island, the two shared stories, and intrigue grew from Murphy’s experiences in New York with the pay equity discussion.

Revealing to Murphy that STX is also involved in lacrosse, even sponsoring a group of female players to compete with Team STX (although they are not in a formal league), it would serve as the motivational vehicle that helped bring about UWLX. With STX proudly on board as an equipment sponsor, providing encouragement along this remarkable journey, an outpouring of support and appreciation has been felt throughout the lacrosse community, the result has been a labor of love for Murphy and Brown, as the message of equal opportunity in sport only grows stronger.

Dream season for Digit Murphy culminates with Clarkson Cup

One of the most accomplished coaches in New England women’s hockey, Digit Murphy continues to add new and notable accomplishments to a distinguished career. Always inspiring and encouraging players with her trademark phrase, “Everyday we are making history”, those wondrous words represented her memorable brush with history during the 2014-15 CWHL season.

In the aftermath of leading the Blades to an emotional overtime win in the 2015 Clarkson Cup, it would prove to be part of a sparkling trinity of coaching milestones. Beginning in December 2014, Murphy became the first coach in league history to win the CWHL All-Star Game as Team Red fought back from a 2-0 deficit to prevail by a 3-2 mark at Toronto’s fabled Air Canada Centre.

This was followed by Murphy leading the Blades to the best record in the regular season, which provided the franchise with the Chairman’s Trophy. The Blades league-best 15 wins resulted in a 35 point season, finishing two points ahead of the upstart Calgary Inferno. Concluding with the Clarkson Cup triumph, Murphy became the first coach to win all three in the same CWHL season.

Such a historic feat was complemented by two other milestones that would add to Murphy’s legacy as one of the finest coaches in American women’s hockey history. Having won her first Clarkson Cup title in 2013, the 2015 triumph allowed Murphy to become the first female head coach to capture the Cup twice. In addition, Murphy also gained the unique distinction of becoming the first American-born coach to win two Cups.

Of note, the first coach to win the Cup twice was Patrick Rankine, leading Montreal to the summit in 2011 and 2012. Prior to Murphy’s first Cup win in 2013, only one female coach had even led her team to a Cup win (Montreal’s Isabelle Leclair in 2009, the inaugural year that the Cup was contested). In 2014, Toronto’s Sommer West (who played against Murphy’s Blades) would become only the third female coach to claim the Cup.

Although Montreal would score first in the championship game of the 2015 edition of the Cup, Murphy did not panic. Being interviewed by CWHL co-founder and Sportsnet sideline reporter Jennifer Botterill (the only player to win back-to-back Patty Kazmaier Awards), Murphy showed remarkable composure and stayed positive, signs of her strong leadership.

Murphy’s positive influence would prove to be crucial for the black and gold as Montreal would tie the game late in the third to force overtime. With Janine Weber becoming the first European player to log a Cup-winning goal, it also represented great redemption for Murphy and the Blades, who were bested in overtime by a visceral 1-0 tally one year earlier.

Widely admired and respected for her efforts in sporting equality, while helping to strengthen the women’s game for future generations, Murphy’s ability to inspire is one that can hardly be matched. Her devotion to providing instruction for elite hockey talent currently represents a transformative era in the game. Hopefully, Murphy’s efforts shall promise better days ahead, including pay equity in the game, which would certainly represent Murphy’s greatest victory.

Legendary women’s hockey coach Digit Murphy bestowed with another accolade

In the last twelve months, Digit Murphy has had a remarkable series of moments that shall provide a lifetime of memories while strengthening her legacy. From being recognized by Brown University in their famed portrait gallery to becoming the first American-born coach to garner Canadian Women’s Hockey League Coach of the Year honors, such accomplishments were complemented by Murphy grabbing her first-ever championship as an elite coach; the coveted Clarkson Cup.

Murphy at the unveiling of her portrait unveiled and placed in the Brown Hockey Legends gallery at Meehan Auditorium. (Image obtained from Facebook)

Murphy at the unveiling of her portrait unveiled and placed in the Brown Hockey Legends gallery at Meehan Auditorium. (Image obtained from Facebook)

As 2014 begins, Murphy is the proud recipient of another remarkable accolade. Bestowed the honor of the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Women’s Ice Hockey Founders Award, it is testament to her skills as a remarkable teacher of the sport. The award shall be given to Murphy, only the fifth female hockey coach to be honored, during the AHCA’s Celebration of Women’s Hockey in Naples, Florida on May 2.

As a long-time member of the AHCA, the association (formed in May of 1947) has expanded to include coaches at the professional, junior and high school levels as well as college. Open to both men and women, the group is devoted to maintaining the highest possible standards in the game.

Murphy flashing the peace sign as the Blades are honored by the Red Sox at historic Fenway Park. (Image obtained from Facebook)

Murphy flashing the peace sign as the Blades are honored by the Red Sox at historic Fenway Park. (Image obtained from Facebook)

The award recognizes the individual’s growth and development of the sport in the United States, it is a worthy prize for an individual who has coached for nearly three decades. In addition, Murphy has also had a tremendous impact in helping the sport grow internationally. Of note, she is part of the IIHF Mentorship Program, serving as a coaching consultant for the Slovakian national women’s team.

As the first woman at the NCAA level to win 200 and 300 games, seven of her Brown Bears players would become competitors in the Winter Games; Pam Dreyer, Kim Insacalo, Kathleen Kauth, Becky Kellar, Katie King, Tara Mounsey and Chie Chie Sakuma.

Kauth would become a co-founder of the CWHL, the league Murphy currently calls home. Kellar, a former CWHL competitor, was the first Canadian defender to appear in four consecutive Winter Games competitions. King has proudly followed in Murphy’s coaching footsteps, having turned Boston College into a perennial contender.

Although her coaching acumen stretches over several generations, no legacy may generate as much pride as her daughters. They have also followed in her footsteps as players (Murphy was an elite scorer for Cornell University). Her daughters would be part of the inaugural Rhode Island state championship team in 2002.

She has had a positive impact on the lives of the young women that have played for her at all levels of the game. The legacy that she built at Brown University, and the new one she is crafting with the Boston Blades, not only makes her worthy of consideration for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame but the coveted Hockey Hall in Toronto.