Medal round at CBHA Nationals sees rivalries renewed and legends solidified

With one of Canada’s premier ball hockey cities, Ottawa, Ontario, serving as the venue for the 2015 edition of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) nationals, there was no shortage of excitement. Of note, the Vanier Mooseheads, one of the signature clubs in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL) entered the event as the defending national champions.

Heading into the event, their biggest competition came in the form of two clubs; the Toronto Shamrocks, whom the Mooseheads defeated in overtime to capture the 2014 title, and the Ottawa Rebels, another dominant club in OVWBHL play. Also part of the nationals was a pair of provincial all-star teams, the British Columbia Benders and Team Manitoba, along with Atlantic Canada’s only representative, Newfoundland United.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the tournament was the fact that each club featured at least one member of the gold medal winning Canadian team at the 2015 World Street Hockey Championships in Zug, Switzerland. Melanie Jue and Silvia Traversa (who was competing in her tenth nationals) suited up for the Benders, while Manitoba featured the likes of Chantal Larocque and Jessie McCann.

Newfoundland United consisted of four Team Canada members (Kristen Cooze, April Drake, Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk) while the Toronto Shamrocks featured Lexie Hoffmeyer. Of note, she was also part of the CWHL Toronto Furies’ Clarkson Cup championship team in 2014.

The two entries from the OVWBHL featured their own Team Canada superstars. Goaltender Nathalie Girouard and forward Elysia Desmier (who also competed at the Beantown Hockey Classic) suited up for the Mooseheads, while Alicia Blomberg donned the scarlet and black jersey of the Ottawa Rebels.

Despite both qualifying for the medal round, the Mooseheads and Rebels ended up competing for the bronze medal game. In the preliminary round play, the Rebels were first overall, one point ahead of second place Toronto. The Mooseheads were third while Newfoundland United was the only team with a losing record to advance.

Both squads experienced heartbreaking losses in the first games of the medal round. The Rebels had scored five goals against Newfoundland United in a dominant preliminary round victory. Unfortunately, such momentum could not be maintained. Prevailing in the biggest upset of the tournament, Newfoundland defeated the Rebels by a 2-1 mark in overtime.

Also allowing two goals in their loss was the Mooseheads. With 2014 Nationals MVP (and scoring champion) Jamie Lee Rattray moving from the Mooseheads to the Shamrocks, it altered the complexion of the event. Taking into account that she competes for the Brampton Thunder in the CWHL, it would prove to be a significant acquisition for the Shamrocks as she captured her second straight scoring championship.

In the 2-0 shutout victory against the Mooseheads, which was also the third shutout for Shamrocks goaltender Kristy Zamora, the heroics belonged to Jenny Brine. Scoring both goals in the victory, Brine extended her legacy as one of Canada’s greatest ball hockey players. As a side note, Brine has won three medals in world championship play with Team Canada, including two gold medal games.

The battle for the bronze featured two OVWBHL squads taking to the court. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that two members of the Mooseheads’ 2014 National Championship team were now part of the Rebels roster. Fannie Desforges, who was also the MVP of the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, and the first woman to win the Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship, was joined by Jessica O’Grady. Currently in a managerial capacity with the CWHL, O’Grady scored the gold-medal clinching goal in 2014 (and also played with Desforges on Team Canada 2013).

Former St. Lawrence Skating Saints superstar (and CIS national champion with McGill) Chelsea Grills opened the scoring in the contest. Her first period goal would prove to be the bronze medal clinching goal as the match was a defensive stalemate throughout, testament to the strong play (and talent) on both sides.

As the Cinderella team at the CBHA Nationals, Newfoundland United was hoping to emerge from the CBHA Nationals with the gold medal. Certainly an emotional favorite among the fans in attendance, the squad was guaranteed no worse than a silver medal, ensuring that Newfoundland enjoyed a podium finish with its men’s and women’s teams.

Carolyne Prevost, making her CBHA Nationals debut, scored the opening goal early in the first period. Despite a four-minute power play opportunity shortly after her goal, Newfoundland goaltender Ayla Frank was superb.

Playing with confidence and bravura, Frank constantly frustrated the Shamrocks offense, preventing them from adding to their lead.

Eventually, Newfoundland United would solve Kristy Zamora, who was riding a solid shutout streak of three periods in elimination play. April Drake, one of the most promising young talents in Canadian ball hockey, tucked a rebound past Zamora as the crowd roared with excitement.

Despite the tie score, the Shamrocks showed no signs of panic. Although the pace of the game was back and forth, with both sides trying to score, the goaltending was so strong on both sides, that neither team could take advantage of the four power play opportunities in the second.

With both clubs heading into overtime, Newfoundland must have believed that they were a team of destiny. Shamrocks co-founder Meagan Aarts was called for a penalty with only two seconds remaining in the second period. Enjoying a four-minute long power play in overtime, the momentum seemed to be on Newfoundland’s side, as there were murmurs in the stands of a possible upset.

Instead, it was the Shamrocks that prevailed as Jenny Brine managed to sneak the ball past Frank for the gold-medal clinching goal. Having also scored the game-winning goal in the first match of elimination round play, it was part of a legendary performance for Brine that also saw her rank second in the scoring race during the preliminary round.

Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion Fannie Desforges logs first career point in CWHL play

Having established herself as one of the world’s finest competitors in Red Bull Crashed Ice, Fannie Desforges is extending her status as a two-sport star to the frozen perimeter of the CWHL. The Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion in 2012, she would finish the 2013 competition in third place. Ironically, her newest teammate on the Montreal Stars, Dominqiue Thibault, would claim the world title in 2013.

A December 1 road contest against the Brampton Thunder would provide Desforges with an early holiday gift. Earning an assist on Cathy Chartrand’s shorthanded goal, it would be the first point in what will hopefully emerge as the beginning of a storied career.

In action with the Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Marc St. Amour)

In action with the Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Marc St. Amour)

With Marieve Provost serving a penalty for hooking (one of ten total penalties in an unruly second), Desforges and Carly Dupont-Hill set up Chartrand for a short-handed tally at the 18:16 mark of the second stanza. Said goal would provide Montreal with its second lead of the game.

Although Brampton would eventually tie the contest and prevail in a shootout, earning the first point is a milestone in any player’s career. Considering the number of rookies this season, there shall be many more milestones to come. Of note, Desforges will now be aiming for her first career goal in a series with the Calgary Inferno on December 14 and 15.

Selected in the seventh round of the 2013 CWHL Draft, the first assist is a tremendous confidence booster for the dynamic Desforges. Having had a stellar career with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, where she served as captain, her leadership skills shall be essential for a Montreal team looking to redeem itself after a shocking Clarkson Cup loss in March.

Through the first five games of her career, Desforges has provided the red, white and blue with solid disciplined play. Having only served two penalty minutes, her play is complemented by a +2 rating. As the Stars have over 10 rookies on the team, the chemistry should only improve heading into the new year. Should Desforges return to her point per game clip that made her such a competitor in CIS play, it will benefit everyone on the new-look Stars.

Red Bull Crashed Ice World Champion Fannie Desforges selected by Montreal Stars

After making international sports headlines as the 2012 Red Bull Crashed Ice women’s champion, Fannie Desforges is extending her athletic career with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Being selected by the three-time Clarkson Cup champion Montreal Stars in the seventh round of the 2013 CWHL Draft, it is an extension of what has emerged as a remarkable sporting year for Desforges.

Celebrating the 2012 Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship (Photo credit: Reuters)

Celebrating the 2012 Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship (Photo credit: Reuters)

During the 2012-13 Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey season, Desforges served as the captain of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees varsity team. Although it was her final season of eligibility at the CIS level, she had the opportunity to end her career in storied fashion.

Battling with a member of the Montreal Carabins for the puck (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker, Obtained from:

Battling with a member of the Montreal Carabins for the puck (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker, Obtained from:

Desforges and her teammates would compete against the Czech Republic national women’s team in an exhibition match in Rockland, Ontario. With the city of Ottawa hosting the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, it marked the first time that the Czech team was participating at the highest level of IIHF play.

Although the Czech Republic fought back from a two-goal deficit to prevail in the exhibition contest, it would be the final game for Desforges in a Gee-Gees uniform. Being featured in the advertisement for the game only enriched the experience for her.

Just a few weeks before that game, Desforges defended her title at the 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice championships. In the championship race, she would find herself competing against Gee Gees teammate (and Crashed Ice racer) Alicia Blomberg. Although Desforges would finish in third place, it was a bittersweet moment as one of her friends (and current Montreal Stars player) Dominique Thibault grabbed the world title.

Of note, the Montreal Stars have featured some of the most unique women in hockey. From reality TV stars (Jenny Lavigne and Thibault), softball players (Noemie Marin) and martial arts black belts (Carolyne Prevost), the Stars roster holds nothing short of intrigue. It is only fitting that the Stars would now boast two Red Bull Crashed Ice world champions on their roster.

Also joining Desforges among the 2013 CWHL Draft class is rival Jessica O’Grady. Having played for the crosstown Carleton Ravens, O’Grady was selected by the Alberta Hockey Club. The two were part of one of the most dramatic games in the school’s rivalry. A visceral contest between the Gee Gees and Ravens on January 20, 2013 would go to a shootout. While Desforges was one of the shooters for the Gee Gees, it was O’Grady who stole the show. She would emulate Jonathan Toews and score three shootout goals to seal the win for the Ravens.

Ironically, O’Grady and Desforges would be teammates in the summer of 2013. Joined by fellow Gee Gees Alicia Blomberg and alumnae Danika Smith and Erika Pouliot, this remarkable group of women would represent Canada at the World Ball Hockey Championships. Held in St. John’s, Newfoundland, there was tremendous expectation on the Canadian contingent.

Having lost the gold medal match at the 2011 Ball Hockey Worlds to host country Slovakia, golden redemption was on all of the Canadian player’s minds. A confident Desforges would lead Canada to a golden finish as she finished the tournament as leading scorer, complemented by being named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In December 2012, the National Ball Hockey Association also recognized Desforges as one of the Top 30 Greatest Players in Canadian Women’s Ball Hockey history.

One of Canada’s most underrated female athletes, Desforges is a multi-talented performer with a team first approach. As the proud owner of a Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship and Ball Hockey gold, a Clarkson Cup would complete a well-deserved triple crown.

Two-sport star athletes a defining feature for growing CWHL

One of the unique aspects about the CWHL is the fact that many of its players come from various athletic backgrounds. While there is no question that the character and dedication that composes the make-up among the competitors of the CWHL is essential for any athlete, the budding league has definitely seen its players excel in a diverse number of sports.

CWHL co-founders Sami Jo Small and Jennifer Botterill lead the way. Small competed in track and field meets at the Pac-10 level for the famed Stanford University in California. While growing up in Winnipeg, Botterill had an opportunity to try out for the Canadian national junior basketball team in 1996. Luckily for hockey fans, she traded in her sneakers for skates.

The game of softball is no stranger to some of the women in the CWHL. Noemie Marin and Sommer West both competed in the Summer Games with the Canadian national Softball Team. West was part of the Canadian contingent that competed at Sydney 2000. Later that year, West was also a member of the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team. Marin was the only player from Quebec that was part of Canada’s roster for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. In later years, she would set the CWHL record for most points in one game with ten.

Marin high-fiving a teammate at the Beijing Summer Games (Image by: Clive Rose/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Marin high-fiving a teammate at the Beijing Summer Games (Image by: Clive Rose/Getty Images AsiaPac)

In addition to Noemie Marin, the Montreal Stars have a handful of athletes with very impressive athletic credentials. Stars goaltender Kim St. Pierre (the winningest goalie in IIHF history) was once a promising soccer star. Her teammate, Emmanuelle Blais competes in the Cross Fit circuit, while Carolyne Prevost has a black belt in taek won do, once competing at the provincial level in Ontario.

Another Stars competitor, Dominique Thibault is the 2013 world champion in Red Bull Crashed Ice. Having competed in the inaugural Red Bull women’s championships in 2012, Thibault had the fastest time in the qualifier. Ironically, Fannie Desforges, a Montreal Stars draft pick in 2012 would go on to capture the 2012 title. Thibault’s presence is not only breaking ground in the nascent sport, but providing another avenue for women’s hockey players past and present.

Thibault (centre) and Desforges (right) at the 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships (Photo credit: Patrick Garant)

Thibault (centre) and Desforges (right) at the 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships (Photo credit: Patrick Garant)

One of the league’s most promising stars, Vicki Bendus of the Brampton Thunder was a competitive golfer at Mercyhurst College. While she also won the 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award with Mercyhurst’s hockey program, gracing the fairways and putting greens established Bendus as a year-round competitive athlete for her school.

CWHL veteran defender Amber Bowman is a world champion in her second sport of choice. Competing in the World Firefighting Combat Challenge, Bowman not only claimed three world titles in 2012, but set several new records. Breaking new ground is nothing new for Bowman. One of the first female firefighters in her region, Bowman is a role model hero that exemplifies character.

Image obtained from:

Image obtained from:

Of all the sports that the women of the CWHL have competed in, none may be as unique as 2013 CWHL Draft pick Julie Paetsch. Selected in the tenth round by the Alberta Hockey Club, the native of Lanigan, Saskatchewan is the first draft prospect in the league’s history to have competed in women’s tackle football. While playing hockey at the University of Saskatchewan, she would add tackle football to her athletic endeavors. A two-time silver medalist for Canada at the IFAF Women’s World Tackle Football Championships, she is also a three-time WWCFL champion with the Saskatoon Valkyries.

Paetsch being represented as Canada's player of the game in the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women's Worlds (Image obtained from Facebook)

Paetsch being represented as Canada’s player of the game in the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds (Image obtained from Facebook)

While two-sport stars tend to be more common in the realm of men’s sports (Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders defined a generation by playing pro football and baseball), it is equally important to recognize the role that women have played. Following in the footsteps of legendary Canadian female two-sport stars such as Cindy Klassen (who once played hockey for the Canadian Under-22 team) and Clara Hughes, the two-sport stars of the CWHL are carrying the torch and continuing to forge a legacy upon which the next generation of female athletes can reach for.

Hockey lifestyle magazine misses mark with Red Bull Crashed Ice coverage

For fans of the hockey periodical The 4th Period, the issue which features Henrik Lundqvist on the cover truly missed its mark. While the periodical is an amalgam of GQ and The Hockey News, the standard coverage of women in hockey features ice girls from various NHL teams.

In its Summer 2013 issue, the periodical had a golden opportunity to recognize the contributions of women in hockey. Starting on page 84, an article on Red Bull Crashed Ice and its growing popularity was featured.

Unfortunately, the only athletes mentioned in the piece were male athletes. How could they not have covered the fact that the last two female Red Bull Crashed Ice world champions were both women’s hockey players?

While Red Bull Crashed Ice certainly brings with it a potential for hockey fans to follow it, the event has also opened doors for the women of hockey. Women’s hockey players from all levels of play including CIS, CWHL and NCAA have been involved in the event.

Since its inception, Red Bull Crashed Ice has given many current and former women’s hockey players the chance to enjoy their game on a different level. Former NCAA stars Rush Zimmerman and Amanda Trunzo found new life in their athletic endeavors while soaring down the remarkable peaks of the women’s event in Quebec City.

Several Ottawa Gee Gees women’s hockey players, including Alicia Blomberg, Fannie Desforges and Kayla Hottot were competitors. For Desforges, the captain of the Ottawa Gee Gees in 2012-13, she became a global celebrity after capturing the 2012 Red Bull Women’s World Championship. Of note, she was the first woman to capture the title.

In 2013, Dominique Thibault of the CWHL grabbed the world title, while Desforges finished in third. Of note, Thibault also competed in the 2012 edition. Perhaps more impressive, the event was held just a few days before Thibault and her club team, the Montreal Stars, would compete in the Clarkson Cup playoffs.

As a sign of respect, the periodical should have least mentioned the names of Desforges and Thibault. The failure to mention the female competitors in Red Bull Crashed Ice would be like a major newspaper covering a tennis event, but only mentioning the men’s competition and not the women’s.

Their accomplishments in Red Bull Crashed Ice are just as relevant while helping to reinforce how women’s hockey players are multi-talented, unique individuals. To go that extra mile is the type of push that may just help women’s hockey build its much needed momentum.