Triple Gold Club for Mikk and Wick among others

While there is a tremendous element of prestige that comes with winning a Clarkson Cup, it is also part of a bigger picture in which the remarkable accomplishments of women in hockey deserve to be celebrated on a grander scale. Less than 20 women have enjoyed the achievement of winning Winter Games Gold, IIHF World Gold and either the Clarkson or Isobel Cup. Although it is not yet recognized by the IIHF, the “Triple Gold Club for Women” is one that deserves to be honored, regardless of its status.

In the aftermath of the Calgary Inferno defeating Les Canadiennes de Montreal in an exhilarating 8-3 final at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, five jubilant women enjoyed more than just the glory of the 2016 Clarkson Cup, the first contested on NHL ice. They earned the chance to join the Triple Gold Club for Women and add another significant accomplishment to their distinguished hockey resumes.

Photo credit: Justin Tang, The Canadian Press

Photo credit: Justin Tang, The Canadian Press

Among the most notable new entrants into said Club were Meaghan Mikkelson and living legend Hayley Wickenheiser. Having gained celebrity status with her appearance on The Amazing Race Canada, Mikkelson has enjoyed three major championships in five seasons. Starting with IIHF World Gold in 2012, she would follow it up with a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Canada’s Miracle on Ice, and the 2016 Clarkson, which saw her log an assist in the Finals.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Mikkelson had the opportunity to share in the glory of the Cup with a very special member of her family. With infant son Calder Reid was among the young spectators in attendance at the Finals, she skated around the ice with him during the postgame celebrations. Although he was far too young to absorb what had transpired, it was definitely a heartwarming moment when he was part of a group picture with his mom’s Inferno teammates and the coveted Cup.

Although most fans may not know that Wickenheiser is also a mom, having adopted a son named Noah approximately 14 years ago, her son’s personal growth has run parallel to her growing legacy as an icon in hockey. Undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer, Wickenheiser’s accomplishments in hockey are Gretzky-like. Throughout all these sensational seasons, the one achievement that eluded her was a Clarkson Cup.

Having once skated for the Calgary Oval X-Treme in the former WWHL, Wickenheiser would join the University of Calgary Dinos squad following the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. While she would lead the Dinos to a CIS national championship, Calgary fans were left to wonder if Wickenheiser had enough left in the tank following the Sochi Winter Games to try and play for a Clarkson Cup. Not only would she please said fans by registering in the 2015 CWHL Draft, conquering a frontier that had yet to be challenged, her presence provided the Inferno with the perfect blend of offensive depth and leadership needed to propel the club into the title conversation.

Rebecca Johnston, established her legend with the Inferno by achieving several historic firsts. She would end 2014 by scoring the first All-Star Game winning goal. In February 2015, Johnston would become the first member of the Inferno to capture the Angela James Bowl. Fast forward one year later and Johnston would make history again by scoring the first goal for the Inferno in a Clarkson Cup final.

Such efforts yielded positive results as Johnston gained Triple Gold glory. Having played alongside Mikkelson and Wickenheiser at both the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Games, career milestones intertwine with two of the most prominent hockey figures from Western Canada.

Having made her Winter Games debut at Sochi 2014, Brianne Jenner represents the future for the Canadian national women’s team. Just like Mikkelson, she experienced the same glorious run, consisting of IIHF Gold in 2012, the miraculous run to gold at Sochi 2014, and the thrill of receiving the coveted Clarkson at centre ice in a memorable first season in the CWHL.

Selected by the Inferno in the first round of the 2015 CWHL Draft (Wickenheiser would be nabbed in the third round), her arrival definitely signified a turning point in franchise history, as a Clarkson Cup title became possible. With Jillian Saulnier, who played alongside Jenner at the NCAA level with Cornell, selected in the second round, she may one day be part of the Triple Gold Club as well. Definitely on Hockey Canada’s radar for the 2018 Winter Games, Saulnier will be looking to capture her first IIHF gold in 2016.

Despite her rookie status, Jenner would have the honor of the captaincy bestowed upon her. Like Johnston, she would score twice on Canadiennes goaltender (and Sochi teammate) Charline Labonte in the 8-3 final. Having also led all CWHL rookies in scoring, Jenner’s debut season has been nothing short of remarkable

The fifth member of this remarkable group of women gains entry into the Club in a rather historic manner. Gina Kingsbury, who served as an assistant coach on Shannon Miller’s coaching staff at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2014-15 (which also featured fellow Cup champion Brigitte Lacquette in her senior season at UMD) became the first member of the Triple Gold Club for Women to gain entry as a coach.

Having joined the Inferno’s coaching staff in the autumn of 2015, she would prove to be an integral component to the success to follow. With a pair of Winter Games gold medals to her credit, and multiple IIHF World Championships, her experience as a player made her a member of the coaching staff that players could relate to. Making her mark on women’s hockey history, Kingsbury’s feat represents the potential for so many more historic accomplishments in the game’s future.

Calgary Inferno clinch spot in Clarkson Cup finals

As the 2016 Clarkson Cup shall be contested on NHL ice for the very first time, it is only fitting that a club is making its debut in the big game. With a semi-final postseason victory against the upstart Brampton Thuder, the Calgary Inferno have punched their ticket for the Cup for the first time ever in franchise history. Of all the current teams in the CWHL, the Inferno were the only team heading into this season that had not yet appeared in a Cup final.

Photo credit: Dave Holland

Photo credit: Dave Holland

Since its founding in 2011 as Team Alberta, with its navy blue and gold colors, the evolution of a franchise into a championship contender has been a true fairy tale. Of note, three members from that inaugural season shall be competing in the 2016 edition of the Clarkson Cup. Jenna Cunningham, who became the first member of the franchise to reach 100 career games and 60 career points (all with Team Alberta/Calgary), is accompanied by blueliners Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid and Kelsey Webster.

The first postseason game saw Calgary double up against Brampton, the first-ever champions in league history, by a 4-2 tally. In the first frame, Hayley Wickenheiser and Jillian Saulnier would both score their first CWHL playoff goals on the power play. This trend would continue as Blayre Turnbull logged her first playoff goal, which would also stand as the game-winning tally. Superstar forward Rebecca Johnston would ice the game with an empty net score.

Attempting to regroup in the second game, Brampton played aggressively. Outshooting the Inferno by a 33-31 margin, goaltender Delayne Brian nullified seven Brampton power plays, including four in the second stanza. Three goals in the first period (scored by Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid, Bailey Bram and a power play marker by rookie Brigitte Lacquette) provided the Inferno with a comfortable 3-1 lead.

Goals by Courtney Birchard and Rookie of the Year finalist Rebecca Vint chipped away at the lead, as the score was tied midway through the third period. A combination of Team Canada members would provide the Inferno with the go-ahead goal. Saulnier and Jennier would earn the assists as Johnston scored on Brampton backstop Erica Howe at the 12:27 mark of the third, earning the game-winning tally.

The pieces to this puzzle were assembled over several seasons but the journey has been nothing short of enjoyable. After Hillary Pattenden, the first pick overall in the 2012 CWHL Draft, opted not to play in the league (pursuing her education in Southern Ontario), the club found its franchise goaltender with Delayne Brian in 2013. Her goaltending proved crucial towards Calgary earning its first trip to the postseason in 2014. Rewarded for her exemplary play with the 2014 CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, the first member of the Inferno to capture a major award, Brian has also competed with the Canadian national women’s ball hockey team, capturing a gold at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds.

Having scored the first outdoor goal in NCAA women’s hockey, Brittany Esposito was another piece that paid remarkable dividends for the Inferno. While free agent Rebecca Johnston would win the 2015 Angela James Bowl, complemented by league MVP honors, Esposito would tie Danny Stone’s franchise record for most points in one season by a rookie. Esposito and Johnston also earned the distinction of playing in the first two CWHL All-Star Games.

Although Stone currently plays in Europe, she was one of three Saskatchewan Huskies alum (including Chelsea Purcell and Julie Paetsch, a former Saskatoon Valkyries running back) that helped instill confidence in the franchise, representing a turning point towards winning. After a 2013-14 season that saw Stone and Paetsch ignite the offensive spark for the Inferno, Johnston proved to be nothing short of electrifying.

With a strong team culture that included the likes of Bailey Bram, Jessica Campbell and Jessica Wong, the first visible minority selected first overall in the history of the CWHL Draft, a trio of popular players who bring strong enthusiasm for the game, there was a feeling that a championship was within reach. Campbell would make her impact felt on two empowering occasions. At the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Campbell became the first rookie to serve as All-Star captain. In addition, Johnston took home Game MVP honors. During the 2015-16 season, Campbell helped organize a fundraiser for Do It for Daron, which saw the team decked out in sharp purple jerseys, while raising funds for mental health, a cause that only strengthened the existing team spirit.

This season, a solid rookie class involved the likes of Brianne Jenner, Elana Lovell, Jillian Saulnier and Hayley Wickenheiser. Of note, Wickenheiser did play for the former Calgary Oval X-Treme in the now defunct Western Women’s Hockey League, but this is her first season in CWHL play. Such a remarkable group shined in the second CWHL All-Star Game, as Saulnier and Wickenheiser scored goals, held in January at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Considering that Lovell was the only member of the Inferno nominated for a major league award, it also serves as an extra form of motivation. Ranking in the top ten of the scoring race for the Angela James Bowl, Lovell ranked third in scoring among league rookies, trailing Brampton’s Rebecca Vint and teammate Brianne Jenner, who paced all first-year players. Having played alongside Wickenheiser with the University of Calgary Dinos, where the two captured a Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship, the first in program history, a Clarkson Cup would add another unique first to their careers.

In addition, a Cup win would place Wickenheiser in the Triple Gold Club for Women. Not officially recognized by the IIHF, the Club consists of women that have won Winter Games Gold, IIHF World Gold and the Cup. Taking into account the NWHL’s Isobel Cup shall be contested this season, criteria may need to be reconsidered in future. For now, Wickenheiser would join fellow Inferno teammates Haley Irwin (on injured reserve), Brianne Jenner and Meaghan Mikkelson in such special status.

Returning to NHL ice for the Cup finals, the game shall be held at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre. Taking into account that Calgary, Montreal and Toronto are also league sponsors, it is surprising that the finals are not being held in one of those arenas. The last time that CWHL hockey was contested in Ottawa was during the 2009-10 season, when the Lady Senators were contracted. Although the IIHF Women’s World Championships were held in Ottawa in 2013, there has never been any mention of a possible return to league play for Canada’s capital.

Considering that Ottawa has been a significant part of women’s hockey history, with exciting firsts such as the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds, the debut match for Canada’s U18 program, along with the formation of Canada’s ice sledge women’s hockey team, complemented by a proud ball hockey legacy and Jayna Hefford’s 200th appearance for Team Canada, it would only be fitting if the Inferno added to such history. Capturing its first-ever Clarkson Cup would not only raise the sporting morale of Western Canadian hockey fans, it would certainly augment discussion about possible westward expansion, while bringing added importance to the proud role of Alberta’s role in the Canadian identity of women’s hockey.

Wickenheiser logs first career CWHL points as Inferno sweep defending Clarkson Cup champs

In the opening weeks of the 2015-16 CWHL season, anticipation built as living legend Hayley Wickenheiser was prepared to make her debut for the Calgary Inferno. Having played for the Calgary Oval X-Treme in the now defunct WWHL and with the Calgary Dinos in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play, the CWHL’s Inferno remained the final Calgary-based team for Wickenheiser to suit up for.

Despite being 36 years of age, Wickenheiser is still among the world’s finest competitors, able to provide a superior level of play against competitors half her age. No one is expecting Wickenheiser to be the player that she was 10 years ago. On talent alone, she can cause potential nightmares for opposing defenses. Her presence alone is enough to generate confidence in her teammates while her vast knowledge can only help improve the quality of her teammate’s play.

With the Inferno’s season opener taking place on October 24, 2015, it would prove to be a test for the club. Facing off against the defending champion Boston Blades, a victory would make a significant statement.
Taking into account that it was also Wickenheiser’s CWHL debut, the fact that the contest took place on home ice at the Winsport Arena only added to expectation. As highly touted draft picks Brianne Jenner and Jillian Saulnier, also members of Canada’s national making their CWHL debuts in the contest, opening game would prove to be an indicator of what fans could expect.

It was an outcome where Wickenheiser would deliver on all accounts. Like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Wickenheiser has the gift of making others around her better, increasing their confidence. It would not take long for her to make an impact in the season opener.

At the 12:14 mark of the first period, Wickenheiser and Kristen Hagg would earn an assist on the first goal of the Inferno season. Scored by Jillian Saulnier, it also signified the first goal in her CWHL career. After goals by Elena Lovell (just 19 seconds after Saulnier’s goal) and Jessica Campbell, who gained the distinction of being the first-ever rookie to serve as captain at the CWHL All-Star Game, another first followed. Less than four minutes after Saulnier’s goal, Brianne Jenner would log the first goal of her CWHL career, resulting in four Inferno goals in a time span of just three minutes and 37 seconds.

With Jenna Cunnigham, a link to the Inferno’s former Team Alberta days, and Campbell scoring in the second period, the game was out of reach for the beleaguered Boston Blades. Although Blades’ forward Megan Myers would break Delayne Brian’s bid for a shutout in the third period, the 7-1 final proved to be the largest margin of victory on opening day in franchise history. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that the Inferno peppered Blades goalie Genevieve Lacasse with an astounding 56 shots.

Following the convincing opening day win, Wickenheiser also added her name to the stat sheet in the second half of the two-game set. Logging another assist, she was one of nine different Inferno players to register a point in a 4-1 victory.

Similar to the opening day win, the Inferno came out strong and did not relent. Brianne Jenner would open the scoring with her first career power play goal as Hayleigh Cudmore and Brittany Esposito earned the assists. Sarah Davis, the first Newfoundland-born player to compete on the national team, scored the second goal of the first period, which would prove to be the game-winning tally.

Wickenheiser and Jacquie Pierri would add to the Inferno’s 2-0 lead as they logged the assists on a goal scored by Boston University alum Louise Warren. As a side note, Warren would finish the game with a stellar three-point performance. Just 10 seconds after Warren’s goal, Blayre Turnbull, a former captain with the Wisconsin Badgers, scored her first career CWHL goal, placing the game out of reach for the Blades.

Tara Watchorn, in her first season as the Blades captain, scored the last goal of the second period, which would prove to be the final goal of the game. With Elena Lovell serving a penalty for too many men, Watchorn snapped another shutout effort for the Inferno.

Despite three power play opportunities in the third period for the Blades, Kathy Desjardins nullified all of them, preserving the win for the Inferno. Having not played during the 2014-15 season, as she temporarily relocated to British Columbia, she would be among the other feel-good stories of the game. Earning her first CWHL win since March 2, 2014, coincidentally that win also came against the Boston Blades, part of a 29 save effort in a 4-2 final.

For the Calgary Inferno, a weekend sweep of the defending Clarkson Cup champions made a remarkable statement. The addition of Wickenheiser has helped to add a new dimension to an already explosive offensive attack for the Inferno, ambitiously seeking their first-ever Clarkson Cup. Should the Inferno’s Clarkson Cup dreams come true, it will allow two of their members, Wickenheiser and Brianne Jenner the rare privilege of having won the IIHF Women’s Worlds, Winter Games Gold, and the Clarkson Cup, a symbolic crossroads for a pair of elite scorers simultaneously representing the heritage and the future of women’s hockey in Canada.

Marie-Philip Poulin does it again as she nets second straight gold-medal winning goal

Following in the proud steps of Nancy Drolet, Marie-Philip Poulin becomes the second woman in the history of the Canadian program to score a pair of gold-medal winning goals. While Drolet helped Canada gain gold at the 1997 and 2000 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Poulin has scored at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, respectively. For both of these players, the chance to score such important goals places them in the same lore as Canadian male hockey hero Paul Henderson.

For Poulin, each one of her goals has provided Canada with tremendous riches on the world’s biggest stage. In 2010, Poulin would score twice in Canada’s 2-0 victory over the United States. Not only did it signify that a star was born for Canada, but it provided the squad with its first Winter Games gold on home ice.

Marie-Philip Poulin is all smiles after scoring the gold-medal winning goal for Canada (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Marie-Philip Poulin is all smiles after scoring the gold-medal winning goal for Canada (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Ironically, Poulin would score twice again versus the United States in 2014. With less than sixty seconds remaining, she would score on US backstop Jessie Vetter to tie the game. In overtime, a power play opportunity provided Poulin with the chance to become the first woman to log back-to-back gold-medal winning goals in the history of women’s hockey at the Winter Games.

While fellow Canadian Cassie Campbell became the first captain to lead her team to back-to-back gold medals in women’s hockey history (in 2002 and 2006 for Canada), Poulin follows her proud accomplishment.

This goal would have an even more profound meaning for the Canadian team. While it signified the fourth consecutive gold medal for Canada, a first among female hockey teams in the history of the Games, it also extended Canada’s unbeaten streak at the Games to an unprecedented 20 straight.

Taking an obligatory bite of the cherished gold medal (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Taking an obligatory bite of the cherished gold medal (Photo credit: Ben Pelosse/Journal de Montreal/QMI Agency OLY2014)

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect was the way her goal helped three of her teammates make their own unique bit of history. Dubbed as “The Pioneer Generation” by CBC Sports, Jayna Hefford, Caroline Ouellette and Hayley Wickenheiser helped write a new chapter in Canadian sporting history. Not only do the pioneers become the first three women to win four consecutive gold medals in women’s hockey, they are the first athletes to win medals for Canada in four consecutive Winter Games.

Representing a new generation of hockey heroes for Canada, the Sochi Games truly represented a passing of the torch. As the Pioneer Generation may have likely played in their final game, Poulin is ready to build on their proud legacy alongside the likes of Melodie Daoust, Natalie Spooner and Laura Fortino, to name a few.

Not even 25 years old, Poulin’s performances over the last two Games is nothing short of empowering. Already a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won IIHF gold, Winter Games gold and the Clarkson Cup, Poulin has one year of eligibility remaining at Boston University. The opportunity to help BU win an NCAA Frozen Four title or capture the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award would serve to enhance a growing career that has reached, and exceeded, its promise.

Hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser named Canada’s flag bearer for Sochi Games

In reflecting on the choice of female hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer, it celebrates the career of a great athlete that very few can compare to. On a larger scale, it is symbolic of how Canada has allowed many new opportunities for women to compete in sport over the last few years.

The Olympic movement speaks of celebrating humankind without prejudice and fighting ignorance and the impact and growing popularity of women in sport is testament to such an ideology. Like so many other female athletes, Wickenheiser believes in giving back to the community. She is also a tremendous hockey humanitarian, having donated her time to causes such as Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, KidsSport, Spread The Net, Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl and Classroom Champions.

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

As the 2014 Winter Games marks her fifth appearance with the Canadian national women’s team, she is one of only two women (along with Canadian Jayna Hefford) to take part in five women’s hockey tournaments at the Games. Having battled injuries the last few years, there is concern that Sochi may be her swan song. Should Canada emerge with gold, Hefford, Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette would become the first women to win four gold medals in women’s hockey at the Winter Games.

With the announcement made by Steve Podborski, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it is an ideal way to pay tribute to the 35 year-old from Shaunuvon, Saskatchewan, who emerged as the finest women’s hockey player of her generation. Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and former owner of the Quebec Nordiques hockey club, acknowledged the appointment by announcing that Wickenheiser was one of Canada’s greatest ambassadors.

Other names that were discussed included Sidney Crosby, whose gold medal winning goal in Vancouver fulfilled his destiny as a hockey star. Kallie Humphries, one of Canada’s most successful bobsled performers, Larisa Yurkiw, who gained tremendous support via social media, speed skating champion Charles Hamelin and figure skating pair Tessa Virtue and Soctt Moir.

Perhaps the most impressive fact about her athletic career is that she was also a two-sport star. At the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, she was a member of Canada’s softball team. Ironically, Sommer West, who had played on the Canadian national women’s hockey team in 2000 was also her teammate on the softball team at Sydney.

She proudly follows in the footsteps of two other female sports stars that were flag bearers at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Clara Hughes (who has also competed in the Summer Games) carried the flag for Canada in the opening ceremonies, while Joanie Rochette was the flag bearer at Vancouver’s closing ceremonies.

As a side note, Wickenheiser had the honor of reading the athlete’s oath at Vancouver’s opening ceremonies. To follow it up with the chance to be the flag bearer for 2014 is testament to her impact as an athlete. At Sochi, she shall also be running for election to the International Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission. Angela Ruggiero, an American hockey player, was successfully elected in 2010.

Despite all these accomplishments, there is a trace of irony as Wickenheiser is not the first women’s hockey player to serve as Canada’s flag bearer. That honor goes to Danielle Goyette, who served as the flag bearer at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

While some athletes consider serving as flag bearer bad luck (Alexandre Despatie refused at London 2012, while Adam von Koeverden carried the flag in 2008 and won a silver medal), Goyette helped Canada to a gold medal. Canadian fans can only hope history repeats itself. Fans can expect to see her emerge from the tunnel into Fischt Stadium on February 7.