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.

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: http://about.me/amber_bowman

Image obtained from: http://about.me/amber_bowman

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.