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 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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whittakerrichard/6868002973/)

Battling with a member of the Montreal Carabins for the puck (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker, Obtained from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whittakerrichard/6868002973/)

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.