Ailish Forfar’s “The Dream Gap” documentary a declaration of the game’s hopes

While a key focus of the PWHPA has involved, understandably, the players and the collaborative goal of heralding a golden age for the game, the feeling of teamwork is certainly just as impactful off the ice. Such an impact goes beyond the number of dedicated volunteers and sponsors. The definition took on a more profound meaning, enhanced by a highly creative visual production, representing an amazing assembly of talent by the affable Ailish Forfar that put its finger on the pulse of the raison d’etre of the PWHPA.

Through her academic obligations, working towards completing her studies in Ryerson Sport Media, it served as the portal, which provided Forfar with a creative vision to engage in a film project that would incorporate her appreciation of hockey, stimulating a sense of mission to raise awareness about the PWHPA and its collective goals. Dubbed “The Dream Gap”, the title paid homage to a key staple of the PWHPA’s first year of events, as a barnstorming tour throughout North America also featured the same name.

Realizing the concept in late summer, Forfar saw the potential to incorporate the best of both worlds. With the current state of professional women’s ice hockey in a type of somnambulism, there was a strong sense of inspiration to provide a visual narrative. Finding a heightened sense of purpose, it was a project perfectly suited to bring out Forfar’s passion for the game. Preserving the persistence among those in the game that is poised to stand as a template for future generations to emulate.

“The Dream Gap film/project was my final practicum for Ryerson Sport Media – the four year program I have officially just graduated from (virtually!). I was working with some classmates who I had formed a great relationship with over the years and had similar interests in covering women’s hockey stories. So I pitched the idea to them late August before classes started up to do something on the new PWHPA movement as I was joining and was personally motivated to help tell our story.

It was a perfect meshing of my academic and athletic passions. With the access I would have as a player/teammate to the PWHPA, and with my classmates’ incredible skill sets, I knew we would be able to create a really meaningful and personal project that would help tell our story.”

Having called the likes of Erin Ambrose and Laura Stacey as teammates with the PWHL’s Toronto Jr. Aeros, Forfar later starred at the Ivy League level with the Dartmouth College Big Green, playing alongside Stacey once again. Forfar’s university odyssey would conclude with a tribute to her Greater Toronto Area roots, skating with the Ryerson Rams, whose home ice at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, based inside the former Maple Leaf Gardens, helped maintain a proud hockey legacy in the city.

Serving as team captain of the burgeoning program, excelling under the tutelage of Lisa Haley, enjoying the prestige of a First-Team OUA All-Star, complemented by the privilege of wearing the Maple Leaf at the Winter Universiade, Forfar’s skills and acumen for the game established her as a top prospect for the professional ranks.

Selected by the defending Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder with the ninth pick of the 2018 CWHL Draft, a team that serendipitously featured Stacey on its roster, Forfar remained associated with the Rams program following her eligibility as a player. Serving dutifully as a member of Haley’s coaching staff; the experience ran parallel to her inaugural season of professional hockey, marking a highly eventful time for the product of Sharon, Ontario.

Although Forfar’s first season with the Thunder proved to be the last in franchise history, she remained highly occupied during 2019-20, as the path taken was one spurred by a highly unforeseen announcement. As the Thunder no longer had a league to play in, the franchise thrust into stasis, the result was a shift in focus.

Maintaining her role on the Rams coaching staff, Forfar provided a welcome presence. As an alumnus not far removed from her glory days in Rams colours, she combined elements of empathy and friendship, providing an approach that maintained her proud legacy as one of the program’s finest leaders.

With a highly talented roster featuring Kryshandra (Krash) Green, who followed Forfar’s example by serving as team captain, Lauren Nicholson and Erica Crouse led the team in scoring with 26 and 25 points each. The season culminated with a sweep of the Brock Badgers in the opening round of the McCaw Cup playoffs as former OUA All-Rookie selection Brooklyn Gemmill scored the series-clinching goal. Enjoying their first-ever semi-final victory, as Nicholson logged the game-winner in a 3-2 opening game triumph against cross-town rival Toronto Lady Blues. Although the program was unable to reach the McCaw Cup Finals, the transfers of Laurier’s Jamie Watson and All-Canadian Annie Berg are poised to ensure that the run of momentum continues.

Worth noting, Forfar’s duties during a highly eventful, yet exciting, time involved another unique endeavor. While engaged in her studies through the Ryerson Sport Media curriculum, Forfar also established a remarkable online presence as a reporter for Yahoo Sports, covering NHL hockey with a highly entertaining weekly program during the 2019-20 NHL season. Currently working with Steve Dangle on NHL Chatroom, which debuted during the 2020 NHL Playoffs, Forfar’s on-air proficiency was evident two years prior. At the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Forfar was an online video blogger for Samsung. Additionally, Forfar contributed a written piece to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Hooked on Hockey prior to enrolling at Dartmouth, demonstrating a positive attitude and a profound maturity that would serve her well.

In committing herself to the project of “The Dream Gap”, such values were highly evident, as it also resulted in Forfar accepting her competitive limitations. Sacrificing a season of play, withdrawing from any PWHPA exhibition games, the focus of the documentary allowed her to maintain a heartfelt association with hockey, a highly satisfying facet. Indubitably, the sense of teamwork that encompassed Forfar’s on-ice career remained essential behind the lens. Fittingly, Forfar would find a muse in a former Thunder teammate.

Liz Knox, the franchise’s all-time winningest goaltender, was a member of the PWHPA’s Board during the filming of the documentary. In addition, a volunteer firefighter in the town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, which includes footage during the documentary with Knox in uniform, she graciously stepped down from the Board in September 2020 to allow Sarah Nurse a place. Remaining in the capacity of advisor, her reputation for strong leadership and revered standing as a model teammate shined through during Forfar’s labours. Among the interview subjects, Knox’s highly articulate and poignant insights added significantly to the documentary’s tone.

“My teammates were supportive of this idea and appreciative of the fact I would have to cut back on my involvement on the ice. I was balancing being a full time student at Ryerson, a part time coach with the Ryerson Women’s Hockey team, all while having a full time job as a Reporter and On-Air host at Yahoo Sports covering the NHL. I basically knew by September, I could not add in 2-3 practices a week in the evenings up in Markham, plus games/travel on weekends with all of that, while also producing the documentary for my program.

The decision to step off the ice and focus on this storytelling passion was necessary for my sanity too! Any teammates I reached out to for help were always so supportive, especially Liz Knox, who I frequently bothered. My Ryerson group had a great time working with the players and staff and helping tell this story and wish we could have had more time to do more (Ryerson semester only allowed us to complete the project from mid September – end of November for grades).”

Billie Jean King in the PWHPA jersey

As production ensued, Forfar’s passion and focus on strong production values were evident. Considering that a key aspect of the documentary would involve interview footage, she was determined to feature people of prominence, providing a sense of importance to the current state of affairs in the game, while enriching the compelling story unfolding. In addition to the aforementioned Knox, other iconic hockey figures that were interview subjects included Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, also the all-time leading scorer in Thunder franchise history and current Operations Consultant of the PWHPA, along with Hilary Knight, a gold medalist from the 2018 Winter Games.

Of all the individuals that provided their commentary to the documentary, perhaps none held as much influence as the legendary Billie Jean King. Having become a household name in 1973, the same year that she founded the Women’s Tennis Association, when she opposed Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis challenge at the Houston Astrodome, she was also named Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year in 1972. Also founding the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, King’s effect not only extends beyond the hardcourt but also remains relevant to this day.

Determined to ensure a voice for women in sport, another aspect of King’s mission involves ensuring that female athletes know their value, embodying the sentiments shared by the PWHPA and the likes of Alex Morgan, who remains highly vocal in the US national women’s soccer team’s fight for pay equity. Considering how King’s influence has transcended generations, her presence in women’s ice hockey resulted in coverage from The Wall Street Journal and NHL.com.

Undeniably, the opportunity for King to appear in front of the camera and share her insights on the current mission of the PWHPA provided Forfar, who drove to Chicago with her colleagues, a tremendous feeling of achievement and validation. Decked out in the white jersey with sharp red and blue trim, also worn at the PWHPA Magellan Showcase in Chicago, of which Billie Jean King Enterprises also provided financing for the event, her vision for the future of the game involves three key pillars. An emphasis on ensuring women have a place to compete, gain appreciation for their accomplishments and earn a living wage. One of King’s comments in the documentary included the very well stated, ‘…we will no longer settle for crumbs.’

“I set our sights very high initially in the planning stages of production, knowing that big names and support from icons for women in sport would only help with the validity and storytelling of our documentary. Luckily, I knew Jayna (Hefford) personally from the CWHL and she was eager to help with our story and to help us get access to our players and others that supported the PWHPA’s movement. She was helpful in securing an interview with Billie Jean King in Chicago, which was one of the coolest career moments of my life so far.

Billie has lived through almost exactly what is happening right now with women’s hockey, and is a leader and an inspiration for most female athletes regardless of which sport you play. Interviewing her was one of the most inspirational conversations I have ever had; being able to see and feel her passion for equality and empowerment and to know that she was hearing our own wishes and our own vision was huge.

She is also a firecracker and hilarious and so generous with her time, and we could have talked for an hour and still wanted to hear more. I’m proud to have been able to pull that interview off – we drove to Chicago and back just to meet with her (all of this entire production was paid out of pocket by us, as students!).”

In conjunction with the PWHPA’s first event of 2020, a weekend affair spanning from January 11-12 in Toronto, highlighted by the Secret Showcase, featuring an unprecedented six teams, the Saturday night festivities included the first screening of The Dream Gap. Representing a major milestone for the assiduous Forfar, highlighting a new chapter in her hockey journey, a flood of emotion overtook her.

“The entire documentary screening night was definitely a blur of excitement, nervousness and high expectations – kind of like a hockey game – and one of the proudest nights of my life. We had two incredible panels before and after the documentary (audio is available on Homestand’s PuckTalk page) to provide context, to get the audience thinking and help bookend our story.

When the documentary started playing, I looked around the audience and saw a packed crowd fully engrossed into a project we had poured our heart and soul into, and I felt really proud of my entire team and everyone involved. After it ended, and the audience started clapping and standing on their feet… I had tears in my eye and a lump in my throat because I was overwhelmed with emotion, gratitude, exhaustion, excitement, relief and champagne.

The response after, the messages we received, the amount of people who wanted to see it again and show their friends, teammates, co-workers, families, and more, just proved that we had a story worth telling. Admittedly we are in talks to get it shown on TV very soon, but even if that does not work, we will keep trying to get it seen by many because we do believe that it is necessary to show and help that next generation understand what we are fighting for.”

Following the screening, Forfar hosted a Player’s Panel with the likes of Knight, Knox and Marie-Philip Poulin, whose golden goals at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games placed her in the same stratosphere of Canadian hockey mythology as Paul Henderson. Their collective presence was not only a source of great interest for the audience; it added a feeling of both, importance and endorsement for the documentary itself.

Sharing the common thread of having all played in the final CHWL season, Forfar and Knox aligned with the Thunder, while Knight and Poulin were garbed in the tri-colore of Les Canadiennes de Montreal, appearing in the last Clarkson Cup Finals. Definitely, the sense of mutual respect and shared love of the game set the tone for a fascinating discussion.

“It is always a weird feeling to just casually say that these legends are… my friends? I am so lucky, really, to know and be surrounded by such passionate, influential, bad-*ss women who are leaders in everything they do.”

Certainly, the Dream Gap documentary represents a …. With a tremendous admiration for the game and its players, Forfar’s focus

I respect all female hockey players, across all leagues, organizations and countries, for their dedication to a sport and a cause that often does not provide everything we desire, and frustrates us, exposes inequalities, and makes us question the future of that next generation.

Because without girls like these, or stories like ours, we will never move forward and make a change that will last. I am so proud to have started a conversation, to have sparked debate or helped new perspectives form. It is important to keep women’s sports in the spotlight, because we deserve to have people want to tell our story not only when it is convenient or when it is necessary, but always.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

“Cup of Coffee” takes on new meaning for Marie-Philip Poulin

With the onset of autumn, Canada’s iconic Tim Horton’s is heralding the start of anothetr hockey season. In addition to the release of its annual hockey card offering, a new facet sets an exciting tone.

Three different cups feature an assortment of hockey players, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada’s most talented and popular female competitor. Featured on the extra-large cup, Poulin’s image, along with her trademark number 29 comprises the motif.

Marie-Philip Poulin on the Tim Horton’s XL Coffee Cup (Image obtained from Twitter)

Becoming the first women’s ice hockey player to appear on one of Tim Horton’s coffee cups, it serves as further affirmation of her status as a Canadian sporting icon. Simultaneously, her appearance raises awareness for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Featured on said cup in the jersey of her club team, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, it symbolizes a paradigm shift for the CWHL, marking the first time that the league has ever been featured on a commercial product.

Of note ,the medium cup features Hall of Fame blueliner Tim Horton (who co-founded the donut chain with Ron Joyce), a long overdue tribute. A pair of current NHL stars, including long-time company spokesman Sidney Crosby, whose image also graces the packs of Tim Horton’s hockey cards, and fellow All-Star Nathan McKinnon share the design on the large cup. Undeniably, all cups are poised to become part of the gathering of memorabilia among hardcore hockey collectors.

Everyone wins at Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival

In a year that saw Caroline Ouellette become the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer, followed by a final yet inspiring appearance with Canada’s national women’s team in Malmo, Sweden, such a memorable 2015 has culminated with the second annual Caroline Ouellette Hockey Festival. Its success was quickly assured with a remarkable doubling in the number of registered players.

Held at Le Centre Etienne-Desmarteau, home of the CWHL’s Canadiennes de Montreal, the significant increase in registered players resulted in the need to use two rinks at the centre. Having also participated in the first annual Festival, Canadiennes captain Cathy Chartrand quickly noticed the increase in participants this year.

Chartrand’s presence does more than just set a strong standard of leadership, testament to her captaincy with Les Canadiennes. From also competing with the nationally renowned McGill Martlets and the Canadian national women’s team, an exceptional competitor such as Chartrand embodies the love of the game, which sends a positive message to the young girls in attendance at the Festival.

OuelletteFestival2015

“Compared to last year, there are so many more girls that have registered. It has roughly doubled. We had to use two rinks at the arena here as there was not enough ice time for just one rink.

At this level, the majority of us who continue to play with Les Canadiennes are passionate and even more passionate because of the sport. This event is a chance to pass it forward. When we were kids, we did not have the chance to participate in these kinds of events.”

Teamwork was definitely a defining factor at the Festival, as several members of Les Canadiennes graciously donated their time to participate as instructors, on and off the ice. Such dedication was not lost on Ouellette, who was very proud of their efforts,

“I am so thankful. I do not know how to thank them. During the on-ice skill sessions, there were eight of us on the ice. Mostly members of Les Canadiennes but we also had a few college players included. I was so proud to see the players demonstrate their skills to the young girls.

Many of these young girls had never seen such skills on the ice. For them to see that it was successful female hockey players showing them was important. They are at an age where they are still building their dreams.”

OuelletteFestival2015.1

Adding to the Festival’s impact was the presence of younger players from Les Canadiennes as instructors, displaying that the franchise’s future is in good hands. Among them were the likes of Katia Clement-Heydra and Cassandra Dupuis, two exceptional examples of local players that have realized their hockey dreams.

Despite both being rivals at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Clement-Heydra with the McGill Martlets and Dupuis with Les Carabins de Montreal, even playing against each other in the gold medal game at the CIS Nationals, the two are unified in the collaborative goal of bringing Les Canadiennes its first Clarkson Cup championship since 2012.

Both under the age of 25, the two have seen the game experience unprecedented growth in the last decade. While there remain many more opportunities to reach newer heights, the two understand that fostering a positive future is just as important for the young players to absorb as the glories on the ice.

“To see the young players and see how talented they are, they are amazing. After the on-ice practices, to see their smiles, it is fantastic. To see the game evolve year after year is due to the chance to practice,” remarked Dupuis.

The first round pick of Les Canadiennes in the 2015 CWHL Draft, Katia Clement-Heydra is not only a former winner of the Brodrick Trophy, recognizing the best player in CIS women’s ice hockey, she was recently named to the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game. Possessing great potential, her outlook on the game is one that is very positive, observing the bigger picture and the great possibilities that it entails.

OuelletteFestival2015.2

“It is good to give back. To see these girls here and how we can make a difference in their lives. You never know when you can spark that little girls’ passion for the game. Sometimes, just being around them makes a difference.

During the on-ice practices, we enjoyed teaching them and giving them some of our knowledge. To be able to show them, and then see them do it afterwards, it is the most enjoyable part.”

Such sentiments were reciprocated by Ouellette’s teammates. Among them was Charline Labonte, one of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation, male or female. Having played with Ouellette for over a decade on the Canadian national team, she is more than just a teammate, but a friend, one that is proud to participate in such an event,

“Certainly, I was proud to help. Caro is one of my best friends and we have always been teammates, especially for a very long time on the Canadian team. What she does for women’s hockey in Quebec, no one is more dedicated. I like to help out as much as possible. She has established a fantastic experience which cannot be compared.

Another teammate that has experienced glories with Ouellette on both the Canadian national team and the CWHL level is Marie-Philip Poulin. From capturing the first Clarkson Cup to a pair of Winter Games gold medals, Ouellette was an extremely positive influence in those formative years.

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Marie-Philip Poulin looks on during on-ice action at Ouellette Hockey Festival

Already a hockey immortal, with a legacy that is entrenched in the hearts and minds of Canadian hockey fans, Poulin retains a remarkable perspective. Blossoming into an exceptional leader with strong maturity, she has found inspiration in Ouellette’s leadership and kindness.

The result is one where Poulin carries the torch with a sense of pride and importance. The chance to donate her time and participate in Ouellette’s Hockey Festival is a chance to reciprocate the appreciation and admiration of fans and teammates alike, setting a positive example. In addition, Poulin’s enjoyment and fulfillment from participating in such an environment emphasizes to the younger players that the key value for the game is fun.

“It is fantastic to be able to share in this great event. When you see how the kids have their eyes wide-opened, nothing is better than that.

This is an important event as we all want to see women’s hockey grow in Quebec. If we can give the next generation a great start with this event, it will be helpful.”

Along with Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau was a teenage phenom who helped the former Montreal Stars capture the inaugural Clarkson Cup in 2009. After an exceptional career with Cornell University and a Winter Games gold medal in 2014, Rougeau has blossomed into more than just the future of Les Canadiennes, but a fine example of the game’s growth.

Surrounded by teammates from Les Canadiennes not only made the event so much more enjoyable, but it helped to reinforce the feeling of friendship and support, as the primary objective was fun. Considering that Rougeau was also part of the inaugural Festival in 2014, the chance to give back to the game is one that she cherished, working towards creating a positive experience for the young players on the ice.

“It was great. We did not use to have these kinds of tournaments when we were girls. To watch them play and have fun, get an opportunity to practice with Olympians, was great to see. To share this time with young girls, some who may dream to be future stars with the Canadian national team, it starts here. It is all about giving back.”

Having won two Clarkson Cups with Ouellette (and appeared in four finals overall), Emmanuelle Blais is in awe of her teammate and her remarkable contributions. Both alumnae of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the two have also given back to the game as coaches. Of note, Blais volunteered in seasons past as a coach with the famed Dawson College. Her reflections truly place the event in a glorious perspective, hopefully setting the stage for an even more exciting event next year.

“She has been working all year long for this to happen. It is fun to see this event give little girls a chance to try the game for the first time. Caro is the type of person you want as a friend and as a teammate. She has such a big heart and she is always giving back. She knows where she was once and her support in this game is huge.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Mark Staffieri

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.