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.

Rebecca Johnston holds the hot hand during CWHL’s opening weekend

Heading into the 2014-15 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season, the Calgary Inferno boasted the finest off-season among the five franchises. In addition to the offseason trades for Mercyhurst Lakers legend Bailey Bram and 2014 Sochi gold medalist Haley Irwin, the biggest acquisition may have been the free agent signing of Rebecca Johnston.

A former first round pick of the Toronto Furies in the 2012 CWHL Draft, Johnston has enjoyed a career filled with accolades and awards, including two gold medals at the Winter Games. During the CWHL’s opening weekend of the 2014-15 campaign, Johnston’s signing already began to pay dividends for the franchise.

RJCal

Starting the season against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Toronto Furies, Johnston recorded two goals in a 5-4 shootout loss. Despite the loss, the presence of Johnston, Bram and Irwin, certainly Calgary’s Big Three on offense, constantly added pressure on the Furies. Of note, the Inferno reached double digits in shots for each period (17 in the first, 16 in the second, 14 in the third).

While Kristy Zamora, appearing in her 172nd career game, four away from breaking the league’s all-time record for games played, opened the scoring at 2:20, Johnston led the charge to tie the score. With an assist by Jessica Wong (the first overall pick in the 2013 edition of the CWHL Draft), Johnston slipped the puck past former Canadian national team member Christina Kessler at the 7:12 mark.

Although the first period ended in a 3-3 tie, featuring power play goals from each side, Johnston provided the Inferno with its first lead of the game at the 14:42 mark of the second stanza. With assists going to Jacquie Pierri and Madison Haller, the youngest player in the CWHL, it provided the Inferno with confidence.

Despite the fact that Tessa Bonhomme would tie the game for the Furies, forcing overtime and a proceeding shootout, Johnston led all players in the game with two goals scored, earning one of the game’s Three Stars. Her presence certainly created a positive influence. Of note, the Inferno outshot the Furies by a convincing 52-29 margin. Other offensive highlights on the night included a pair of assists by Bram, a power play goal by Irwin, and the first CWHL points for rookies Sarah Davis and Louise Warren.

The following day, the Inferno travelled to Brampton to challenge the new-look Thunder. With Brampton’s rookie backstop Erica Howe making her CWHL debut, it would prove to be a baptism of fire.
Of note, Jenna Cunningham scored a hat trick, while rookie Brittany Esposito logged three assists in only her second CWHL game. Their contributions were complemented by a three point night by Johnston.

Although Howe was solid between the pipes, nullifying four Inferno power play attempts in the first period, Calgary would jump out to a 1-0 advantage. Cunningham logged the first goal of the game at 9:02 with Johnston and Esposito earning the helpers.

During the second stanza, Calgary jumped out to leads of 2-0 and then 3-1. Johnston would score at 4:16, while Haley Irwin logged a power play goal just 17 seconds into their first power play of the second, with Johnston earning her third point of the game. Ironically, Laura Fortino, the first pick overall of the 2014 CWHL Draft was serving a cross checking penalty.

As a side note, Fortino would log her first career CWHL point during Brampton’s goal at the 5:56 mark of the second. Carly Mercer would score on the power play, while Fortino and 2014 Kazmaier Award winner Jamie Lee Rattray earned the assist. Coincidentally, it was the first career CWHL point for all three of the players.

Cunningham would score two more times in the final frame while Mercer logged another tally in the 5-2 final. For the second consecutive game, the Inferno would reach double digits in shots in each of the periods. A total of 13 shots were registered in the first, followed by a game-high 15 shots in the second, while the squad peppered Howe and backup goalie Sonja van der Bliek with 14 more shots in the third.

Perhaps the most irmpessive statistic was the fact that seven different Inferno players registered at least one point (Cunningham, Esposito, Irwin, Johnston, Hayleigh Cudmore, Madison Haller and Jessica Wong). With a proud franchise looking to build on its first postseason appearance in 2014, Johnston may be the catalyst that brings them to even bigger heights in 2015, as the club looks to win its first regular season title and qualify for its first Clarkson Cup finals.

Haley Irwin westward bound as Calgary Inferno rebuilds their offense

Coming off a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Haley Irwin’s return to the CWHL shall find her with a new club. Acquired from the Montreal Stars for future considerations, Haley Irwin heads off to the Calgary Inferno, the CWHL’s most western-based franchise.

This marks the third marquee acquisition for the Inferno this off-season. The first involved Jocelyne Larocque being sent to Brampton in exchange for forward Bailey Bram. In addition, the club signed Rebecca Johnston (one of Irwin’s teammates in Sochi) as a free agent. As Irwin and Johnston played with Bram at the 2012 and 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the three are very familiar with Calgary, as it is also the national headquarters for the national women’s team.

Of note, the Calgary Inferno becomes the third CWHL team to obtain Irwin’s playing rights. Selected in the first round by the Brampton Thunder in the historic 2012 CWHL Draft, she would join the Montreal Stars in the preseason. During that rookie campaign of 2012-13, Irwin would accumulate 21 points in 20 games played.

Her best performances included a four point output on the road against Team Alberta (now known as the Inferno) on February 10, 2013, including two goals and two assists. Her first career CWHL hat trick would be scored on March 2, 2013, as part of a 6-2 home victory against the Toronto Furies. The season would finish with Irwin appearing in the Clarkson Cup finals.

For the Stars, it could not have been an easy decision to part ways with Irwin. Last season, the franchise lost Carolyne Prevost to free agency, and she would help lead the Toronto Furies to the Clarkson Cup. Should history repeat itself with Irwin, it would be a devastating outcome for a franchise eagerly attempting to capture its fourth title.

The one consolation may be the fact that the franchise has blueline sensation Lauriane Rougeau suiting up for the Stars. Having played with Irwin at Sochi, Rougeau will be expected to anchor the defense for years to come. Complemented by bright, young talent at the forward position such as Sophie Brault, Fannie Desforges, Kim Deschenes and Vanessa Gagnon, the Stars may have a gem to replace the offensive firepower that Irwin brought to the bleu, blanc et rouge. Of note, both teams shall face off against each other on October 24, 2014, the home opener for the Inferno.

As the Inferno look to build on the momentum of their first postseason appearance in 2014, the addition of Irwin only improves their chances of competing for the Clarkson Cup title. Should it happen, Irwin will become the newest member of the Triple Gold Club for Women, which recognizes players that have earned Olympic Gold, IIHF World Gold and the Clarkson Cup. In addition, she won the gold medal at the 2003 Canada Winter Games, playing alongside Meghan Agosta, who was also a teammate on the Stars.

Becoming the second high profile player from Canada’s national program to join the Inferno’s new-look offense, Irwin’s experience adds a feeling of confidence to the ambitious Inferno. A former captain at the NCAA level with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, she brings the maturity and leadership necessary to bring the Inferno’s offense to the next level. Her first test shall come on October 18, as the Inferno challenge the defending Clarkson Cup champion Toronto Furies.

Fantastic foursome of Furies stars look to help Canada win gold at Sochi 2014

As Canada looks to win their fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, a remarkable group of wondrous women from the Toronto Furies will attempt to make that goal a reality. Tessa Bonhomme, Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield are a titanic trio currently part of Canada’s centralization roster.

Along with Rebecca Johnston, a legendary player from the Cornell Big Red and a member of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games squad that captured gold, Spooner and Wakefield were selected in the historic 2012 CWHL Draft. All three had remarkable rookie seasons, helping to redefine the blue and white’s offensive attack. Spooner would break the franchise record for most goals scored in one season, while Johnston scored the game winning goal in the Clarkson Cup playoffs against Brampton.

Prior to their summer departure, Furies teammates gave them a sendoff. With emotions running high at the gathering, the Furies have to adjust to the upcoming season without four key players. While the Furies have drafted the likes of Katie Wilson, Sasha Nanji, Alyssa Baldin and Kristy Garrow, these four fantastic women have left an impression on their teammates and their fans.

In their teens, the two both played ball hockey together for the Oshawa Stampede. Besides their time together as rookies with the Furies, the two also had the opportunity to play at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa. It was their first time on home soil as members of the senior team. It would only be fitting if the two could make their Winter Games debut together.

(Left to right): Wakefield, Spooner and Bonhomme receive a Sochi-themed cake as a sendoff from their Furies teammates (Obtained from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TorontoCWHL)

(Left to right): Wakefield, Spooner and Bonhomme receive a Sochi-themed cake as a sendoff from their Furies teammates (Obtained from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TorontoCWHL)


Bonhomme, Spooner and Wakefield have established themselves as the three most popular players on the Furies roster. Having all carved significant legends in women’s hockey, . Spooner is the first woman in hockey history to have played on the Canadian Under-18, Under-22/Development Team and senior national teams.

Wakefield is the all-time leading scorer in Hockey East history and has also held the rare honor of competing with the U18, U22 and Senior Teams. In her first season with the Boston Univeristy Terriers, she had the opportunity to compete with Vancouver 2010 gold medalists Marie-Philip Poulin and Catherine Ward.

Bonhomme, the first-ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL was an All-American with Ohio State University and was a champion in the CBC-Television smash hit Battle of the Blades. Of note, she is a reporter for Leafs-TV while holding endorsements with the likes of McDonalds. In October 2012, she was also on the cover of The Hockey News.

Should Spooner and Wakefield both be named to Canada’s contingent looking to win gold at Sochi, it would signify a new chapter in their long friendship. While Spooner has also played with Laura McIntosh at three different levels of hockey, she has known Wakefield since childhood.

Teammates and more importantly, friends since childhood. Spooner and Wakefield will make their Winter Games debut together. (Image obtained from Twitter https://twitter.com/natspooner5/status/297878850912796672/photo/1)

Teammates and more importantly, friends since childhood. Spooner and Wakefield will make their Winter Games debut together. (Image obtained from Twitter https://twitter.com/natspooner5/status/297878850912796672/photo/1)

On September 8 and 10, 2013, Bonhomme, Johnston, Spooner and Wakefield were part of Team Canada’s exhibition series versus the Russian national women’s team. With Russia having won the bronze medal at the 2013 Worlds, momentum is strong heading into Sochi. The exhibition was also an opportunity for team building while becoming more familiar with the area.

Shayba Arena hosted the series and Spooner made the difference in the 6-1 victory on September 8. Two days later, Canada prevailed by an 8-1 tally as Johnston, Spooner and Wakefield played together on one line. Spooner logged an assist while Johnston recorded two assists to go along with Wakefield’s solid two goal performance.

While the Centralization Camp can be a long and grueling process, the possible reward of a gold medal at the end transforms this laborious journey into a labour of love. While a gold medal in February 2014 shall be a hard-earned one, there is no question that the friendships forged among these Furies shall make it an experience worth treasuring for a lifetime.