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.