Diana Brown the jewel in the crown for Greater Toronto Area ball hockey

In a sterling playing career that lasted an astounding 22 years (1991-2013) on the ball hockey court, very few people have carved a legacy as spectacular as Diana Brown. An ambassador for the sport provincially (with the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation), nationally and internationally, her career has included roles as player, coach and league founder.

Having enjoyed the opportunity to compete in the national championships 15 times, including four different Toronto-based teams, she was also a pick-up player, a sign of respect in the ball hockey community. Twice she competed with Vanier United, an Ottawa-based club, along with a club from Edmonton.

Managing a podium finish on eight separate occasions, she would emerge with five gold medals. The recipient of the Sara Butterworth Award (2008), Brown gained entry into the CBHA Hall of Fame, gaining the honor in 2013. As a side note, she is among the first women to be inducted, part of an empowering group of women breaking new barriers, following the likes of Shirley Cameron, Carol Zaborski and Stéphane Arsenault.

Starting her career with the Toronto Dragons, she would have the privilege of calling Hockey Hall of Famers Angela James and Geraldine Heaney as teammates. Her first gold medal at the nationals came during her inaugural ball hockey season, her first with the Dragons (1991). As a side note, James would score the gold medal clinching goal. Brown and the Dragons would follow it up with silver in 1992 and 1994, along with three straight provincial titles (1991-93), respectively.

Internationally, Brown had represented Canada on three occasions, including the inaugural World Championships held in Pittsburgh in 2005. She would capture two world titles, while also earning a silver medal. As ball hockey continues to grow internationally, perhaps one day it shall be contested at the Summer Games.

Brown would transition into coaching in 2012, adding several more milestones. Serving as a player and coach from 2012-13, she led the Toronto Shamrocks to the 2012 CBHA National Title. In 2013, she built on such momentum by appearing once again as a player/coach at the OBHF Provincials.

With the ISBHF Worlds being hosted on Canadian soil, Brown was also involved. Gaining valuable international experience, she served as an assistant coach for Team Italy.

Of note, Brown already possessed a strong coaching background. During the 1990s, she served as an assistant coach on Karen Hughes’ coaching staff with the University of Toronto Varsity Lady Blues. Joining the program in 1992, she would capture several OWIAA (known today as OUA) conference championships.

She would also manage to juggle a successful career as a women’s ice hockey player. Competing with the University of Toronto Varsity Lady Blues for six seasons, she was the team captain during the 1989-90 season. Patrolling the blueline, Brown would capture five conference crowns, and would capture the Jay Westlake Award, given to the Lady Blues most outstanding defender.

Some of the players that Brown coached included Justine Blainey, an activist for women’s hockey in the 1980s, Jen Rawson, who would become a head coach with York and UBC. She would also have the privilege of coaching several players who would carve a legacy with the Canadian national women’s team.

Among them were Andria Hunter (the founder of whockey.com), Laura Schuler, a silver medalist at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, and Lori Dupuis, who is currently serving as the general manager of the Brampton Thunder.

Her greatest legacy may be yet to come. As a co-founder of the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League in 2014, an extension of her legacy may be her role as a builder. Recognizing the need for a Canadian junior women’s ball hockey program (a program that exists on the men’s side), it may present the next opportunity for a new venture in her career.

For now, Brown’s remarkable leadership has resulted in the ability to recruit elite talent with the Toronto Shamrocks. Quickly emerging as the GTWBHL’s signature club, Brown’s leadership, along with the efforts of co-founder Flora Panunzio has provided the league with the opportunity to attain status as one of Canada’s finest.

Since transitioning to coaching, no year may have been as memorable for Brown as 2015. Working with Team Canada GM, Gwen Ranquist-Lemieux, the two were an ideal pair to help Canada defend its gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland.

Following such a milestone moment in her coaching career, Brown successfully navigated the highly competitive waters of the CBHA National Championships, emerging with another title to solidify her standing as one of the greatest. Contested in the ball hockey hotbed of Ottawa, Ontario, Brown had an exciting Shamrocks team that consisted of a blend of veterans and new players.

Veterans such as Meagan Aarts, Lexie Hoffmeyer and Kristy Zamora, complemented by new faces such as Carolyne Prevost, Jamie Lee Rattray and Rebecca Vint, all working in perfect cohesion, testament to Brown’s strong abilities behind the bench. Fittingly, the gold-medal winning goal was scored by Jenny Brine, who is considered one of the 50 greatest Canadian women’s ball hockey competitors of all time.

Employing wisdom, positivity and mentoring, Brown may be the most influential and important force for women’s ball hockey in Toronto. As the defining quality of Brown’s career is a remarkable respect for the game and the women who play it, the future holds potential to already build on a Hall of Fame career that is a standard of excellence for younger women in the sport to aspire to.

References: CBHA.com

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.