After three seasons in Hanover, New Hampshire with the Dartmouth Big Green, the distinguished career of Ailish Forfar would come full circle. Returning to her sporting roots in the Greater Toronto Area, the chance to suit up with the Ryerson Rams provided an uplifting hockey homecoming.
An all-around gifted athlete raised north of Toronto in the municipality of Sharon, Forfar also excelled in soccer, softball and track & field. In the sport of hockey, Forfar would not only make the biggest impression, she would also be propelled into the celebrity spotlight.
In her youth, Forfar appeared in a TV advertisement for Tim Hortons alongside hockey great Sidney Crosby. Such a milestone would reach greater acclaim as part of a bigger narrative highlighting Forfar’s hockey experiences, as immortalized in the heartwarming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hooked on Hockey.
Looking to combine her love of sport and a growing interest in media, the two intertwine perfectly as Forfar pursues her academic studies with the RTA Sport Media Program at Ryerson, the first of its kind in North America. Learning about game coverage and feature productions, Forfar’s studies also incorporate creative, production and the marketing of professional sport.
With so many female athletes making the changeover into sports journalism after the final roar from the crowd, Forfar’s studious drive and admirable ambition represent an exciting and growing time for women in a traditionally male dominated field. While the opportunity to continue to showcase her skills on the ice has allowed for a pleasant transition, Forfar discusses that there was also an element of adjustment that defined the early weeks of this new stage in her time as a student-athlete,
“Ryerson came as an opportunity to further my academic passions and to continue to play at the university level back home in Canada. Ryerson’s RTA Sport Media program is the top option for anyone interested in sports broadcasting or journalism, as it’s an unparalleled state-of-the-arts hands-on practical approach.
Although it is another undergrad program, most of my transfer classes from Dartmouth were approved, allowing me to take just the core RTA classes and streamline the program. After graduating from a small liberal arts program at Dartmouth, there were certainly a few adjustments in the first few weeks at Ryerson.
Living in downtown Toronto with no campus community was a huge adjustment to the rural New Hampshire lifestyle I had grown comfortable to in my four years. In terms of joining the hockey team, coming in as a fourth year eligibility player, but also a freshman to the team, had some difficulties. Luckily I had a few familiar faces on the team from my time playing midget and junior in Toronto a few years back, and they made me feel at home right away.”
Having starred with the PWHL’s Toronto Jr. Aeros in her teens, the chance to share the ice with so many other talented players would foreshadow a great future to come. Having also gained the opportunity to don the prestigious Team Ontario Red jersey, capturing the gold medal at the 2012 Canadian U18 women’s ice hockey nationals, it was another key milestone in a promising career. During the 2011-12 season, Forfar would be part of an exceptional Jr. Aeros squad, perhaps the greatest in PWHL history. With a team that sported a sterling 31-1-1-1 mark, the team would reach the gold medal game against the Bluewater Hawks.
Of note, the numerous teammates on the Jr. Aeros would have an impact on Forfar’s university career with both the Big Green and the Rams. During Forfar’s inaugural season with the Rams, three of her teammates had been familiar faces from the Jr. Aeros. Among them were Danielle Im, who is now aspiring for an opportunity to compete for South Korea at the 2018 Winter Games, Kryshandra Green, and team captain Stephanie Chiste.
The feeling of reunion was also prominent with the Big Green. Forfar’s time in Hanover was shared alongside the likes of third generation star Laura Stacey and Lindsey Allen. Having won the 2010-11 PWHL title together, this titanic trio was also joined by Jr. Aeros alums such as Emma Korbs and Devon Moir, providing significant star power for a competitive Big Green roster.
In three seasons with the Big Green (missing the 2013-14 season to injury), Forfar would record 37 points, while appearing in 87 games. Among the highlights of her time in Hanover, she would have the prestige of ECAC All-Academic honors bestowed upon her twice. Suiting up in every game during her last two seasons in Hanover, the last points in her Big Green career incorporated a remarkable flair.
A February 6, 2016 home game against the Brown Bears resulted in a convincing 5-0 victory as Forfar contributed to the game’s heroics. While Forfar supplied the final goal of her NCAA career, along with two assists, also the last multi-point game of her career, there was an element of excitement as three Jr. Aeros found the back of the net.
With a 2-0 advantage heading into the third period (Allen would score in the first), a pair of goals by Stacey, which also featured an empty net goal while shorthanded, included assists by both Forfar and Hailey Noronha, a former rival at the PWHL level with the Whitby Wolves. Before the final buzzer, Noronha would add her third assist as Forfar scored on the power play with only three seconds left. It was part of a senior season that would see Forfar log a career high in goals.
Taking into account her background in the NCAA, Forfar brought an important presence to the Rams roster. Recognized with the thrill of the assistant captaincy, it was testament to her potential as a positive influence for the program.
While Forfar acknowledges that her background allowed for a degree of advantage, her maturity certainly rises to the surface. In discussing her possible effect as a leader, she remained faithful to the concept of team first, respecting the leadership hierarchy, while looking to make key contributions when necessary.
“I expected that my time playing D-1 for Dartmouth south of the border would benefit the team in either a formal leadership position or not. I was cautious not to overrule the current leaders or the team atmosphere, but I was vocal in providing leadership experience when necessary.
When I was given a formal leadership role before the season started, I was humbled to have such an opportunity without much time with the Rams, and used this platform to help lead the team to one of the most successful seasons in recent history. I’m hoping to build on this position in my final season with the Rams next year.”
In regular season play, Forfar would make an immediate impact recording a five-game scoring streak to star her Rams career. Beginning with goals in her first three regular season games, Forfar’s scoring brilliance was achieved against the Brock Badgers, scoring on Jensen Murphy at the 11:51 mark of the third period, a game-tying goal that forced overtime. Although the October 13 away game resulted in a visceral double overtime loss, it was a performance that looked to build on a groundbreaking 2015-16 campaign that saw the Rams reach the OUA playoffs for the first time.
Facing off against the archrival University of Toronto in Forfar’s home debut, a 2-0 shutout win, and in a road match against another GTA rival, the York Lions, she continued to set the tone on offense.
The fourth match, hosted on October 29, would see Forfar log her first assist with the program, one that would prove to be very memorable. As the Rams hosted the defending conference champion Guelph Gryphons, it would only take nine seconds for Kryshandra Green to score the game’s first goal, with Forfar supplying the assist. As a side note, Gryphons goaltender Aurore Beaulieu was making her U Sports debut. On October 30, Forfar would be back on the score sheet, as the Rams prevailed in an All Hallow’s Eve contest against OUIT in a 4-3 final.
Forfar’s home debut with the Rams also brought with it a tremendous amount of jubilation and empowerment. Although the Rams home ice is known as the “MAC” (Mattamy Athletic Centre), the facility is based inside the historic Maple Leaf Gardens, allowing a new generation of hockey players, both female and male, the opportunity to create their own history.
The chance to extend her hockey career in such an important venue is one that Forfar does not take for granted. Like so many others that grew up in the GTA, cheering for the Maple Leaf, the legend of the Gardens is one that is a cherished part of the city’s sporting identity.
“As a true Leafs fan my entire life, the decision to play for Ryerson at Maple Leafs Garden was an easy one. The rich history in this building is enough to amaze me every day, lacing up and playing where my hockey heroes once did is an unbelievable experience.
To add to this, many of my RTA classes are in the Sportsnet RTA Production Centre that overlooks the rink on the fourth floor. I spend a lot of time in Maple Leafs Gardens, whether it is for class, practice, or dry land. Each day, I am humbled to be a part of this historical place.”
From November 17 to 26, Forfar would assemble another scoring streak, spanning three games. Coincidentally, said streak would culminate once again in a contest with OUIT. Although the Rams were on the opposite end of a 4-3 final, Forfar would register a pair of assists, for the first multi-point effort in her CIS/U Sports career.
Of note, Forfar’s finest performance took place against a nationally ranked opponent. In a 4-2 loss against Guelph, the eventual conference champions, Forfar scored all the Rams goals, including one on the power play against goaltender Aurore Beaulieu, providing a valiant effort.
Supplying shootout heroics along with Alex Rodriguez in a February 4 contest against the visiting Queen’s Golden Gaels, providing the Rams with a season sweep, there was another notable game to follow.
In a February 18, 2017 game against the Waterloo Warriors, Forfar would add her name to the scoresheet as the Rams registered a season-high six goals. Scoring at the 14:08 mark of the third period, Forfar’s goal would be the second of four unanswered goals, convincingly breaking a 2-2 deadlock, and providing the Rams with a win to commemorate the careers of the program’s graduating competitors. As a side note, 10 different members of the Rams logged at least one point in the contest.
As cherished as the regular season heroics were in Forfar’s inaugural season with the Rams, her favorite moment actually predates it. Considering that exhibition games are an obligatory accompaniment in all sports, it allowed Forfar the opportunity to make her first appearance in Rams colors.
With the kind and devoted support of friends and family in attendance, it marked the treasured beginning to the newest chapter in Forfar’s hockey odyssey. As she recounts, with the preseason match taking place on home ice, the final result extended beyond the elation of winning. The postgame tribute was a defining moment, one that not only commemorated her arrival to the Rams; it extended a feeling of being welcomed home,
“The season had many memorable moments, but I would say my favourite was that first exhibition game playing for the Rams. My entire family was in the stands, a much easier trek to the rink compared to the 10-hour drive to Dartmouth. I scored on my first shift with the team, and added another later in the game. We ended up winning the game and I was awarded the team "hard-hat" for MVP. It was a great start with the Rams and one that I will remember for years to come.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Ryerson Rams athletics
To read the excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Soul, please visit: http://www.chickensoup.com/book-story/34305/68-love-at-first-lace