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Allyson Fox Among the Unsung Heroes in the Resurgence of Women’s Hockey

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One of the great paradoxes in sport is that many notable and important athletes are forgotten with the passing of time, their accomplishments lost to future generations. In a distinguished career that saw Allyson Fox excel as a two-sport star, the hallmark of her fine athletic legacy stretches far beyond her strong leadership and likeability. In a hockey career which ran parallel to the modern resurgence of the women’s game, Fox would eventually help shape its future.

Having skated at York University when the program was known as the Yeowomen, Fox was the recipient of multiple OWIAA (now known as OUA) All-Star nods. During this time, Fox was surrounded by a remarkable group of talented competitors, which included a multitude of fellow All-Star selections, featuring the likes of Heather Galbraith, Michelle Clayton, Debra Ferguson, Collette Good, Saari Krooks (a member of the Finnish national team), Melanie Roach, Katie Quinn and Shanley White.

Of note, Fox would also earn an All-Star nod as a member of the university’s soccer team as well. In addition, she would serve in the capacity of captain for both athletic programs, testament to her amazing leadership skills. Inducted into the York Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014, her crowning achievement may have been the gold medal in OWIAA hockey (earned in 1997), only the third conference title in program history. Despite such a proud athletic legacy, Fox is quick to acknowledge that the inspiration of admired coaches was a key step towards such an accomplished time,

“I learned something from every coach and player I ever played with.  I was lucky to have some fantastic coaches, starting with Bill Grisdale and Dave Robinson way back when I started playing. I have always had much more of an inclination to team sports, and I loved being a part of teams.  Most of my best friends now people I met through sports. I have had literally hundreds of positive influences in hockey.”

Fox was among a group of future stars that would first make their mark in OWIAA (OUA) women’s hockey. During her time at York University, she would oppose the likes of future Brampton Thunder teammates such as Lori Dupuis and Jayna Hefford with the University of Toronto Lady Blues. As a side note, former Canadian national team member Andria Hunter and Winter Games silver medalist Lesley Reddon were also part of those Lady Blues teams.

Another notable name from that magical era included Cheryl Pounder, who established herself as a superstar with the Laurier Golden Hawks program, skating alongside fellow star Amy Turek. Future Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell was prevalent on the Guelph Gryphons, adding to the prestige of world class talent competing at the university level in Ontario. Had women’s ice hockey at the World Winter University Games (also known as Winter Universiade) been contested during the 1990’s, there is no question that Fox would have been one of these remarkable talents that would have propelled Canada towards gold.

When York University adopted the current sobriquet Lions, other talented skaters would follow Fox’s proud triumphs. Among them were the likes of Kelsey Webster, who skated for Team Canada in a gold medal effort at the 2009 Winter Universiade and would later serve as the captain with the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno. Other stars included Autumn Mills, who would also gain a silver medalist in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan Am Games plus Lisa Stathopoulos, the winner of the 2015 OUA scoring title.

Another aspect to Fox’s hockey successes is equally important. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science and a law degree, Fox made the transition into elite club hockey skating with the Brampton Thunder. Proving once again that she was an invaluable teammate, a key component in her body of work was one that left an empowering and expanding mark in the women’s hockey community, allowing future generations greater opportunities to excel.

Along with Montreal’s Lisa-Marie Breton, Brampon teammates Mandy Cronin, Kathleen Kauth and Kim McCullough, plus Toronto Aeros rivals Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small, they are the CWHL’s Sensational Seven. Having all worked together in helping to co-found the league, the collaborative vision ensured that the game could survive following in the footsteps of former leagues such as the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League and the original NWHL. 

Competing in the first five seasons of CWHL hockey, Fox was an unsung hero whose hard work on the ice set a positive example. Along with Molly Engstrom, they were undoubtedly the best blueliners of that era for the Thunder. During the league’s inaugural season, which saw the Thunder post a 22-7-1 mark, capturing the Central Division title, Fox would rank in the top ten in team scoring and was one of only seven members of the roster to log a game-winning goal. In addition, Fox was one of three Thunder competitors (joined by Mandy Cronin and Tiffany Hagge) to dress for every regular season game. Only 11 other players throughout the league held that distinction during the inaugural season.

Said season would culminate in memorable fashion as Fox would help the Thunder capture the league championship, defeating the Mississauga Warriors in overtime. Assisting on the first goal of the game (scored by Jayna Hefford), Fox would accumulate four points overall in three postseason games. As a side note, it was Engstrom that logged the championship clinching goal. With the Thunder having also won the NWHL championship in 2007, it marked the second straight title for Fox.

Sharing in that glory were the likes of Dupuis, Hefford, former Laurier goaltender Cindy Eadie, and Vicky Sunohara, who is currently the head coach of the Lady Blues, truly bringing their careers full circle. During their years as opponents in OWIAA play, especially with the visceral elements that define the York vs. U of T rivalry, no one could have foreseen that their legacies would intertwine and simultaneously grow so strongly as teammates over a decade later.

Of note, the CWHL championship game would set the stage for the eventual Clarkson Cup, eventually supplanting the Esso Women’s Nationals and the Abby Hoffman Cup as the biggest prize in Canadian senior women’s hockey. Worth noting is the fact that Fox was part of the Esso Women’s Nationals as well, her career a remarkable bridge for so many wonderful eras in the game, and unprecedented growth and evolution. Fox would participate in four Esso women’s nationals, capturing the Abby Hoffman Cup in 2006. As a side note, the Esso tournament would survive as a national championship at the U18 level.

Considering that the Clarkson Cup was not contested during the inaugural CWHL season, the achievement of the Thunder as the first-ever CWHL champions is almost forgotten, a status not worthy of the amazing talents who composed such a historic team. Although Fox would compete in the Clarkson Cup finals in 2010 and 2012, another championship sadly eluded her and her teammates on the Thunder, which would have only strengthened the legacy of that historic title in 2008.

While Fox has enjoyed so many remarkable moments as a player, that first CWHL championship was a career milestone that she has treasured in a distinguished career with the Thunder. Adding to such jubilation is the fact that said championship was captured on home ice. Through it all, Fox cherished so many other elements of the game. The camaraderie built off the ice was just as special.

“The favourite moment of my Thunder career, on the ice, was probably the first CWHL championship at the Powerade Centre. Off the ice, it was the smaller moments.  Sitting in the dressing room between periods laughing at the insanity that had just happened on the ice. Sitting on buses together for hours at a time. Just the ridiculous things that only seem to happen in team sports.”

Fox’s final season with the Thunder would be the 2011-12 campaign, also the last time that the club qualified for the Clarkson Cup. During that season, every time Fox logged at least one point, the Thunder were undefeated. Of note, the last regular season point for Fox took place on a February 25 road game against the Burlington Barracudas. Her final goal would come with great heroics, scoring a game-winner in the 2012 postseason.

As the league’s tenth anniversary season approaches, there is no question that Fox and the remainder of the Sensational Seven deserve to be honored in a unique and special way, worthy of their groundbreaking efforts, while adding a fitting yet celebratory closure to their careers. Whether it is through the retirement of the jersey numbers worn in their playing careers, or perhaps establishing a Hall of Fame, in which they could become the first seven inductees, these remarkable women built a foundation upon which the modern professional game in Canada hopes to continue growing.

Although Fox is not involved in the day-to-day aspects of the league, it will always hold a special place in her heart. Proud of the ability of the league to engage in such an exciting journey, encompassed by continuous development, to see significant events contested on NHL ice and broadcast on cable television is a point of pride.     

“I am proud of the CWHL. I think there have been a lot of fits and starts and stumbles, but (the fact) that the league is growing in a sustainable way (is something) we should all be proud of.  I am also proud of the fact that what is going on today, with the All Star Game and the Clarkson Cup, and Scotiabank and Sportsnet being on board, all of it can be traced directly back to a group of seven female hockey players who decided we should start a league.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Richard Scott, (L-R) Lori Dupuis, Vicky Sunohara, Jayna Hefford and Allyson Fox celebrating the 2008 CWHL championship

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