As the 3rd CWHL All-Star Game rapidly approaches, the tone is one composed of equal parts celebration and excitement. From the outset, the event shall witness an historic first, as three captains were elected in an online vote by fans.
Hometown hero and emotional favorite, Carlee Eusepi-Campbell gained the highest number of votes, becoming the first rookie since Jessica Campbell to serve as an All-Star Game captain. Gaining the opportunity to serve as the head coach of Team White, Eusepi-Campbell also obtains the privilege of selecting first overall in the CWHL Frozen Fantasy All-Star Draft.
Sochi gold medalists and Amazing Race Canada icons Natalie Spooner (a teammate of Eusepi-Campbell on the Toronto Furies) and Meaghan Mikkelson tied for second in fan voting, giving them each the chance to serve as captains for Team Blue, the first time in All-Star Game history that two players shall serve as captains on one team.
In addition to drafting players for their respective rosters, this titanic trio of captains shall also take part in a significant first; gaining the opportunity to draft their team’s coaches. Instead of drafting coaches from the league’s existing franchises, said captains shall tap into the league’s roots, and select from a quartet of legendary players who shall take on the role of alumni coaches at the All-Star Game.
With this season signifying the 10th anniversary of the CWHL, a key theme throughout said season has involved heritage. Undoubtedly, the All-Star Game shall serve as another sensational showcase to highlight the hockey heroes who laid the foundation for the league, while adding their world-class skills to a game worth watching.
This fantastic foursome of hockey alumnae comprises a remarkable who’s who of women’s ice hockey, all truly worthy of iconic status as “legends”. From the likes of Becky Kellar and Cheryl Pounder, known affectionately as the “Bobbsey Twins”, to CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux and current sportscaster Tessa Bonhomme, each has carved their own sensational legacy in the game.
Part of the CWHL’s “Sensational Seven”, consisting of Jennifer Botterill, Mandy Cronin, Allyson Fox, Kathleen Kauth, Kim McCullough and Sami Jo Small, Breton-Lebreux was also the driving force behind bringing CWHL hockey to Montreal. As the captain of the Montreal Stars, she would become the first player to lead her team to three Clarkson Cup championships. Having also captained the Concordia Stingers to a CIS national title, she would also become the first player to achieve this unique double.
In the aftermath of hanging up her skates, Breton-Lebreux remained a significant force in both Montreal women’s hockey and the CWHL. Whether it be her work as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Concordia University (working with both male and female athletes) or her new role with Les Canadiennes as a coach, there is no question that the 3rd CWHL All-Star Game shall take on a profound historic meaning for her.
Having played in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game in December 2014, Breton-Lebreux was one of two co-founders to have competed, including Sami Jo Small, who stood between the pipes for Team White. Breton-Lebreux, suiting up for the opposing Team Red, would score a goal in the third period as the Reds prevailed. Getting the opportunity to serve as a coach in the 3rd CWHL All-Star Game shall make Breton-Lebreux the first to have played and coached in the event, adding to her amazing body of work with the league.
Selected as a postseason First-Team All-Star in the inaugural CWHL season, Becky Kellar also skated with a group of CWHL All-Stars at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum in 2009 as part of a charitable fundraiser against NHL alumni. The greatest player in the history of the Burlington Barracudas, Kellar’s presence at the CWHL All-Star Game truly brings her accomplished career full-circle.
Quiet and stoic, Kellar has balanced life as a hockey mom while remaining competitive as a player in a men’s league with her husband. Among a rare group of women to have competed in the first four women’s ice hockey tournaments (1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010) at the Winter Games, Kellar has appeared at numerous CWHL Awards galas as a presenter. The All-Star Game is destined to become an ideal vehicle for Kellar to be introduced to a new generation of fans, while being appreciated on a much larger scale.
Akin to Breton-Lebreux and Kellar, Cheryl Pounder also played in the inaugural CWHL season, appearing in the first-ever league championship against the Brampton Thunder. A teammate of Kellar on Team Canada for several seasons, the two were long-time defense partners, part of golden glories at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games, along with the 2004 and 2007 IIHF Women’s World Championships (both contested on home soil).
The connection between Pounder (also a hockey mom) and Kellar also involves participation as instructors with Strictly Hockey and as motivational speakers, where they share their stories of having played under various coaching styles and what worked for them, and sometimes did not work. Having also spoken at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation and at an IIHF Girls Hockey Weekend in Southwestern Ontario, this peerless pair have also devised a unique acronym for coach: C-Communication, O-Observe & React, A-Accountability, C-Confidence and Value, and H-Honour & Respect.
Competing with the Mississauga Warriors, postseason All-Star honors were bestowed upon Pounder following the 2008-09 campaign. Among her teammates on the Warriors included Sommer West, who would serve as the coach for Team White in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Pounder’s opportunity to follow in West’s footsteps is a unique opportunity to rekindle the glories of the now defunct franchise, adding a new luster to its heritage.
Finding a new element of popularity as a highly respected announcer, Pounder was part of the radio broadcast on the TSN Network during the Sochi Winter Games. Also making television appearances for TSN during the Games, it resulted in a unique instance of six degrees of hockey separation.
Making her debut as a broadcaster during TSN’s coverage of the Games was Tessa Bonhomme. It was not uncommon that Pounder and Bonhomme, a member of Canada’s victorious contingent at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, were in studio together, showing tremendous rapport in their analysis. As a side note, Bonhomme, having already gained experience from her time with LeafsTV, would eventually land herself a position on the roster of broadcasters for TSN’s SportsCentre, joining a group of already accomplished women such as Kate Bierness and Holly Horton.
Of note, the in-studio work for TSN was actually an extension of a unique link between Pounder and Bonhomme, who would both become a significant part of CWHL lore in 2010. With Pounder serving as Master of Ceremonies for the inaugural 2010 CWHL Draft, Bonhomme was selected first overall by the Toronto Furies, whose roster consisted of several Warriors alumnae.
Capturing a Clarkson Cup with the Furies in 2014, Toronto’s first major hockey championship since 1975, Bonhomme’s career with the blue and white truly came full circle. Coincidentally, Pounder was a presenter at the 2014 CWHL Awards, held in conjunction as part of week-long festivities for the Clarkson Cup finals.
In addition, Bonhomme’s triumph would place her, along with Natalie Spooner and league co-founder Sami Jo Small into the Triple Gold Club for Women. Not yet officially recognized by the IIHF, the Triple Gold Club for Women involves the coveted Cup, Winter Games gold and an IIHF World Championship. Should Bonhomme be drafted by Spooner as a coach for Team Blue, it would add an exciting new dimension to what they have already accomplished as teammates while embodying the strong sense of heritage that defines an All-Star Game which is destined to be a classic.