Belonging to an exceptional group of multi-sport talents whose superlative skills have involved competition on the highly competitive surfaces of CWHL ice, Amber Bowman redefined the impact of a role model. Balancing a professional hockey career with a heroic and courageous occupation as a firefighter, her athletic resume is an amalgamation of ice hockey milestones including the Abby Hoffman Cup, and numerous World Firefighter Championships, setting a new gold standard in the growing competition.
Having first debuted in the original NWHL as a teenager, recording a pair of appearances during the 2001-02 North York Aeros season, Bowman, who was raised north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario, continued her hockey sojourn south of the border. Skating for the Ohio State Buckeyes, coached by Jackie Barto, Bowman, reached the century club with 102 career points, established herself as a cornerstone for the defensive unit, simultaneously becoming one of the first stars in the nascent program’s lore.
Upon graduation, Bowman returned to her home province, garbed in the paraphernalia of the Mississauga Chiefs for their inaugural season of CWHL hockey. Competing in 29 games, Bowman reached 13 assists. By season’s end, Bowman not only appeared in the inaugural CWHL championship game, she joined her team in the final Esso Women’s Nationals, as Cherie Piper scored in double overtime to prevail over Brampton in an epic 3-2 final.
“Winning the Esso Nationals was one of the biggest games I ever played in. We went into triple OT. We fought for every inch in that game and battled against some tough reffing calls, fans and some unfavourable family losses that shook our team.
The strength from our Chiefs team during this time was something one cannot explain. We were more than a hockey team, we were family.”
Historically, this pair of events proved to be a crossroads for women’s ice hockey in Canada. With 2008 marking the final edition of the Nationals, the CWHL championship would evolve into part of a grander narrative. With a group of clubs from the newly formed league challenging the best from the now-defunct Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL), the foundation for the inaugural Clarkson Cup was in place.
This reconfiguration in the hockey championship landscape would hold ramifications for the Chiefs, signalling the end of an era. Qualifying for the 2010 Clarkson Cup tournament, Bowman and her teammates would face-off against the WWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps in the semi-finals. Suffering a loss to the eventual Cup champions, it marked a historic event, as it would be the final contest in franchise history.
In the aftermath of the 2010 Clarkson Cup, a historic evolution became a predominant theme for the budding league. With the introduction of a Draft, which saw Buckeyes alum Tessa Bonhomme the first-ever player selected, expansion was also part of the league’s agenda. With the arrival of the Boston Blades and the Toronto Furies, placing the league in a pair of NHL markets, Bowman would eventually skate for the Furies.
Before wearing the blue and white of the Furies franchise, Bowman spent the 2010-11 CWHL season in the black and red colours of the Brampton Thunder, one of the longest running women’s ice hockey organizations. Undoubtedly, adjustment represented a significant aspect of Bowman’s first season with the Thunder, one of Mississauga’s signature rivals, dating back to the original NWHL.
Calling the likes of Gillian Apps, Lori Dupuis, and eventual Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford as teammates, Bowman was part of a Thunder roster which won 18 games, ranking second overall in the league standings. Making her first appearance garbed in Thunder paraphernalia on October 23, 2010, logging an assist on a third period goal by Jennifer Kirk, she would appear in all 25 regular season games.
Recording 11 points, on the strength of seven assists, she ranked ninth in team scoring, finishing second in scoring among blueliners, trailing only Molly Engstrom. Worth noting, Bowman’s finest statistical achievement was a minuscule two penalty minutes, displaying an amazing disciplined play, demonstrating the fundamentally sound approach to her game, one which made her a highly valued asset.
With such a season, there was also the difficult reality that many former Mississauga teammates were now skating for the Furies or the Burlington Barracudas, the other franchises based in the Greater Toronto Area. Positioned across the ice from familiar faces in different jerseys, it was a reality of professional sports that Bowman, akin to other former Mississauga teammates, was forced to accept.
“Playing for Brampton was a change but a change all the players knew was for the betterment of the game. This was the first year the CWHL Draft was established. It is never easy playing against friends and old teammates but it’s sports. You play your hardest and for the ultimate goal of winning the championship at the end of the season.”
Such a respectable season in Brampton proved to be Bowman’s last with the franchise. Aligned with the Burlington Barracudas to start the 2011-12 season, she would finish as a member of the Toronto Furies, enjoying a trio of appearances in the Clarkson Cup tournament in Niagara Falls.
Remaining with the Furies for the 2012-13 season, skating in 13 games, Bowman’s only goal took place in a 4-2 road win against Team Alberta prior to the holiday break. With assists to Rebecca Johnston and Natalie Spooner, both in their rookie seasons, said gaol also stood as the game-winning tally. Marking her first CWHL goal since January 29, 2011, scoring the last goal of the third period in a 3-0 win, as Laura Hosier recorded 17 saves in the 3-0 win. As a side note, Bowman’s 2011 goal was assisted by Jayna Hefford and Molly Engstrom.
Before the season expired, Bowman would enjoy another appearance in the Clarkson Cup tournament, the first of three straight hosted in Markham, Ontario, the future home of the Thunder. Although the Finals eluded the proud Furies, Bowman provided a character effort which solidified her standing as a highly admired teammate and courageous competitor.
In the Furies’ opening game of the round robin, Bowman suffered an injury, selflessly blocking a shot with her hand. Although she was not made available to the media directly following the game, she would appear at the Clarkson Cup Awards Gala, a positive sign that the affable blueliner was likely ready to return to the ice.
Admirably returning for the remainder of the Furies contests, including an overtime victory in the third place game versus the Brampton Thunder, as super rookie Rebecca Johnston scored the game-winning tally against Goaltender of the Year nominee Florence Schelling, it marked a series of valiant efforts for Bowman. Courageously combining a team-first approach with sacrifice, setting the kind of example for the younger players to emulate, Bowman even scored during one of the round robin games.
Finding the back of the net against the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Boston Blades, the round robin goal took place on March 20, as Shannon Moulson logged the assists in a 3-2 loss. Said goal would stand as the last of her career, having scored against Molly Schaus. Of note, she was one of only four Furies to score a postseason goal, the others being Meagan Aarts, Johnston and Spooner.
Throughout Bowman’s CWHL career, that final season with the Furies brought with it another proud highlight. Gaining the opportunity to call Ohio State alumnae Natalie Spooner, plus Tessa Bonhomme, and Erika Vanderveer, former Buckeyes teammates, as fellow Furies rekindled fond memories of her university years. Worth noting, Bowman and Vanderveer even aspired to be part of the inaugural season of Amazing Race Canada, appearing in their Furies garb for their highly impressive video audition.
“Playing in the CWHL with former Ohio State teammates is always amazing. You know these women like sisters on and off the ice. You have the opportunity to battle hard with them each game and practice, as you work towards winning the Clarkson Cup.”
Possessing a wide array of memories made from many memorable experiences on the ice, many cherished facets that Bowman is highly proud of allow for fond reflections. Certainly, there are also other elements of the game, which tug at her heartstrings, from the camaraderie to a unified feeling of contributing towards team success, Bowman’s hockey odyssey has also involved other unique facets.
Working as an official covering OUA and PWHL games, Bowman has also played with the Aurora Panthers senior team, capturing an OWHA Senior A title. Successfully managing to juggle the on-ice interests with a firefighting career, based north of Toronto, plus personal training services (highlighted by standing as a Finalist in the Dr. Oz Next Great Trainer competition), including nutrition, Bowman is a real-life superhero.
While Bowman’s next focus is parenting, welcoming a baby boy into the world near the end of March 2020, the legacy left behind from hockey, fitness and elite firefighter competition has transformed her into more than a sporting icon. A tremendous role model and kind-hearted individual, the demands of parenting should prove to be equally satisfying, working towards an exciting new personal chapter.
“Having the opportunity to play at the highest level (CWHL and Division 1) with some of the best players in the world. Being a part of a team in which the skills and lessons I learned from all my years of playing, has correlated to my profession and daily life.
I miss the competitiveness of pouring your heart and soul into your team’s vision of winning a championship. Practices, team cohesiveness, dressing room laughs, playing in the big games/moments.
Ultimately I LOVED playing hockey at the highest levels. Each year brought on new opportunities but also new challenges. No team is ever the same, no year plays out equally, yet each common goal is the SAME!
We play for each other and we play to win! I am so grateful for my years of playing sport and the life lessons it has taught me. I continue to play on a team but just in a different uniform—Firefighter! My new hat will be parenthood, in which I will rely on the values, morals and work ethics I learned from playing hockey!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Featured image by Dave Holland