With a sensational playing career that has spanned both sides of the Atlantic, Erin Beaver’s hockey travels would take her to the land down under. Competing with the Sydney Sirens in the 2016-17 Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL) season, it was a magical time which saw Beaver’s acumen for the game reach the pinnacle of a championship.
Raised in the Greater Toronto Area in the community of Oakville, Beaver graduated as a communications major after five seasons spent competing at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level with the Carleton University Ravens in Ottawa, Ontario. Having juggled her playing career with the Ravens as an on-ice instructor at Canlan Ice Sports and at Scotiabank Girls Hockey Fest, it was inevitable that her acumen for the game would culminate in the prestige of being named an alternate captain, which was bestowed upon her during her senior.
During Beaver’s time with the Ravens, it was a body of work that actually included a significant amount of exposure to the international game. Of note, she would grace the ice in exhibition games against the national women’s teams from both Germany and Norway. The opposing teams would also bring with it a unique Carleton connection. Hedda Gjerde, a reliable blueliner with the Ravens who graduated in 2016, is also a member of Team Norway.
The exhibition contest against Germany brought with it high emotion. Taking place just days before opening faceoff at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, which were hosted in Ottawa, former Ravens captain Sara Seiler skated for her native Germany, marking the first time that she played against many former Ravens teammates, including Beaver.
While Beaver’s experience and her presence as a Canadian-born player, were highly valued by the Sirens, one of her key qualities is a remarkable humility and team-first approach. In discussing whether her background competing at high levels of play in Canada translated into key leadership for the Sirens, she approached it with a different viewpoint,
“Not necessarily because the Sirens already had a strong leadership core and all around great hockey community. Personally, I wanted to be a leader with my skill level and being able to contribute on the ice in providing a solid D presence. I believe I was able to do this by scoring key goals in shootouts throughout the season, and that, was having confidence in myself with my hockey background.”
Of note, Beaver’s post-university career included hockey in many other unique facets. From Guest Services at the Hockey Hall of Fame to time spent during the 2014-15 season as an assistant coach with the Oakville Hornets Girls Hockey Association, for whom she once played at the PWHL level, the love of the game was always evident.
The chance to be part of the Hornets organization as a coach was part of an experience that helped bring her career full circle, getting in touch with her hockey roots. As the Hornets celebrated their 20th anniversary, Beaver was part of the Alumni game, which saw a group of alums take on the current PWHL roster.
With the alumni capturing a 3-2 win, it would contribute to a special coincidence. Considering that the game-winning goal was scored by Mia Favretto, she would become Beaver’s teammate once again during the 2015-16 season. Returning to the ice, Beaver’s ascent into the professional ranks saw them both play with Austria’s Neuberg Highlanders.
Among three Canadians with the Highlanders, Beaver and Favretto were also joined by Cornwall, Ontario’s Morgan MacInnis, who competed at the NCAA Division III level with SUNY Plattbsurgh. During that season, the club featured 51-year old goaltender Brigitte Griebichler, the oldest player on the team. As a side note, Beaver would also be part of team trivia that season, as the tallest player on the team.
In making the transition to Australia, Beaver had previously been familiar with an individual who helped promote a Canada versus US exhibition match there, which actually featured of some NHL alumnae. Brought into contact with Sirens team captain Amelia Matheson, who supplied videos to the coaching staff, it was the springboard towards extending Beaver’s international career, while seeing firsthand a remarkable sense of teamwork that helped define the Sirens’ culture.
“The transition to living in Australia was not hard at all. The country is very similar to Canada and it helps that is it an English speaking country. Also the group of people that I was surrounded by were amazing in helping me get settled, finding a job and living life.”
Although the AWIHL regular season consists of only 12 games, the opportunity for game’s growth in Oceania is one that makes Beaver both excited and optimistic about the future. Not only do Australia and New Zealand ice national teams in IIHF play, (Australia participates in Division II, Group A play), competitors from each country have also surfaced at the NCAA level.
Alivia Del Basso became the first Australian to grace NCAA ice, adding another exciting level to the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs’ legacy of international players. Currently with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints in upstate New York, goaltender Grace Harrison of New Zealand, was named a 2017 ECAC Second Team All-Star, winning 23 games.
While Beaver’s presence down under is reciprocal, she also follows in the proud legacy of other Canadians who have competed in Australia. Among such notable players are Manitoba’s Christine Bestland, a former competitor with the NCAA’s Mercyhurst Lakers and Canada’s U18 program and goaltender Liz Knox.
A competitor at the CIS level with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Knox was the recipient of the Brodrick Trophy and also competed professionally with the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder. Coincidentally, both Bestland and Knox were members of the Melbourne Ice, although not in the same season.
In reflecting on her inaugural season in Australia, the definitive elements go beyond the game for Beaver. The essence of friendship and appreciating the local surroundings are among the aspects absorbed that provide for the most enjoyable memories. An excursion into the wilderness also brought with it an introduction to the diversity of the climate, allowing for a humorous insight.
“Besides winning the championship I would say being accepted into the team and community with the Sirens was a highlight in making me feel welcomed and comfortable living on the other side of the world. Girls on the team took me out to see all the tourist attractions including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. My very first weekend in Australia, three girls on the team took me camping and all I can remember was how cold it was sleeping in the tent and thinking that Australia is supposed to be warm all year round, but I was wrong (laughs).”
Undoubtedly, the decision to compete in Australia was one that paid tremendous dividends for both Beaver and her newest team, the Sydney Sirens. Classified as an import defenseman, Beaver’s versatility also allowed for some offensive proficiency. Playing for head coach Troy Morgan, she finished fifth on the team in scoring with 12 points, she would also rank twelfth overall in the league.
Teammate Sharna Godfrey placed second overall, while team captain Amelia Matheson and Andrea Lim occupied the third and fourth spots in the scoring race. As a side note, Christina Julien of the Melbourne Ice finished the season as the AWIHL’s scoring champion.
An undefeated regular season would prove to be a treasured prize for the Sirens. Outscoring their opponents by a cumulative regular season total of 78-20, such dominance continued into the postseason, resulting in 14 wins in a row. Defeating the Adelaide Rush by a 10-0 tally in the semifinals, it built on the momentum of a stellar finish to the regular season, which saw the Sirens defeat the Rush in a road series by scores of 12-0 and 11-1.
Taking on the Brisbane Goannas for the Joan McKeown Memorial Trophy, who defeated Melbourne Ice by a 3-0 shutout in their semi-final match, it would prove to be a fitting match-up. As the Sirens and Goannas finished first and second in season standings,
Behind 2-0, a pair of goals by Sharnita Crompton kept the undefeated season alive. After a 10 minute 3-on-3 overtime could not resolve the 2-all tie, a shootout was required to determine the league championship. Of note, the Sirens were not unfamiliar with the pressures of the shootout, as three regular season games were decided by a shootout.
A weekend series against Brisbane on November 26-27, 2016 saw the Sirens emerge victorious in 2-1 and 5-4 finals. In the New Year, a January 15th tilt with Melbourne resulted in a 4-3 shootout final.
Beaver would take to the ice as the first Sirens skater in this dramatic shootout. Scoring on her shot, the bench roared in ecstatic approval, one step closer to fulfilling their undefeated destiny. Goaltender Sara Dogramaci would deny all three Brisbane shooters, as the Sirens captured their first-ever AWIHL championship.
Hoisting the Joan McKeown Memorial Trophy as high as she could, it also symbolized the first championship in Beaver’s professional career, emerging as her finest hour. Having contributed towards this monumental milestone with the greatest goal of her career, it was a fitting complement for such an amazing achievement that was well worth the wait. Already looking to obtain a second visa so that she can suit up for the Sirens next season, Beaver’s presence at Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink would certainly be a welcome return for this hockey hero, whose unforgettable impact in franchise lore is part of legend.
“Winning the championship and being able to score the shootout winner will definitely be a moment in my life that I will never forget. It was an amazing team effort all season long, which continued into the finals weekend.
This moment will be at the top of my list in my achievements that I have had in my hockey career. I was happy to be able to step up to the plate and score the opening goal in shootout to give our team the advantage and confidence to win it all.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Erin Beaver