Among the eventful facets that took place at the 2017 ISBHF World Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic, one of the most captivating occurred when Team Italia faced off against the two-time defending champion Canadian contingent. The contest held significant emotion for numerous reasons, including the fact that many members of Italia’s roster were born in Canada, participating in the Worlds with the status of "heritage players.”
There was also a heartwarming subplot as a total of seven participants from both rosters shared a common thread of having competing in Canada’s capital region. Having graced the ball hockey court in the renowned Ottawa-Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), their presence in Pardubice was an extension of that league’s fascinating legacy.
Four fantastic women from the OVWBHL, two active and two alumnae, donned Canada’s colors. Both long serving members of the Mooseheads, enjoying a CBHA National Championship in 2014, also returning to the event in 2015 and 2016, goaltender Nathalie Girouard and Elysia Desmier represented the active competitors, also boasting a pair of ISBHF World Championships each.
Joining the distinguished duo of Girouard and Desmier on Team Canada’s roster were a most notable pair of alums. Both transcendent figures in numerous aspect of hockey, Mandi Duhamel and Jamie Lee Rattray have experienced numerous pinnacles in career that have also included international play.
Duhamel, who currently serves in a managerial capacity with Hockey Canada was a former captain of the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey team. Coincidentally, another former Gee-Gees captain (and teammate of Duhamel) was part of Team Italia, as Samantha Delenardo brought her leadership skills to the roster as a Heritage Player. Joining her on the roster was a recent Gee-Gees graduate and current Red Bull Crashed Ice competitor, Alicia Blomberg.
Following graduation from the University of Ottawa, Duhamel would balance a budding coaching career with the Carleton Ravens along with a sensational run as a competitor in the OVWBHL. From a coaching perspective, she enjoyed a pair of gold medals. One took place with Canada’s entry in women’s ice hockey at the 2011 Winter Universiade in Turkey. Fast forward five years later, and Duhamel served as head coach for a gold medal winning roster at the FIRS Inline Worlds. As a side note, Danika Smith, a former teammate with the Gee-Gees and in the OVWBHL was part of the coaching staff.
“The most beautiful thing about women’s hockey, of any kind, is that you get to be a member of a small, tight-knit exclusive club made of amazing and wonderful people! This event spotlighted that fact with familiar faces on different teams on the other side of the world. Having friends from Ottawa on the Canadian Team, the Italian team and even officiating was a very special opportunity that our sport created.
I had to check myself a few times playing against Delenardo and Blomberg when I found myself cheering for them, then realized were on separate teams! It’s always been a pleasure watching Desmier and Nat play the game, they are forces on the floor and there is a reason they have been to multiple world championships. It was a great pleasure finally calling them teammates.
I have been gone from Ottawa for more than four years now but it never feels that way. The group of women in Ottawa that I have the pleasure of calling friends is a collection like no other. I may be 3000kms away but connections like the ones we have in Ottawa stay with you always.”
The last two seasons has resulted in Duhamel enjoying a renaissance on the ball hockey court. Enjoying a CBHA national championship in 2016, she would follow it up with a proud pinnacle. Bestowed the honor of Canada’s captaincy for the 2017 ISBHF World Championships, it affirmed her status as one of the game’s premier players.
“Being named Captain of our team was a true honour. We had a fantastic group of women with a solid veteran core so being selected as a first time player (mind you I’m no spring chicken) meant a tremendous amount. But to be honest that ‘C’ was only the second most important one on my jersey. This team was one of the best group of people I’ve ever been a part of so gaining their respect is something I will always be very grateful for."
One of the greatest ice hockey competitors to hail from Canada’s Capital Region, Jamie Lee Rattray is an eminent competitor who has enjoyed the honor of competing for all three of Canada’s national hockey teams (U18, U22-Development, and Senior). With an amazing hockey resume that also includes the Patty Kazmaier Award, a Frozen Four championship and competition in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Rattray has carved an equally captivating legacy on the ball hockey court.
Following her 2014 Frozen Four victory with the Clarkson Golden Knights, Rattray suited up for the OVWBHL’s Mooseheads club a few weeks later. Emerging as a key contributor in their run to the CBHA national championship, some of her Mooseheads teammates included Fannie Desforges, Elysia Desmier and Nathalie Girouard.
“Having played with and against Nat a ton it was pretty special being teammates on the World stage. She's a vet on the World stage so it was nice to have someone with a ton of experience at this tournament on your team. I always tell her I'd rather have her on my team because she's pretty tough to beat!”
Rattray’s prodigy would extend into 2015 as a member of the Toronto Shamrocks. With the 2015 edition of the CBHA nationals taking place in Ottawa, it brought her athletic odyssey full circle, returning home to the site of some of her greatest glories. Donning the Shamrocks’ green jersey, it was a star-studded roster filled with numerous competitors from the CWHL’s Furies and Thunder (Rattray’s club team).
With Jenny Brine scoring the championship-clinching goal against Newfoundland United, it allowed Rattray an opportunity to be part of a unique chapter in both CBHA, and Canadian sporting history. Capturing back-to-back titles with different teams, Rattray was not the only member of the Shamrocks to make a unique impact on that championship day in Ottawa. Diana Brown, who served as the head coach for both the Shamrocks and Team Canada in 2015, experienced her own unique brush with history. Coincidentally, Brown was part of Italia’s coaching staff in 2017, adding to growing mystique surrounding that magical Shamrocks team.
Having been approached about competing for Team Canada in 2015, Rattray was unavailable due to her commitments with the national ice hockey team. Possessing such world-class talent, Rattray was destined to eventually grace the Canadian jersey and compete at the ISBHF Worlds. With the 2017 edition of the Worlds fulfilling such destiny, Rattray continued to live up to her billing as one of the world’s finest hockey players, capturing the scoring title and the bronze medal. Through it all, Rattray is quick to acknowledge that such an achievement was attributed to an overall team effort, as her successes were truly shared with all who donned the Maple Leaf,
“For sure, I mean individual accomplishments are always nice but I think I have my teammates to thank for this one. We had such a great group of girls that truly wanted to work hard for each other. With a ton of new players to this tournament this group of players had to come together quickly. Everyone did fantastic job of coming together quickly, and it was truly a fun group to be a part of.”
Attaining such an admired pinnacle this year, it also resulted in Rattray having the opportunity to call a former Mooseheads teammate a rival on the game’s biggest stage. Part of the Mooseheads championship team roster in 2014, Alicia Furletti-Blomberg’s status as one of the elites of ball hockey extended to a pair of world championships in 2013 and 2015.
Opting to compete for Team Italia in 2017, there was a significant emotional component. With her younger sister Carley, who is also a competitor for the Brock Badgers varsity ice hockey team in U Sports play, making her ISBHF debut in Pardubice, the chance to play alongside her and strengthen an already unbreakable bond between them was of tremendous importance.
Of note, Alicia would gain a spot on the All-Tournament Team, the first player in Team Italia history to do so. Scoring Italia’s lone goal in the 4-1 outcome against Canada, it may have been the highlight of the game. With Canada holding the 2-0 lead after two periods, Blomberg would score just 15 seconds into the third, as the thought of an upset suddenly became real.
Although goals by Tamara Pickford and Rhianna Kurio (a 2016 Clarkson Cup champion) eventually placed the game out of reach, the efforts of Team Italia were not taken lightly. As Desmier reflected, calling Blomberg an opponent for such a rare time in their ball hockey careers brought with a flood of emotion.
“Having played with Blomberg for so many years on either Team Canada or with the Mooseheads, you get to be familiar with their play style and skill. Playing against Blomberg allowed me to see a different side of her game.
I appreciated it a lot more as it's a lot more complex than I realized before. Playing with her she probably played a way that helped complement my game. Yet, against her you see a game that adapted to different scenarios, very quickly. And her compete level never stops. Probably one of the hardest working players you'll ever come across.
Although I have definitely benefited from playing with her over the years. It was not fun playing against her at all.”
For an Italia roster whose team culture is built on a strong sense of family, that experience also extended for another member of Team Italia’s roster. Having competed with the Mooseheads at the 2016 CBHA Nationals, Annalisa Mazzarello made her mark for Italia back in 2013. Scoring the program’s first-ever goal in ISBHF play, the very youthful Mazzarello (who is known affectionately as Mazzie) is destined to be a cornerstone for the Mooseheads in seasons to come.
A significant aspect of Mazzarello’s time with the Mooseheads is personified by the cherished friendship that has blossomed with Girouard and Desmier. Both have taken on a symbolic role as big sisters, providing inspiration. With the 2017 ISBHF Worlds placing them on opposing sides, it was a rare encounter but one that also provided a unique challenge. Despite donning differing jerseys, the sense of mutual respect between them was heightened.
“Playing against my teammates (Nathalie) Girouard and (Elysia) Desmier at Worlds in Czech Republic was a lot of fun! I was extremely nervous when I first found out I would be playing against them because they play for Canada and are both fantastic players.
They both have such great skill, vision, and knowledge of the game. I was a little disappointed when I found out that Girouard wasn’t the starting goalie for the game.
Personally, it’s always a bit weird having close relationships with members of opposing team. But, at the same time, it’s a lot of fun to share these memories and experiences with them, even if they’re on the other side of the slab!”
In spite of Girouard not gaining the start for Canada, she remained an integral part of the contest’s complexion. With the final score merely serving as prologue, a much more profound narrative was about to unfold, as rivalries dissolved, replaced by an emotional yet captivating reunion took place between Mooseheads teammates that embodied the sense of community and sportsmanship that are the pillars of ball hockey,
“I actually never had the chance to play against Team Italy while representing Canada. As much as it would have been a great opportunity to face my teammates it allows me to appreciate their level of play from a different view.
They (Blomberg, Mazzarello) are both excellent players. As you saw, we reconnected during the hand shake and later took a team picture. You always wish that your friends do well during the tournament. I developed many long distance friendships with players from different countries but it is always nice to have a little ‘home feeling’ while you are away for an extended period of time,” remarked Girouard.
With Mazzarello prompting Desmier and Girouard to take a photograph, commemorating this unique chapter as Mooseheads sisters, it would be the catalyst for a larger gathering to occur, as a circle of friendship and gratitude took on a fascinating shape.
Girouard and Desmier would be joined by Canadian teammates Duhamel and Rattray, while Mazzarello was joined by Furletti-Blomberg and Samantha Delenardo, a former captain with the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey team. As a side note, Duhamel and Furletti-Blomberg also played with Delenardo on the Gee-Gees.
For this “Spectacular Seven”, the chance to share in their Ottawa roots not only commemorated a monumental milestone in their athletic odysseys, it was brought to life with a heartwarming group photo. Not only was it a proud tournament highlight for Desmier, she also incorporated an element of humour.
“That picture was a great moment of the tournament. It's always fun when you can have two teams that competed hard for an entire game and then can put that behind them to take a picture like that. Having played with a few players on Team Italia previously just made it so much more special. Especially allowing little Mazzie (to) get to be in the back row for the first time.”
As Mazzarello was the catalyst for such a magical moment, the magnitude of such a hallowed highlight added an element of prestige to being in the company of these accomplished greats in the game,
“After the game I went up to Girouard and Desmier and said that we should take a picture with all the Moosehead players (including Alicia Furletti-Blomberg). Shortly afterwards, a few girls realized that a good number of players were from Ottawa so we decided to take a group picture, which I was glad I could be a part of.
I did not realize that so many players were from Ottawa. But yes, we had good representation in Czech! I’d say this was one of the highlights of my experience at Worlds. It’s always nice to be surrounded by familiar faces, but also having the change to meet new people from the place from your home country.
Canada has such a strong love for the game of hockey, whether that be ice or ball, and to see that love for the game halfway across the world with fellow Canadians was something quite amazing.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Group images obtained from Facebook, Game photo credits: Daniel Soucek