One of the gems of the sporting community in Canada’s Capital Region, the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League has gathered a highly group of remarkably talented athletes whose achievements are notable nationally. As each subsequent season results in the league constantly building on new successes, complemented by continued growth, its rise to prominence is a heartfelt portrait.
This sense of family and belonging has served as one of the league’s cornerstones. Among its signature events is the annual Awards Gala, which also signifies the end of the season. With a season that ranges from April until August, the Awards ceremony is actually one of two signature events during the season. The other event being the league tournament in June, contested for friendly bragging rights.
As the architect behind the league’s resurgence, Callaghan is also one of the game’s most influential builders. Having served as the league president for eight years, Callaghan was also the OBHF President and served in that same capacity at the CBHA, achieving a unique triple crown. As a side note, she is also a project manager with the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity.
Proud of her work in laying a foundation for the OVWBHL, she has helped foster a culture to develop talent and empower a younger generation to take on key leadership roles. Said generation is a collection of exceptional leaders building on her legacy, connecting both epochs. Giving them a strong sense of ownership in shaping the league’s destiny, Callaghan is euphoric over their efforts and enthusiasm.
“Absolutely. All of the girls on the executive now, I convinced all of them to be on the board. They are doing a great job. It’s nice for me to run my team.”
As all executive positions in the league consists of two-year terms, there is currently a unique triptych of talent part of a leadership configuration that consists of seven sensational women. Among them is Rebekah Wilson, the VP of fundraising and event coordinator who calls the Killer Bees her club team
Also serving in a Vice-Presidential capacity is Sylvia Ottman, who is also one of the league’s longest serving players, having played 15 years in the OVWBHL. First gracing the court at the tender age of 14, Ottman can be found competing with the Sonics. As a side note, the range of ages on the club exemplifies the unique age range that is among the league’s hallmarks. The Sonics have a player on their roster that is 49 years young, while its youngest player is 21.
“I like watching the league grow. At one time, there were only six teams, and now it has expanded to 16 teams. The people have helped it grow and to see new faces come into the league, it has been great.”
League president Natasha Sauvé is another youthful yet vigorous individual with a decade of active play among her greatest contributions to league lore. Currently donning the jersey of the Ninjas, this charismatic individual has served in the capacity of president for three years. Balancing such responsibility with a strong leadership role on her club team, the glue that holds it all together is the undeniable love of competition and the positive culture which emanates,
“What I like most about the league is the fun of the game. I like seeing everybody enjoy the game and what comes with it, such as camaraderie. Everybody knows every one and there is friendship between teams.”
Their collective efforts are incubators for new concepts, including finding new methods to recruit talent. Big part of the strategy for the following season is to attempt and recruit younger players from the high school and university levels, admirably sowing the seeds for a promising future.
The fountainhead of this event involves a celebration of its players. Each team in the A and B Leagues, plus the Recreational League sees three players bestowed with honors. Allowing numerous players the opportunity to achieve the thrill of ending their season with hockey hardware, said honors includes a Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player and Most Sportsmanlike Player for each team.
During the 2017 campaign, six teams competed in the A League, while the B League consisted of four teams. Also holding a significant presence is the Recreational League, which also sees six teams in its configuration. For Sauvé, the significance of award ceremonies is vital two-fold. The feeling of festivity and merriment is one that indicates how every player is crucial to the league’s continued success, while the accolades of the evening help bring closure to another season.
“Definitely recognizing the importance of having the league, and getting all the players together as a way to finish the season. It is not only a way of celebrating the summer, it celebrates the end of our season.”
With a collection of names, ranging from Screaming Beavers to Tigresses, Sonics to Mighty Ducks (which pay tribute to professional sports monikers), plus sobriquets such as Silver Bullets and White Dynamite, there is no shortage of names that allow teams to express their creative fingerprint. Subsequently, the value of a team name helps provide the players with a chance to forge a unique sporting identity and help form a team culture.
Of note, three teams from the OVWBHL competed at Provincials this year. One participated in Masters Play, while the other two were A League teams. Worth noting, a significant number of notable players were absent as an Ottawa team consisting of a mix of star players from the Mooseheads, Nordiks and Rebels, competed in the medal round at the CBHA nationals.
Considering her longtime impact as a player, Ottman views player recognition as an essential component of the league’s culture. “Player recognition is definitely important. We have trophies for the first place teammates in the A and B leagues, along with the recreational league. We also have a Most Valuable Player Award for each team, along with Most Improved Player plus Most Sportsmanlike Player.”
From the outset, Claudia Bergeron, a former star with the Carleton Ravens, captured the scoring championship. Unfortunately, Bergeron was unavailable to claim her prize, as she was part of the Ottawa Capitals roster competing at the CBHA Nationals. Running parallel to the end of season Awards Ceremony, Ottawa’s entry would emerge with a bronze medal, further cementing the league’s sterling legacy.
The Killer Bees emerged as the top team in the Vanier Tournament, while the Ottawa Rebels, who saw a significant chunk of their roster play for the Capitals, were recognized as the first place team in the A Division.
Among the awards of the evening, the Team MVP award brought with it the most excitement. The MVP winners from the A Division brought with it a gathering of star players that comprised a who’s who of ball hockey. Nordiks competitor Kara Brumm won for her team while Jennifer Chiasson emerged with the honor for the Ninjas.
This season, Chiasson and her Ninjas teammates also enjoyed the privilege of capturing the league tournament, defeating the Nordiks in a series of hotly contested matches that were among the league’s finest this season. For Natasha Sauvé, the chance to be part of such an accomplished this season rekindled fond memories in her distinguished career,
“Winning at Provincials (in year’s past) was a high moment in my OVWBHL career. This year, we also won the local tournament, which was great. The Ninjas played the Nordiks and every game was a close one. Being able to win the tournament is always a high point and we host it every year in Vanier.”
Former Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion Fannie Desforges, also a multiple member of Canada’s national ball hockey team, took the top prize for the Rebels. As a side note, Jenna Hendrikx, a former NCAA skater in the College Hockey America conference, emerged with Most Sportsmanlike Award, testament to the growing talent in the league.
Alicia Blomberg, who made history as the first member of Team Italia to capture an All-Star honor at the ISBHF Women’s World Championships, continued to add to her haul of hockey hardware as the Mooseheads’ MVP. Coincidentally, Nathalie Girouard, who stood between the pipes for Canada at the ISBHF Worlds, is another world-class competitor for the Mooseheads, grabbing the team’s Most Sportsmanlike Award, representing a career first.
“It’s interesting that I won this. Because I was probably really young when I learned that complaining about referees only gets worse (laughs). I think what is really special is that I respect how the game is played, knowing that it is not an easy game to ref.
Every award is special and it makes you realize that someone, somewhere, recognizes you. I feel that I am still getting better and that I have not hit my plateau yet.”
Desforges and Blomberg were not the only Ottawa Gee-Gees alums that were proudly represented on awards night. The Mighty Ducks featured a plethora of Gee-Gees talent, several gaining recognition for their season-long efforts. Maude Levesque-Ryan, a former member of Quebec’s Under-18 ice hockey team, and a Gee-Gees scoring sensation, garnered Team MVP awards, pacing all Ducks players in scoring.
Ottman’s club team, the Sonics, resulted in goaltender Melanie Simard capturing Team MVP honors. Nicole Seguin was recognized as Most Improved Player, while the Most Sportsmanlike Player nod went to Taylor Chapman.
Earning a roaring cheer of applause, it was testament to her likeability as one of the league’s most admirable players. Having first come across the existence of the league in an online ad looking for new players, the 2017 campaign has represented Chapman’s fourth, and the feeling of friendship is what compels her to return to the court,
“It means that the team sees me in a positive light, and I feel like a role model for that. Overall, I am someone who just looks to enjoy the game. As we play together for a few months, I enjoy the people that I play with. It is a really good social environment.”
Adding luster to Chapman’s season was the fact that the Sonics were among the OVWBHL teams that competed at provincials. For Ottman, who is one of the longest serving players in league history, the opportunity to compete on one of the game’s biggest stages represented a point of pride and a cherished career highlight,
“The highlight was getting the chance to go to Provincials this season. The competition, the team bonding, and the chance to get to know people are part of it.”
Although it would be too extensive to list every award winner from the B Division and the Recreational League, the prestige of recognition is not lost on those devoted participants. For one particular player, Karen Vetlri, who calls the Recreational League’s Orange Geckos (another instance of creative sobriquets) her club team, it represents a distinguished denouement to her season.
“To be acknowledged means that you know that your team appreciates you. It’s not just myself who could have won the award. This was something outstanding. I don’t want to undermine winning or take away from the enjoyment, but it was a team effort.”
In many ways, Karen’s presence is truly the embodiment of what makes the OVWBHL such a cherished league to be part of. Over 40 years young, she not only brings drive and passion to the court, she is helping to enhance the league’s culture.
With the ability to compete alongside girls half her age, she is not known by her age on the court. Instead, she is like all the others who participate and choose to wear a specific team’s colors. Valued for effort and team spirit, the feeling of equality and belonging, regardless of one’s age and/or experience helps to foster a strong sense of mutual respect, one of the league’s true pillars of achievement.
“It is fantastic that there are women of all different age groups. Women of all ages are welcome here. It proves that everybody can be competitive, but still be sportsmanlike. There is still that sense of competition, but it is friendly competition.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook