The rise to prominence of the New Tecumseth X-Treme represents a heartfelt portrait. As this roster of immensely skilled players gladly gets accustomed to the moniker of “national champions”, their efforts have helped shape their community’s sporting identity, destined to become lauded.
Helping to ensure that women’s ball hockey is no longer a tiny subculture in the community, but a rich athletic milieu, the national championship reflects how the sport grew by a quantum leap. Taking into account that less than a generation ago, there was no girls program, resulting in players such as Giuliana Pallotta, one of the X-Treme’s leading scorers at Nationals, to play on boys teams, her presence helped to launch a new era.
A pair of uplifting performances to start the CBHA Nationals was essential towards helping to create a new mythology for the team. With the opening game serving as a key test for New Tecumseth, the promise of such a great team was refined.
Taking on the Ottawa Capitals, it set the stage for an intense rematch. Looking for redemption, Ottawa was looking to avenge a loss at the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation (OBHF) Provincial championships, which saw an ambitious New Tecumseth club make a statement by prevailing with 0.4 seconds left.
As Ottawa’s roster featured Claudia Bergeron, the scoring champion from the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), expectations were high to start the tournament on a winning note. Instead, it was New Tecumseth, thriving under the pressure that served as a key source of motivation, staking their claim as one of the favorites to appear in the medal round.
Prevailing by a 2-0 margin, the victory was an extension of the landmark provincial championship. Pallotta would log the game winning goal in the first period, unassisted, while the second period resulted in Jessie Hurrell adding to the lead. Reflecting on that victory as a significant turning point for the team was Andrea Gee, who commented on the first goal igniting the team,
“The turning point was probably in the first game, after the first goal. We were playing Ottawa, who we have played often over the summer and they are always tough competitors. Once we got that first goal I think it sparked something in all of us and increased our drive to become National Champions.”
Just as important was the fact that the win would be the first of consecutive shutouts for New Tecumseth. Defeating a tough Newfoundland United squad by a 1-0 margin in their second game of the tournament, as Brittany Clapham logged the game-winner in the second, it emerged as Samantha Jacobi’s finest hour, making 23 saves for her second straight shutout.
Showing a steady presence between the pipes, her peerless performance was essential in proving that a national championship was within reach. By tournament’s end, Jacobi would be recognized as the Most Valuable Goaltender.
While such a milestone represented a key point of pride for Jacobi, she credits the learning experience from competing at the 2016 edition of the Nationals as the key towards the current success enjoyed, realizing the team’s potential and refusing to see that event as a frustrating impasse,
“Being named the MVP goalie is of course a boost of confidence but, it was not on my mind much at nationals. Last year in Richmond, was the first national championship and it was a big learning experience for me.
You need skill and talent to win a national championship but it is much more than that. Every game is a battle and if you do not work hard and give it your all it doesn't matter how much talent you have.”
Not immune to big game situations was a former member of the Western Mustangs women’s ice hockey program, Brittany Clapham. Understanding that the very paradigm of success is built on collaboration, she was a key contributor towards the Mustangs capturing the Golden Path Trophy in 2015, awarded to the national champions in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey.
Able to excel under the demands of competition, she was a key factor in helping nurture the concept that a national championship was possible. Part of an exclusive sorority of competitors who can boast both a CBHA crown and the Golden Path trophy, these diverse accomplishments represent sensational pillars of achievement for Clapham, definitely concrete memories as a competitor,
“There is no better feeling than winning a championship let alone a national one. I was fortunate to have amazing teammates at Western to win the CIS championship and amazing teammates with the New Tec Xtreme. Having cohesive teammates is everything in a championship tournament and it's always a great feeling when you win with your friends.”
The road towards the gold medal game progressed as New Tecumseth tied the Jessie McCann-led Team New Brunswick 2-2 in their third game, with goals by Skeats and Pallotta. Following it up with a convincing 5-1 trouncing of Manitoba, Hurrell scored twice in a three-goal first period.
Game Five in the Preliminary Round saw New Tecumseth endure its only loss as the Edmonton Fusion emerged triumphant in a 3-1 final. The lone goal was scored by Skeats as Clapham and Pallotta gained the assists. Finishing second overall in the Preliminary Round standings, with the Ottawa Capitals sitting atop first, their only loss suffered to New Tecumseth, the theme of the medal round would be one of redemption.
As the Fusion pulled off a 2-1 overtime upset of Ottawa, as Megan Kerr supplied the heroics, New Tecumseth would be challenged by New Brunswick for the right to play for the gold medal. Clapham and Skeats would each score in the first frame, as New Tecumseth enjoyed a 2-0 lead. In spite of New Brunswick scoring twice, with goals by Christina Rombaut and Melanie Fouchere, New Tecumseth never relinquished its lead. A second period goal by Hurrell, with helpers from Skeats and Pallotta ensured that the squad always maintained an advantage.
Facing the Fusion in the gold medal game, it set the stage for one of the most dramatic gold medal games in tournament history. The result was a redemptive effort in which the heartache of the previous loss was abandoned.
In a game that shimmered with stirring drama, Emma Whiteside rose to the occasion. Filled with an intense desire to succeed, balming the wounds of the previous loss to Edmonton, she made her mark in championship game lore.
Scoring what proved to be the championship clinching goal during the first period, it was actually part of two goals that the wondrous Whiteside scored in a span of merely 50 seconds. Of note, Skeats and Pallotta would gain the assists on the first goal, while Clapham and Tara Cation assisted on what stood as the gold medal clinching goal.
While Whiteside’s goals were essential towards assembling an insurmountable lead, creating a climate of confidence, Whiteside is quick to acknowledge that her heroics were attributed to a soild team effort, one where a tight calibration of initiative and persistence helped the team bounce back after its initial loss to Edmonton,
"The feeling was incredible but I didn't do that alone and I don't consider them to just be my goals. It was the whole team’s contribution to get the ball in the zone, and the ball to the net. I just had the ball touch my stick last. I happened to be in the right place at the right time but to tell you the truth though it felt amazing
We lost to them earlier in the week, we thought we could have played better against them. They scored early into the first so we were battling from behind yet again. When we tied the game it put us back to even.
The second goal showed us that when we play the game we know we can, and it works then you just want to play harder and do more. We knew Edmonton was a come back team as they had done it in the past and has the capability to do it again so we did not let up.”
Goals by Kennedy Whelan and Hannah Coons (scored in the second period) resulted in a 4-1 final as the New Tecumseth offense peppered goaltender Tammy West with 27 shots. On the opposite end of the court, the defense played tremendously as Jacobi faced merely nine shots.
“The final score was 4-1, we were all proud of what we accomplished. We were all proud of our gold medal win!" remarked Whiteside.
Recording key points throughout the tournament, such contributions shall definitely stand as one of the defining moments in Clapham’s hockey career. Echoing Whiteside’s sentiments, her poise helped to set the tone for the team. Undoubtedly, the desire to be better certainly triggers a competitive advantage, one that Clapham constanly demonstrated. Improving through effort, the results spoke for themselves.
“I am very proud of our entire team. We worked extremely hard the entire tournament. We had many players with injuries and soreness however everyone pushed and battled through it; that alone just demonstrates the character and determination the team had. With such a young team and only our second time at the CBHA nationals, winning the championship is a big accomplishment and a memory we will always carry with us.
Achieving the feat of a provincial and national championship in the same season, the victories themselves were not the only essence of this treasured pinnacle, it was also the acclaim garnered. For Jacobi, who has now earned a growing reputation as one of the game’s greatest goaltenders, her dignified, business-like approach may be the cornerstone towards establishing a winning tradition for the X-Treme in the seasons to come,
“Winning both the provincial and national championships in the same year is huge our team and the NTBHL. We had such an incredible group of girls this year and amazing coaching staff I am just thrilled to have been able to be apart of the team for a great summer of ball hockey.”
Recording a total of 10 points in tournament play, the CBHA title was part of another impressive haul of hockey hardware in 2017 for Devon Skeats. Earlier in the year, she was among the first Canadian women to experience the euphoria of an Isobel Cup victory, achieving the feat with the Buffalo Beauts.
Along with a bronze medal as a member of Team Canada at the 2017 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, Skeats’ acumen for the game certainly made her a key leader in New Tecumseth’s rise to ball hockey dominance. Such leadership was only enhanced by the presence of another key individual that Pallotta was proud to share in this landmark year with.
Holding the unique distinction of calling Pallotta a teammate on both Team Canada and New Tecumseth, this poignant duo definitely became part of the game’s fabric in 2017. Both alums of Wilfrid Laurier University (although not teammates), this shared journey became a rite of passage. Considering that both were among New Tecumseth’s scoring leaders in the preliminary and elimination rounds, their tremendous synergy was a key catalyst towards making the goal of a national championship plausible,
“Giuliana Pallotta is the reason I play ball hockey and have been able to have these amazing experiences; representing Canada as well as winning a National Title. I cannot thank her enough.
She is such an incredible athlete and person it's been an honour to play by her side. I love playing on her line as she's such a smart and highly skilled player she makes it so easy to play with her. She's one of those players that make the people around her better because of her talents.”
Even in the aftermath of this remarkable odyssey, Skeats recognizes that the most gratifying element shall always be in its local roots, “Winning the CBHA Nationals was such an incredible experience mostly because of the amazing teammates I had. Bringing a national title to New Tecumseth was extra special too because there is such a large ball hockey community in the area and we have a lot of fans/supporters cheering us on.”
With a smile from cheek to cheek, Andrea Gee could not hide her sense of glee at reaching such a lauded pinnacle. Sharing in the joy of this win with her teammates, the euphoric emotions of victory were quickly replaced by cautious apprehension.
Taking into account that many athletes have superstitions, almost an obligatory facet, there is also a slight unease that constitutes some of the elements that make sport unique.
The unexpected moments that sometimes result in a slip-up or gaffe can actually add to the legend of an athlete. Such a moment can involve the dropping (or collapse) of a trophy. Athletes who gained fame for such moments involve bowling great Pete Weber, whose 1991 US Open trophy collapsed, while 2008 Memorial Cup champion Spokane saw the cup detach from its base when passed to Trevor Glass. Understandably, it was a moment that Gee did not want to repeat, reflecting on it with great levity,
“It was such a surreal feeling at first but then it finally clicked when I held the trophy and I was so excited and happy my cheeks hurt from smiling so much! I was also very worried I was going to drop the trophy. All I could think was ‘don't drop the trophy, that would really ruin this moment', (laughs).”
Having formed lasting friendships during this remarkable summer of elite ball hockey, Pallotta provided a pulse pounding intensity which exhausted opposing teams. With a pair of championships, along with ISBHF bronze animating her athletic existence, Pallota truly embodies what is great about women’s ball hockey in New Tecumseth.
As Pallotta is truly one of the game’s local pioneers, her presence has certainly helped to bridge generations. Part of a new genesis which will inspire younger girls in the community to emulate her own heroics, her legacy was not driven alone by the spirit of achievement. Having helped grow the game locally, making others realize its value, she cultivated it, honed by the spirit of friendship and belonging, elements that shall always elicit victorious and inspiring feelings about the New Tecumseth X-Treme, 2017 CBHA National Champions.
“Winning the provincial and national championships this year with New Tecumseth this year was the icing on the cake. Coming from such a small community, many teams underestimate the talent that our team brings.
We have all been playing together for a number of years now and the team dynamic and friendships we have built have made our team that much better. I also need to give credit to our awesome coaches Shaun Gannon, Adam Patton, Jenna Fleming and our GM Deb Stark.
Without their and the rest of our communities hard work and support our teams success would not have been possible. I am extremely lucky be apart of The New Tecumseth team and I know there will be more success in the future.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from: http://ntbhl.ca/news.php?news_id=1534134