11 September, 2017

Mooseheads more than a Model Team in the Lauded OVWBHL



As one of the most accomplished teams in the modern history of women’s ball hockey, the Vanier Mooseheads are more than just a collection of elite talent. It is a gathering of inspiring women who are contributing towards the growing lore of the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL).

Team captain Shelley Callaghan is the heartbeat of the team, having been there since its inception in 1996, known by the initial sobriquet “Pylons”. Eventually adopting the nickname “Rookies”, the team took its current “Mooseheads” moniker 15 years ago, signifying another step in its evolution.

With three CBHA national championships attached to the team’s folklore, the Mooseheads are not just the OVWBHL’s model team, they are a respected dynasty. Its most recent championship team, attained in 2014, featured a who’s who of hockey.

Such a roster included mainstays such as goaltender Nathalie Girouard and top forward Elysia Desmier. In addition, said roster also included the impressive likes of Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion Fannie Desforges, Patty Kazmaier Award winner Jamie Lee Rattray, Melissa Boufounos, who competed for Team Greece at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, and All-World talent Alicia Blomberg, among others.

Although Callaghan was part of the roster during the regular season, she discloses that the run to the national championship saw her occupying a different, yet important role, “The last time that we won nationals, I must say that I was on the bench coaching.”

Balancing her strong leadership with a superlative coaching presence, it is symbolic of Callaghan’s legacy to the team. Her coaching legacy also involves serving as the head coach for Team Canada’s entry at the inaugural Women’s Masters in 2014.

Contested in Tampa, Florida, the gold medal signified another remarkable achievement that solidified a stellar ball hockey career. Callaghan’s contributions to the game and its structure serve as vast repositories of legend. To an extent, her efforts in ball hockey are somewhat reminiscent of Fran Rider in ice hockey

The impact of the Mooseheads has definitely transformed the league into a robust organization. Callaghan, who is very personable, definitely represents a stability for the team. Her superlative leadership efforts as the former OVWBHL President helped to form an intricate network, while bringing an undeniable credibility.

This gathering of elite talent represents another pillar of achievement for Callaghan, her efforts a template for others in the league to follow. While the Mooseheads have helped to elevate the quality of play throughout the league, there is another amazing legacy. The mutual respect is what links this remarkable team, having created an admirable culture that is the team’s raison d’etre, one that Callaghan proudly points out.

“This is a great team and the players are very, very talented. It is really exceptional. They are also humble players. Even though we have a lot of superstars, no one acts like it.

We have very little turnover on our team. With girs like that, it is great to play with that much talent. It’s a great feeling. Everyone plays together and there are no problems. Few players know what they’re capable of.”

Having grown up in the province of Quebec as a prominent competitor on the hardcourt of basketball, Girouard was another integral component of those formative years in Mooseheads history. Having first known Callaghan through recreational ice hockey, one of Girouard’s proud pillars of achievement involves years of superlative play as one of the Mooseheads’ cornerstones.

Along with Desmier, they are the team’s role models, a pair of animated personalities whose good cheer draws people to them. Their commitment to excellence is lauded in both team and league circles. While a very youthful Girouard may be one of the team’s more experienced players, she is proud of the enthusiasm that the newest generation of players brings to the league,

“It is rewarding to see younger members want to take over. Shelley took it over (a few years ago) and built it all up again. I think, because of the varsity players (from university), it went from a fun league to a competitive league.

I do want to be competitive at events, because it made me a better player. I also (first) joined for the fun, but with the competitiveness of it, I want to be my best, but I also want it to be fun.”

Embodying the sense of teamwork that is a significant component of the Mooseheads’ unfolding narrative, which has seen meaningful growth in its relevance, actually involved one of the league’s greatest players. Kendra Antony, an accomplished player who established herself as a scoring sensation with the NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers, where she amassed 159 career points, is definitely part of the glue that has held the league together.

Finishing third on the Mooseheads in scoring this season, Antony held a unique connection in the most recent configuration of the Mooseheads. As the club features two international players, Sara Seiler and Hanna Turpeinen, Antony was the catalyst that brought them to the attention of the league.

A participant with the German entry in women’s ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Seiler made her mark in Ottawa sports long before she was part of the Mooseheads roster. Having once played for the NWHL’s Ottawa Raiders, Seiler was also a captain of the Carleton Ravens varsity team.

Taking into account that Antony once played with Lyne Landry, whose hockey legacy includes being part of the inaugural CWHL All-Star class, where both played for the league’s Ottawa Lady Senators franchise, it proved to be another essential piece to the puzzle. Of note, Landry and Seiler are currently part of the coaching staff for Carleton’s hockey team.

Coincidentally, the Mooseheads hold another unique connection to the Carleton Ravens. Annalisa Mazzarello, who attained ball hockey immortality by scoring the first-ever goal for Team Italia in their debut at the ISBHF Worlds is an Ottawa-raised talent. Having tried out for the Ravens ice hockey team as a walk-on, the academic obligations resulted in a sensitive balance that shelved such ambitions.

Had Mazzarello been part of the Ravens roster, she would have definitely crossed paths with both Landry and Seiler. Serendipitously, she would enjoy the privilege of calling Seiler a teammate, an experience that has enhanced her second season with the Mooseheads,

“She is awesome. She tells you where to go (on the court) to be in the right position. A great down to earth person, and an Olympian, she is someone else who adds a piece to our family.”

In addition, Antony had known one of Turpeinen’s Ottawa-based friends. With a unique hockey resume that has included competing for her native Finland at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, she also spent the 2011-12 season at the NCAA level with the Lindenwood Lady Lions, based out of St. Charles, Missouri. Another international player that is making her mark with the Mooseheads, it only adds to the team’s world-class status. 

Undoubtedly, Antony’s unique place in OVWBHL lore is one that a longtime competitor such as Girouard is not only familiar with; she was initially awed by the revelation that she would be joining the league. As Girouard reveals, the arrival of Antony signified a paradigm shift for the league, definitely altering the complexion of the league.

“I remember when Shelley mentioned Kendra Antony. We were just a bunch of players (at the time) and hearing that she was coming (to the OVWBHL) from the NWHL’s Ottawa Raiders, a professional ice hockey team, was amazing.

We were getting more and more players of a high caliber, coming from many backgrounds, not just hockey. It was very impressive getting these kinds of players on our team. It just made it better and more competitive. Since then, it got better every year and I just grew with it.”

Having definitely grown as a player and an ambassador for the league over the last two seasons is Mazzarello. Known affectionately by her teammates as “Mazzie”, her path to donning the Mooseheads jerseys was certainly one that was unforeseen.

“I was playing on a recreational league team at the lower level. Eventually, I needed another team to play on. Someone said I should join one of the A league teams. I had asked Shelley, who introduced me to the Mooseheads. At first, I was nervous, but the team welcomed me with open arms.”

With three appearances at the ISBHF Women’s Worlds to her credit, Mazzarello represents the potential of the younger women in OVWBHL play to become ball hockey icons in their own right. Considering that women in their fifties have also competed at the ISBHF Worlds, she is quick to point that talent, and not age, should be the focal point of a player’s value,

“Age does not bother me. We have a lot of different age groups (throughout the league) and I think age should not matter. As long as you can play and compete, have that vision with the ball.”

In spite of her contributions for Team Italia at the ISBHF level, Mazzarello shows a maturity beyond her years. While she is one of the building blocks for Team Italia, she remains humble about such pedigree. Acknowledging that there is always room for improvement, she definitely finds inspiration in the world-class players that she calls teammates on the Mooseheads,

“I would not call myself a legend.  I have played for Italy and it was a good experience. Nathalie, Des (Elysia Desmier) and Blomberg, they all won gold. Sara (Seiler) played in the Olympics. We also have a player from Finland. I think they are amazing talents.

The Mooseheads have culture, diversity, various nationalities on the team. There are definitely a lot of medals (won) and experience on this team. Despite such a high level of talent, everyone knows their place on this team, it motivates me and it helps you to be a better player.”

In discussing the impact of calling Blomberg a teammate, it was an experience that reached new heights in 2017. Of note, Blomberg joined her younger sister Carley as members of Team Italia at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds in Pardubice, Czech Republic, one of three pairs of competitive sisters on the team’s roster.

Not only did Alicia score Italia’s first goal of the tournament in 2017, a 2-1 shootout loss to the United States, she would gain a spot on the Tournament All-Star team, the first Team Italia player to do so. In reflecting on the experience of calling Alicia a teammate on Team Italia, it represented a proud milestone for Mazzarello,

“She is a great player, a beast (on the court). She is an awesome person to be around and super funny. She is always helping you (during the game), telling you where to go. Definitely a leader and a champion. Although she is not a big person, she plays a big game.

Seeing her play with Italia was unreal. Watching her play in the shootout, and then seeing her make the All-Star Team. She also had her sister play on the team. A great player to play with and I definitely respect her.

Her hockey resume is amazing. She has played with the Gee-Gees, competed internationally for Canada and Italy, plus she does Red Bull Crashed Ice. She is an idol.”

Another player who has called Blomberg a teammate at the OVWBHL and ISBHF levels is Elysia Desmier. The two were teammates for Team Canada’s gold medal wins at the 2013 and 2015 editions of the ISBHF Worlds. In addition to ball hockey, Desmier was also a member of the iconic Brampton Thunder, contributing to the team’s appearance in the 2010 Clarkson Cup finals.

Although the experience of having played on Team Canada makes Desmier an invaluable component to the Mooseheads roster, she possesses an admirable team-first approach that truly sets a positive example for teammate and rival alike in league circles. While she is almost self-effacing in discussing whether she sees herself as a leader on the Mooseheads because of her Team Canada experiences, it is evident that she holds her club team in very high regard, 

“Being on Team Canada definitely helps as other players may look up to you. Every player on the Mooseheads is good enough to play for Team Canada. Everyone is a great player and we are all leaders on our own.

Every one plays with a sense that they are part of a team. The international flavour (of our team) is very unique. Everyone brings their own different skill sets and knowledge of the game. Few teams have players from the world over.”

Coincidentally, Desmier’s initial sojourn in ball hockey holds a unique connection to the Thunder. Raised in the Ottawa area, the hockey odyssey of Desmier runs parallel to another player who made her mark in the community. Nicole Latreille, who enters the 2017-18 season as the general manager of the Toronto Furies, holds the unique distinction of having called Desmier a teammate at multiple levels.

In a unique instance of kismet, the fateful paths of Desmier and Latreille would cross once again. Following the end of her career with the Thunder, Desmier returned home to Ottawa to lay down roots. Running into her lifelong friend at the rink, it would signify an exciting new chapter for Desmier, one that has breathed new life into her career, while providing her with a group of cherished friends that has only enhanced this treasured time,

“I have played with Nicole Latreille since I was 10. We were teammates at university, with Brampton (Thunder) and on the Mooseheads. (About) six years ago, I ran into her playing recreational ice hockey. She asked if I wanted to play ball hockey.

Since then, I have made great friends in ball hockey. We hang out outside of hockey, also hang out after games. They are my best friends. There are no cliques and everyone here is so friendly.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images obtained from Facebook and ISBHF website (ISBHF photos credited to Daniel Soucek)

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