Taking on the mantle of Western Canada’s signature franchise in women’s ice hockey, the Calgary Inferno are not just a highly accomplished group of wondrous women on the ice. Also forging an incomparable legacy as hockey humanitarians, players past and present have given their time to numerous causes, creating an unparalleled team culture. Considering that some causes can hold personal meaning for numerous members of the Inferno, it only adds to the sense of purpose that comes from wearing the jersey.
With another sensational season that has included fundraisers for Keep the Beat, dedicated to heart health, plus Do It for Daron (DIFD), the denouement involved a You Can Play (YCP) game. Held on February 24, there was a shared sense of compassion. Across the country, the Inferno’s distinguished rivals, the Greater Toronto Area’s Markham Thunder were hosting a DIFD fundraiser.
Hosting the Boston Blades, the Inferno made a sensational statement as its players graced the ice for introductions. While rainbow colored tape has been an essential component of You Can Play games in both Canadian and American professional women’s hockey leagues, one that was used by both teams on this day, the Inferno made a very significant visual impression. Sporting a very sharp jet black jersey with rainbow colored trim, which also surrounded the names and numbers, it was one of the most captivating garments of the 2017-18 hockey season. Admiring the unique color scheme on this destined-to-be iconic jersey, it was a joy for rookie sensation Taryn Baumgardt to wear:
“Seeing the You Can Play rainbow jerseys for the first time definitely put a smile on my face. Anytime you get to play the game you love in support of important social causes is a great experience and an amazing feeling. Participating in that event is definitely something I will always remember!”
Championing the admirable cause for the annual YCP event is second generation skater Erica Kromm. Serving in the capacity of team captain this season, it is a fitting tribute for one of the team’s longest serving players. Providing countless efforts towards raising awareness in the community for numerous of the Inferno’s causes, Kromm’s character and kind-heartedness makes her an encouraging leader both on and off the ice.
Selflessly contributing her time towards this essential event on the Inferno’s sporting calendar, the tremendous sense of pride for Kromm was deepened through an exceptional show of support throughout Calgary’s athletic community. Employing social media, student athletes from post-secondary institutions throughout Alberta, most notably, the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, plus the Southern and Northern Alberta Institutes of Technology posed for photographs holding homemade placards, each featuring a personal message of what YCP means to them. Regardless of team allegiances or present rivalries, the student athletes were unified in a dazzling display of empathic collaboration which truly embodies the essence of teamwork,
“Seeing the support of local athletes just reinforces the idea of community involvement and community support. At the end of the day, it was about creating a support system, beyond our team, for LGBTQ+ athletes. Involving as many student athletes (from SAIT, NAIT, U of A, U of C, etc.) as possible was crucial in achieving this. These students have set the standard for their community.”
Gaining the start for the Inferno in the You Can Play game, multiple CWHL All-Star Delayne Brian found tremendous purpose in this highly meaningful event. Commenting on what she hoped would be the most positive message that emanates from the contest, her observations reflected a wondrous wisdom consisting of both compassion and maturity, complemented by a profound philosophical approach,
“I have seen a lot of negative comments any time the NHL posts anything for You Can Play. People saying that sexuality does not belong in sport. And I think they are right. It should not matter what orientation, race, gender, etc. that you identify with. The problem is that because some players feel different, they feel like maybe they cannot be themselves in their sport, and/or potentially do not participate at all.
For me, hockey has always been a getaway from anything else that is going on in life. I think it is important that everyone has the opportunity to play, and feel comfortable while doing it. Organizations like You Can Play work hard at supporting all athletes and ridding them of any negative stigma that may come from something like their sexuality and it's a cause that I am certainly proud to have been a part of this past weekend!”
Opposing Brian was Boston’s goaltender Lauren Dahm, whose impact is just as prevalent in the highly important cause of You Can Play. As a side note, this marks the second such game this season for Dahm. With rainbow colored tape adorning her stick, she also stood between the pipes on home ice when the Blades hosted their YCP fund raiser this season.
Showing tremendous signs of improvement since the dawn of the New Year, the Blades jumped out to a quick lead, surprising the Calgary faithful in attendance. Japanese blueliner Sato Kikuchi recorded the first goal of her CWHL career at the 2:53 mark, as Blades leading scorer Kate Leary, and Courtney Turner, the first pick overall in the 2017 CWHL Draft, gained the assists.
A combination of rookie sensations helped get the Inferno onto the scoresheet later in the first. North Dakota alum Kayla Gardner gained her sixth of the season, while fellow rookie sensation Sophie Shirley recorded her 11th helper of the season, and second-year blueliner Brittney Fouracres also contributed an assist.
Just 28 seconds after Gardner’s goal, the Blades enjoyed a power play opportunity. With Hayleigh Cudmore called for holding, it was the opening that provided the Blades with the chance to enjoy their second lead of the first period. A trio of Boston College Eagles alumnae combined on said goal, as Leary and Melissa Bizzari assisted Meghan Grieves’ fifth of the season.
Before the period would expire, Cudmore would redeem herself, placing the puck past Dahm as the Blades’ lead was erased once again. Although the score remained tied at 2-apiece after the first period, the Blades were more aggressive on offense, peppering Brian with 15 shots, compared to 12 for the home team.
In the second stanza, the momentum shifted as it was the Inferno who gained the shot advantage, pelting Dahm with an uncanny 25 shots on net. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Dahm had a .920 save percentage during the second, making a strong case for the Goaltender of the Year Award, not allowing a goal until the 17:25 mark. Brittany Esposito would break the 2-2 deadlock on a power play opportunity, as Katelyn Gosling gained her second assist of the contest.
With one second remaining, Taryn Baumgardt, the Inferno’s first round pick in 2017, would score the first goal of her CWHL career, providing the Inferno with a very timely two-goal advantage. Being able to reach this pivotal milestone in such a landmark goal only added sheen to what was already a very exciting event for this budding superstar,
“Our captain Erica Kromm put a lot of time and effort into creating the You Can Play event and she did an outstanding job. Being fortunate enough to contribute to the teams’ success on that day was a pretty special moment for me, and I was so excited to be able to share that with my teammates during the You Can Play game. I cannot think of a better way to score my first goal!”
Dahm remained durable in the Blades’ net, constantly facing a barrage of shots. Facing a total of 14 shots, compared to just two for the beleaguered visitors from Boston, she would not allow another Inferno goal until the 16:24 mark. Once again, the Inferno offense would solve the backstop via special teams. With Kikuchi called for body checking, rookie Kelty Apperson recorded her fourth goal of the season, unassisted.
With Boston opting for an extra attacker in the dying minutes, playing with an open net, the ambitious attempt did not yield a positive result. Gavrilova and Inferno charter member Laura Dostaler each tallied assists as Kennedy Brown glided the puck into the empty net, scoring her second goal of the season. As a side note, six different Inferno skaters would score a goal in the 6-2 final, providing Brian with her sixth win of the campaign.
Reflecting on the impact of the win, Brian’s esteemed team-first approach was most evident, praising captain and team alike. Having enjoyed five fantastic seasons with the Inferno, not only has Brian helped contribute towards the creation of the club’s history, she has also enjoyed the privilege of participating in numerous fundraising events, which surely supply an element of gratification. Enhancing what it means to be part of a great organization and an inspiring group of women whose dedication on the ice is only matched by its compassion off it, the chance to be part of another highly successful YCP event is one that Brian treasures.
“Any time one of my teammates puts their heart into an event like this one, it means just a little bit more. You want to play well for the cause, and for the teammate, in this case, Erica Kromm. That being said, I am always honoured to play in those games. It is also an added bonus when we get to wear some amazing jerseys!”
Although Brian’s goaltending counterpart Dahm ended up with an amazing 45 saves overall in another solid effort, it was Kikuchi who emerged as the lone member of the Blades to be recognized among the game’s Three Stars. Bestowed with the Third Star recognition, it added jubilation to the prestige of her first career goal, enhancing such a significant milestone. Gaining Second Star honors was Gavrilova while Gardner obtained recognition as the First Star, supplementing the gleam on such a joyous day.
Definitely making an impact as a shining star throughout the configuration of this wonderful event was Kromm. Discussing the achievements both on and off the ice, from funds raised, inspiring images on social media and the amazing display of teamwork that led to an important win on the ice, there was a tremendous attainment in so many unique facets, certainly providing the sense of a shared victory.
“Our YCP game was an event that our whole team and staff helped with. Everyone was involved in some way and to see that reflected in the success of the event and how we played on the ice was very rewarding. When we got to the rink before the game that day and all of the work was done for the event, we just needed to execute on ice. I think we did a great job of that and winning made the day even better.
The thing I enjoyed most about the success of YCP is that it involved so many different groups of people. We reached out to all walks of life in an effort to spread the message of inclusion and always received a positive response back. The goal is always to reach as many people as possible and I think we headed in the right direction with that for this season’s YCP game.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo Credits: JPix Photography