Although golf phenomenon Brooke Henderson first hit the fairways at the tender age of three years young, she balanced her love of sport with another competitive venture. Tending net for the Smiths Falls Cubs, a suburban Ottawa community that also produced Amey Doyle, a goaltender for the McGill Martlets who would go on to coach two decades with the program, Henderson quickly established herself as a two-sport star.
Emulating her father Dave, who was a goaltender for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues during the late 1970s, Henderson took her place between the pipes at the age of eight. Growing up guarding the crease served to cultivate the character and strong mindset that would serve her well in her later years on the links. Worth noting, her father was a backup goaltender with the Ottawa 67s, featuring Hockey Hall of Fame coach Brian Kilrea, while future Stanley Cup champion Mike Keenan served as bench boss with the Varsity Blues.
In spite of Henderson retiring her pads and stick at the age of 14 in order to pursue her golfing ambitions, a decision made much easier by the fact that she qualified for Canada’s national golf team, there were no shortage of glories on the ice.
Locally, Henderson’s greatest glory may have taken place in November 2010, when numerous teams from Canada’s capital region competed in the “Kickin Ice in the Capital” Tournament. Despite a fourth place finish in round robin play, the Cubs faced the Clarence-Rockland Lightning in the Bantam B championship game. Posting a shutout in an exciting 3-0 shutout win, Henderson already began to prove that she was able to excel in high pressure situations.
November of the following year saw Henderson emerge as a key contributor, as the Midget B Cubs enjoyed a pair of tournament victories in their first tries of the season. Having already won in Cornwall, Henderson would blank the Scarborough Sharks by a 3-0 mark in the second game of the Gloucester Cumberland Tournament.
Henderson’s second shutout came in a crucial semi-final victory against a club hailing from Waterloo. Goals from Madesa Giff and Reba Cassell, who scored with only 14 seconds remaining in the game, allowed the Cubs a chance to play for the tournament crown. Challenging a Nepean team that defeated them in the tournament’s opening game, the championship game was scoreless after two periods of play. Once again, Giff supplied the heroics, recording the game-winning tally, as Henderson and her fellow Cubs enjoyed a 1-0 victory.
Among all the tournaments that Henderson participated in, the most notable may have been the one dubbed as the World's Largest Women's hockey tournament. Contested in Brampton during April 2010, Henderson backstopped the Pee-Wee BB Cubs to an opening game victory over the Vaughan Flames, posting a 2-0 shutout. The squad would finish divisional play with a 6-0 mark, as Henderson allowed only three goals in that time span, while her teammates recorded an astounding 24 goals.
Besting a Mississauga club in the quarterfinals, the Cubs extended their dominance with a semi-final stomp against the Orangeville Tigers. Facing off against the Ottawa Ice in the championship game, it was Henderson’s finest hour at the event. With goals from Sam Bouley, Annie West and Abby Cassell, the Cubs not only emerged with the tournament victory, Henderson was recognized as the Coaches’ Selection for MVP of the Game, bestowed the honor of the Warrior Stick Award.
Overall, Henderson’s body of work involved capturing a provincial championship with the Cubs at B-level, followed up by a bronze, the subsequent year, in BB play, those achievements stood as the hallmark of Henderson’s six seasons between the pipes. Winning provincials was highlighted by an undefeated season and six tournament championships too, key additions to what would prove to be a rapidly expanding trophy case.
Taking into account that golf can be an extremely lonely sport at times, a similar feeling empathized at various positions in team sports, such as the pitcher in baseball, the quarterback in football, or, the position Henderson opted for in hockey, the goaltender. Definitely, the similarities were evident, especially in learning how to cope with failure. Being able to quickly put behind bad plays and persevere is the mark of an elite athlete.
Such an approach separates champions from contenders, as evidenced by Henderson’s seven LPGA championships. Among said championships includes her greatest triumph: becoming the first woman since 1973 to capture the Canadian Women’s Golf Open on home soil. As a side note, Henderson is also the first Canadian woman since 1968 to win a major golf title, an achievement reached by winning the 2016 edition of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Although Henderson would not turn pro until December 2014, after she climbed to number one in the Women’s World Amateur Rankings, the hockey element continued to intersect in those formative years. The NHL’s Ottawa Senators showed their support for this local sporting hero by filming a short video. Featuring Mark Borowiecki, who also grew up playing hockey in Smiths Falls, peppering Henderson with shots, tongue was firmly planted in cheek, as Henderson self-effacingly declares her preference for golf. As a side note, a December 2016 contest between the Senators and Panthers saw Henderson receiving a tremendous roar of applause from the fans at Canadian Tire Centre, introduced before the game.
During the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, which were held in Ottawa, the community of Smiths Falls hosted another celebrated group of female world-class athletes. Serving as the site of the training camp for Team Finland, it allowed for a unique chapter in the city’s sporting history. Of note, the Finns would host the Czech Republic in an exhibition game in the local arena, one where Henderson played as a child. In that same year, Henderson’s golf exploits would also earn her a place in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section in June 2013, qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open as an amateur.
From there, it would not take long for Henderson to become a world-class athlete. Competing for Canada in golf at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, where she placed seventh, it allowed Henderson to join an empowering generation of Canadian female athletes such as Genie Bouchard, Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue and Hayley Wickenheiser to become household names,
While the Canadian Open victory has enabled Henderson a cherished place in modern sporting Canadiana, she definitely found her influence in some of the aforementioned names. With Canada serving as the host nation for the 2010 Winter Games, the golden glories of Canada’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, along with Virtue capturing the hearts and minds of Canadian sports fans with her sterling performance in the ice dance, were essential in shaping Henderson into the athlete she is today.
Coincidentally, one of Sinclair’s teammates, Adrianna Leon, was also a two-sport star. Akin to Henderson, Leon also enjoyed the opportunity to grace the ice. Competing at the Canadian Under-18 Nationals, the native of Toronto faced the same decision as Henderson, giving up one sport in favor of another. Like Henderson, Leon has also experienced some proud milestones in her young career. Not only would Leon represent Canada on home soil in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, marking the first time that Canada served as host nation, she has also enjoyed international play with FC Zurich Frauen in the Swiss national league and the NWSL’s Seattle Reign.
Although it remains one of women’s ice hockey’s hidden legacies, the two-sport influence has proven to be tremendous. In addition to Henderson and Leon, other women that played competitive hockey, only to graduate to elite status in other sports is a growing list. Cindy Klassen, one of Canada’s greatest athletes in the Winter Games, once competed on Canada’s U-22 women’s ice hockey team. Amanda Asay, Daniela Mateucci, Kate Psota and Ashley Stephenson all played university hockey, before calling each other teammates on Canada’s entry in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
While the path taken towards other sports was part of a natural progression in their athletic narratives, the positive elements of hockey, and the values learned about teamwork and character, all stood as key factors towards further greatness. Undoubtedly, the roots from hockey represent the configuration of a proud legacy for all these women.
Considering that Henderson has already won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year, such an honor only serves as an affirmation of the influence women’s hockey holds in Canadian culture. Rosenfeld was also a two-sport star, competing as a sprinter at the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Games, enjoying a podium finish. Having also starred on the ice with the Toronto Patterson Pats, winning a pair of provincial hockey championships. As a side note, she would also co-found the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association.
From the rink to the links, Henderson definitely builds on Rosenfeld’s body of work, her own two-sport glories certainly foreshadowing the empowering impact of Rosenfeld during the roaring twenties. Finding her own treasured place in Canada’s sporting conversation, Henderson not only heads into this century’s twenties as a role model for young women, regardless of the sport they follow, she is already poised to champion an exciting generation of female athletes ready to positively shape their sporting destinies.
Desmond Devoy Metroland