01 October, 2018

Jessica Hartwick hangs them up after proud career with Ryerson Rams and CWHL Thunder



Experiencing the jubilation of a Clarkson Cup championship, it also provided a storybook ending for Jessica Hartwick. Opting to hang up her skates in the aftermath of such a monumental milestone, Hartwick was part of an empowering generation of home-grown talent, enjoying the prestige of competing locally in elite university and professional play.

Although every player must face the inevitable decision to retire from the game, one that is understandably difficult, it is also one that can also constitute contemplation and melancholy. For a player like Hartwick, who first strapped on skates as a toddler, the ability to retire on their own terms, confident in her legacy, reflects an amazing display of courage. Worth noting, she is part of a foursome of Thunder heroes, including Fielding Montgomery, Melissa Wronzberg (a former Ryerson teammate) and Karolina Urban, in which the Clarkson Cup championship was their swan song.

“Making my decision to retire was very hard. I have been skating since I was two, and playing hockey since I was five. Hockey is something that has just always been apart of me.”

Selected 38th overall by the Brampton Thunder in the 2016 edition of the CWHL Draft, it provided Hartwick with a sense of history. Along with Melissa Wronzberg, both members of the Ryerson Rams inaugural entry in Ontario University Athletics women’s ice hockey, they would make their mark in Draft lore, becoming the first Rams alumnae to cross the portal into CWHL hockey.

Consistently one of the Rams top scoring blueliners, Hartwick excelled under the guidance of head coach Lisa Haley (along with one season under Pierre Alain, while Haley joined Canada’s contingent in Sochi 2014), recording over 100 appearances in Rams colors. Undeniably, her first may have been the most treasured, placing her name on the scoresheet, finding the back of the net in the Rams’ season opener versus the crosstown rival York Lions on October 7, 2011.

Highly assiduous, the latter half of Hartwick’s Rams career was a tribute to her character. Bestowed the honor of team captaincy in her fifth and final season (2015-16), the Arts and Contemporary Studies major entered said season with a tremendous momentum.

Gaining the distinguished honor of the university’s G.L. Dobson Award in 2015 (which recognizes Outstanding Contribution to Interuniversity Sport, Campus and Community Life), there is a unique tinge of coincidence. The 2018 winner of the award, Ailish Forfar, not only served as Rams captain in her final season of eligibility, she was also a pick of the Thunder, claimed in the second round, an extension of the program’s legacy of players in pro hockey.

Graduating as the program’s leader in power play goals, while perched in the top five among most career games, Hartwick fought through an unfortunate injury. Managing to appear in 16 games, the dedication displayed set a positive example of her captaincy, embodying the essence of perseverance.

“Playing at both a university level and a professional level is something that I did not really think that I was ever going to do. I've always loved hockey and I've always worked really hard, I just didn't know how far I'd be able to go.

University really taught me a lot about myself both as a player and on a personal level. I developed SO much from my first year to my fifth year with the help of my coaching staff and peers. We never won anything but we went through so much adversity and the way that we came out from it was winning in-itself.”

Considering that the Thunder were based in Brampton during Hartwick’s inaugural season of professional play, it allowed her an opportunity to tap into her hockey roots, providing a feeling of homecoming. Having graced the ice with the Brampton Jr. Thunder during her teens (along with a stint on Notre Dame Secondary School boys’ hockey team), Hartwick became part of an exclusive sorority, belonging to a rare group of skaters to have donned the Brampton jersey in their PWHL and CWHL entries.

Logging her first CWHL point on January 22, 2017, as the Thunder defeated the Boston Blades in a 4-0 final, Hartwick and Dania Simmonds registered the assists on a first period goal by Jamie Lee Rattray. In addition to the likes of Rattray and Simmonds, who were among the Thunder’s alternate captains during the club’s inaugural season in Markham, they constitute a remarkable gathering of talent, such as Liz Knox, Jocelyne Larocque, Laura Stacey and Melissa Wronzberg, among others, that Hartwick was proud to call a teammate.

“On the professional side of it, I got to stand on a stage with some of the best women's hockey players in the entire world and that is something that I am so proud of. Knowing that I was helping pave the way for the future of women's hockey makes me extremely excited to see what these amazing women do in the years to come!”

Although Hartwick’s second CWHL season (2017-18) saw the Thunder franchise make the move eastwards, as the Thornhill Community Centre became their new home venue, while a compelling change in colour scheme, involving green with white, silver and black trim, quickly became one of the league’s most popular, the move emphasized a theme of history, one that encompassed Hartwick’s sojourn in the professional ranks.

In what proved to be the final chapter in Hartwick’s hockey odyssey, there was no shortage of feel-good stories. From skating in Markham’s first-ever game, to the exciting trek across the Pacific, to participate in regular season games against Chinese-based teams, the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays, Hartwick was a highly serviceable player on the Thunder’s blueline, appearing in 25 games. As a side note, Lindsay Grigg was the only other blueliner who appeared in more games for the Thunder, gracing the ice for 28 contests.

Of all the contests from the 2017-18 CWHL season, it was the last one that shall eternally hold a treasured place in Hartwick’s heart. With the Thunder returning to the Clarkson Cup finals for the first time since 2012, back when the club was based in Brampton, it was an intense contest that was composed of numerous themes, including redemption and history.

Taking on the Kunlun Red Star, only the second-ever club in its first year to reach the Cup finals (the first being the Toronto Furies back in 2011), the Thunder were eager to make their own place in league history.

From the outset, the Thunder were the first franchise from York Region to qualify for the Cup finals. In addition, the franchise captured the CWHL’s first championship in 2007-08, but never hoisted the coveted Cup. As a side note, the first Cup finals were only contested a year later, in 2009.

With overtime required to decide the prevailing team, a pair of participants from the 2018 Winter Games would be involved in the final outcome. Markham scoring sensation Laura Stacey, who skated for Team Canada at the Games, went top shelf against Noora Raty, who competed in said Games between the pipes for Finland, scoring the biggest goal in the nascent history of the Thunder, allowing Hartwick and their teammates the chance to have their names etched on the prized chalice.

“Winning the Clarkson Cup is something that I think is still surreal to me. I think it really takes some time to sink in when you win something as big as the Clarkson Cup. I went through a long time without winning things, so to be part of the 2018 winning team is something I will cherish for a very long time.”

The epilogue of the Clarkson Cup triumph also involved an audience with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the first championship team in Cup lore to enjoy this privilege.  Joining her teammates aboard Via Rail, heading north from Toronto’s Union Station to the Nation’s capital, the essence of celebration was only outmatched by the remarkable feeling of relevance shown by the Prime Minister’s kind gesture,

“From a personal level getting to meet the Prime Minister was awesome! Getting to take the trip out with the team and experience that together was something I will never forget.

Looking at it from (the perspective of) a professional women's hockey player, I am honoured to have been apart of the first CWHL team to (have been) brought out there. It is a giant step forward for women's hockey and I hope it is a tradition they continue in the years to come.”

Although the approaching season shall mark a rare departure for Hartwick, absent from elite competition for the first time in her young adulthood, the feeling of empowerment that radiates from the female game shall accompany her as she undertakes a new ambition.

Engaging in the entrepreneurial spirit, Hartwick is incorporating her love of fitness and athletics into an exciting and novel venture. Finding inspiration based on a former occupation from Ryerson, she is keen to employ the use of a treadmill as both a fitness and learning tool, part of a bigger project that sees Hartwick keen to take on the role of mentor for a wide range of players.

Such an exciting endeavor is one that is setting a new trend in the game. Worth noting, many women in hockey (among them includes Hartwick’s teammate, and Thunder captain, Jocelyne Larocque) have opted to enter occupations, sometimes starting their own enterprises, retaining their love of competition and admirable self-discipline in a healthy conglomeration where hockey and business intersect.

With a keen eye towards the future, eager to inspire the next generation to follow in her footsteps and emulate her successes, Hartwick’s motivation is poised to make this newest chapter a highly rewarding yet enjoyable labor of love.

“In December 2017 I opened my own business called "Hart & Stride Hockey Development Inc." where I train hockey players of all ages and skills levels both on the ice and on a skating treadmill.

Back at Ryerson, I used to work part-time at this treadmill and actually took over the program when I graduated. Things did not pan out, but I ended up moving the treadmill and starting my own company.

I fell in love with training people on the treadmill. It is a such a unique setting and a unique tool that helps with stride development, breaking down technique, conditioning, and so on. The possibilities with the treadmill are endless!

The goal of my business is to train and develop the current and next generation of hockey players using my knowledge and my experiences I gained through being a successful professional hockey player.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Thunder images by Jess Bazal and Heather Pollock

Ryerson Rams images by Alex D’Addese

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