Having established herself as one of the world's finest players in ball hockey, the American Street Hockey Institute (ASHI) definitely has a gem in Cherie Stewart. A veteran of numerous ISBHF World Championships, the calendar year of 2018 allowed this highly skilled forward an opportunity to experience a new facet of world-class competition.
Eligible for play at the ISBHF Masters, Stewart earned a roster spot with Team USA Blue, one of the tournament favorites for the gold. Surrounded by a number of familiar faces from past World Championships, including Pennsylvania’s Pam Bilger, one of the stalwarts of USA Blue’s blueline corps, goaltender Alessandra Glista and Karen Levin, a former Ivy League ice hockey player, Stewart shone as one of the scoring stars of the 2018 Masters.
Hosted in Bermuda, Stewart headed into the tournament with an exceptional hockey resume that also included a memorable stint as a member of the New York Riveters during the inaugural NWHL season. Whether it be on the ice or on the slab, she employed the same approach as she does for every game. With an assiduous effort, recognizing the importance of team first, whether her efforts involved a goal or an assist, Stewart’s focal goal remained on victory.
“As a forward, I try to mentally prepare for every game to play the right way, contribute by scoring or assisting on a goal and help the team get the W. Yet, as long as we win, I am happy! Although, I was not expecting to emerge as the leader scorer, I knew that I would have some chemistry out on the rink since I was playing with some familiar teammates from past USA teams like Karen Levin and Pam Bilger.
As well, our coaches implemented a simple and structured program that was easy to understand and execute which was beneficial for newer faces on the team like myself. Throughout the entire tournament, I thought all of our lines were generating scoring opportunities and it was nice that me and my line mates had some success right from the start of the tourney.”
Amassing a tournament-best 11 points, on the strength of six goals, Stewart recorded at least one point in every game played. Canada’s Colleen McQuaid ranked second overall in the scoring race with nine points, while the nearest American on the scoring list was USA Blue’s Brandy Leblanc, who placed fourth with six points. As a side note, teammate Karen Levin, who emerged with the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award, also recorded six points, but scored fewer goals.
Posting a trio of multiple point games, Stewart’s most outstanding performance involved a superlative four-point output in a convincing 7-0 victory against Canada’s New Tecumseth X-Treme. Along with Karen Doria, both logged the assists on the game’s opening goal. Scored by Kristen Patenaude, it also stood as the game winning tally.
With Karen Levin, both would contribute helpers on Melanie Kramer’s goal at the 18:45 mark, supplying USA Blue with a four-goal cushion. Stewart would eventually place her name on the scoresheet, logging her first goal of the game at 23:04. Fittingly, she also recorded the game’s seventh and final goal, as Pittsburgh’s Courtney Semplice, making her Masters debut, earned the assist.
Another 7-0 triumph, this one taking place versus Slovakia, resulted in Stewart impressing as an impact player. Logging a hat trick, Stewart opened the scoring for USA Blue at the 1:53 mark as Patenaude assisted. Boasting a 3-0 advantage, Stewart found the back of the net once again, with Levin continuing to display some strong playmaking ability, logging the assist at 16:49. Less than six minutes later, Doria earned the assist on Stewart’s third goal, as Slovakian backstop Jana Rekosova was unable to solve Stewart.
Rewarded for her superlative efforts by gaining recognition as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Masters, Stewart’s scoring proficiency, coupled with a podium finish, resulted in reflecting on this monumental milestone with a combination of both attainment and redemption, silencing critics while validating her All-World playmaking abilities. Although Stewart remains humble, emphasizing the fact that this event symbolized her Masters debut, her level of experience and talent allowed for an effective transition, while acquiring a well-earned recompense,
“It is always an awesome feeling to receive an MVP Award in any tournament! Only a few weeks prior to this tournament, a person insinuated that I was too old to play in international hockey tournaments and then to capture this award nullified that negative talk.
Since this was my first time playing at the Masters tournament I did not know what to expect heading into the tournament so it was a bit of a shock, but a great honor to receive this accolade. Although, I wish my team received the gold medal instead.
Having the opportunity to play at an international tournament and represent your country, I believe there is an internal obligation to bring your best effort, play hard and contribute in any way that you can to help the team win so capturing this award was a testament to that. On a side note, when my partner found out that players who get an award also receives a bottle of rum; she nudged me to try and get one. I kept my promise to her.”
Akin to several other teammates on USA Blue, Stewart was part of the American roster that emerged with a silver medal at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds, a first in program history. While such an achievement allowed for an element of momentum heading into this year’s Masters, there was a tinge of disappointment in the fact that each event resulted with the silver medal.
Despite the final result, Stewart retains her golden ambitions. With sights set on the 2019 edition of the ISBHF Worlds in Kosice, Slovakia, she radiates confidence. Strong in the belief that an elusive gold is within reach in 2019, the experience of the Masters, in which Stewart was proud to emerge with a podium finish in her tournament debut, is poised to serve as prologue for a much richer extension to her ball hockey narrative,
“After finishing at ISBHF with a loss in overtime and coming home with silver, I did feel an extra push to bring home the gold. While it is amazing to get a podium finish, everyone wants the gold and I will be fighting for one in Slovakia!”
While Stewart’s international resume has established her as a very worldly player, the chance to compete in a tropical venue like Bermuda allowed for a unique chapter in such a rich sporting chronicle. Finding a therapeutic element in the constant presence of the Atlantic Ocean, whether it be visual, emotional or physical, it was part of an experience where Stewart also found solace in the hospitality and pleasantness of the local population.
Allowing sport and sociability to blend in a memorable mélange, a tropical portal in which athletic achievement took on an enhanced strong sense of national pride, the legacy of Bermuda is poised to add to the mythology of women’s ball hockey in the ASHI. Simultaneously, such an event is also destined to serve as a springboard towards establishing Stewart's burgeoning status as one of the sport’s contemporary legends.
“The people in Bermuda were amazing the entire trip. Everywhere we went, they were so friendly and inviting. After one day in paradise, our entire team was contemplating moving to Bermuda. To get to play hockey in such a gorgeous environment, overlooking the water was unlike anywhere I have ever played, and to top it off, we cooled down after every game with a swim in the beautiful clear waters. I cannot wait to go back!”
”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Cherie Stewart