As the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL) represents one of Canada’s most accomplished leagues, its prominence has been raised significantly by a combination of competitors that would represent Canada in world-class play, while serving as a summer destination for university ice hockey players to maintain sharp, simultaneously increasing an already strong level of play.
Such play would result in a number of wondrous women from Canada’s Capital Region gaining the opportunity to compete globally for Canada over the last decade. With the golden goal of glory at tournaments sanctioned by the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF), the remarkable results have been crucial in Federation lore.
Recently, another notable event saw Canada’s women stake their claim among the world’s finest. Obtaining their third consecutive gold at the 2018 ISBHF Masters in Bermuda, the peerless presence of the OVWBHL was strongly evident. Led by returning head coach Mandi Duhamel, who also led the 2016 roster to gold, she first established her local legend by starring with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey team.
Part of a treasured time for the program, which saw the Gee-Gees constantly in the conversation as contenders for the national championship, the strong on-ice skills and strong leadership of women such as Isabelle Aubé, Duhamel, Érika Pouliot and Danika Smith (who was a member of Canada’s gold medal entry at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds) translated into an opportunity to star on the slab, becoming icons in the OVWBHL.
“It was an honour to return to the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) as Head Coach of the Women's Masters Team. With so many returning players from the 2016 team, I knew we had a special group and jumped at the chance to be back with them in such a unique place.
Winning for the second time was a result of the teamwork and culture created by these women. They push each other, play the necessary roles and stay so positive no matter the situation. As a coach, that is the most you can ask for. It was a great team win and such a memorable experience.”
Joining Duhamel on Canada’s contingent at the 2018 Masters was a gathering of familiar faces, including Pouliot, who served as an assistant on her staff, Aubé, who garnered Tournament MVP honors, plus Stephanie Brunette-D’Souza and goaltender Nathalie Girouard. As a side note, Kendra Antony, an alum from the Wisconsin Badgers ice hockey program, was the fourth member of the OVWBHL named to the player roster. but was unable to compete.
Undeniably, the opportunity for Duhamel and Pouliot to be part of Canada’s coaching staff at the ISBHF Masters represented an opportunity to rekindle glories of seasons past. Upon graduation from the University of Ottawa, their hockey legacies extended into coaching rivalries.
Pouliot remained part of the Gee-Gees with a spot on the coaching staff, working with head coach Yanick Evola. Coincidentally, Duhamel served as one of the coaches for the cross-town rival Carleton Ravens, which were led by former Gee-Gees bench boss, Shelley Coolidge.
Duhamel’s time with the Ravens also led to her first international coaching opportunity, as Canada captured the gold medal at the 2011 Winter Universiade. Considering that Pouliot enjoyed her own international milestone alongside Duhamel, gaining the gold in Bermuda, the chance to be reunited represented a point of pride,
“Me and Mandi played together at the University of Ottawa and also coached against each other when she was (an) assistant coach with the Carleton Ravens. Mandi is a good friend and has so much hockey knowledge and incredible work experience in the girls and women’s hockey world.
I learned a lot from her during the tournament and it was such a great experience. She has so much knowledge, I wish to coach or share similar experience again with her one day.”
Such an experience proved to be essential for Duhamel. Earlier in the decade, she headed westwards for an opportunity with Hockey Canada in their front office, serving as a Manager for Female Development. Situated in Calgary, she has also made her mark in both ball hockey and coaching capacities. Over the last three years, Duhamel has added a pair of CBHA National Championships to her sporting resume, suiting up for Calgary United for winning efforts in 2016 and 2018.
In addition, Duhamel has enjoyed numerous on-ice coaching positions. Of note, she was part of Danielle Goyette’s staff with the University of Calgary Dinos. Duhamel also returned to her CWHL roots, serving on the staff of the Calgary Inferno. Near the end of the 2000s, Aubé, Duhamel and Smith had skated with the CWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators franchise.
Considering Duhamel’s coaching background, the opportunity at the 2018 Masters was definitely a labour of love. Providing a sense of homecoming, to be surrounded by so many competitors from a treasured time in her past, Duhamel reflects on long distances evaporating, simultaneously invigorating her enthusiasm for the game,
“One of the greatest things about female sports is its ability to keep people connected. I have been in Calgary for six years now and events like this continue to provide the opportunity to connect and spend time with friends and family.
When Erika applied for the Assistant Coach position, I was immediately excited. Knowing the person she is and with our friendship, it was no doubt we were going to be a great duo and have a lot of fun!”
In addition to the rapport between Duhamel and Pouliot, another unique bond was strengthened at the Masters. Embodying the OVWBHL’s core values of unity, respect and teamwork, Aubé and Brunette-D’Souza shared what emerged as one of the true feel-good stories in Bermuda.
Considering that Aubé has already logged an impressive amount of hockey hardware, from the scoring title and All-Star recognition as a member of the Vanier Spitfires at the 2002 CBHA Nationals, along with a spot on the Canadian contingent that captured gold at the 2007 ISBHF Worlds, Masters play remains an extension of her stunning brilliance. Undoubtedly, the Masters allowed for a moment of benevolence in her hockey odyssey.
While Aubé’s heroics on the slab were a focal point in Canada’s road to gold, the more compelling narrative was the fact that she encouraged Brunette-D’Souza to try out for the national team. Long-time veterans with the Rebels, their highly competitive OVWBHL club, their efforts were crucial towards said club qualifying for a spot at the 2015 CBHA Nationals. Coincidentally, Pouliot and Fannie Desforges (a Gee-Gees alumnus and Team Canada competitor in 2011 and 2013) were also part of the Rebels roster in 2015.
Earning a roster spot, the feeling of attainment for Brunette D’Souza was defined by serendipity. Both of her goals in Masters play, contributing to an 8-1 win over the New Tecumseth X-Treme, a second team that represented Canada in Bermuda, plus a 5-1 vanquishing of Team USA Red, were assisted by Aubé. Finishing the tournament with five points, Brunette-D’Souza emerged as one of Canada’s offensive catalysts, as the strong rapport with Aubé from many productive years on the Rebels was most evident.
Certainly, the privilege of wearing the Team Canada jersey rekindled feelings of her international debut. Reflecting on the first time the Maple Leaf was adorned on said jersey, it was truly her defining moment, a revered rite of passage that heralds any player’s arrival as an elite competitor.
“The first time I had the opportunity of putting on my team jersey I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was so proud of having the honour and this privilege of wearing our country’s colors ... the pride brought tears to my eyes!
I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to represent my country in anything so this was definitely a unique flow of emotions that still make me emotional when I think of that moment!”
Adding fascination to such a heartwarming journey was the fact that Aubé’s husband played for Team Canada at the men’s edition of the Masters in Bermuda. Enjoying the opportunity to emerge with MVP honors, while sharing in the Bermuda experience with spouse and friend is one destined to stand as the highlight of Aubé’s sensational career.
“Very special. Having my Rebels teammate BD (Steph) and Natty in Bermuda was amazing! We felt fortunate to represent our country and our Ottawa league (smiles). How cool is it to both have the honour to wear the Maple leaf and bring home the gold! Feeling so fortunate...”
As the Masters progressed in Bermuda, Duhamel evolved into the unforeseen duty of player. With injuries posing a potential obstacle for a Canadian team aspiring for a third-straight golden outcome, her character and dedication became one of the tournament highlights as she took to the slab for three of Canada’s games.
With Duhamel displaying a tremendous finesse, assembling a very solid four points, Pouliot assumed the head coaching duties, resulting in a seamless transition. Among Duhamel’s best performances was a three-point output (on the strength of a pair of goals) in an 8-1 victory against the New Tecumseth X-Treme.
“I actually dressed as a player for three of the six games and Erika stepped up to run the team magnificently. It is a tall order to run a bench in that situation and she did such a great job.”
To see Duhamel rise to the challenge in a very difficult position and excel is not only testament to her leadership, it signifies the strong team culture and even stronger sense of trust between her and Pouliot. Definitely, it was the kind of performance that made an impression, one that made Girouard, the winning goaltender in the gold medal game, delighted to be part of Team Canada for her third straight Masters.
“I am very honoured to be given the opportunity to do it, and yes, winning gold is always special. Yet, I am feeling particularly proud of this team as we had a few key players that were unable to attend this year’s event and (we) anticipated it would be a challenge to defend our title. The team bonded really quickly and rallied together to attain our goal.”
Such praise was surely reciprocal. Recognizing the collective presence that the star power from the OVWBHL provided, Pouliot felt gratified, finding inspiration. Considering the tremendous ties to Ottawa, this unique connection certainly made winning so much more unique, enhancing a time that subsequently adds to their sensational standing as golden greats.
“The players we had from Ottawa: Aubé, Girouard and Brunette-D’Souza are all leaders in their own right and bring so much heart to the game. They set the tone and I know you can always expect them to give everything they have.
The family we are a part of in Ottawa is a special one filled with women who support and encourage each other. You can feel that same affection when we get together no matter where we are in the world. I was very grateful to have each of them on the adventure.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook