Throughout the Blades' inaugural season in Worcester, Massachusetts, a significant element for this new chapter in franchise history belongs to the presence of Lauren Williams. Selected as the first pick overall in the 2018 CWHL Draft, the third consecutive season that the Blades held the top spot, Williams represents the promise of a brighter future, the focal point of the Black and Gold’s blueline, as her perseverance and determination contribute in the climb back towards the possibility of the postseason.
For the rookie blueliner, the 2018-19 season has brought with it numerous milestones, simultaneously serving as a rite of passage into her professional hockey sojourn. Perhaps no milestone was quite as impactful for Williams as the opportunity to participate in the fourth CWHL All-Star Game.
Becoming the thirteenth player in franchise history to gain All-Star status, Williams was part of a defensive unit on Team Purple that included Mellissa Channell and Renata Fast of the Toronto Furies, along with Lauriane Rougeau of the Canadiennes de Montreal. Serving as the Blades lone representative at the event, it was a forlorn first in franchise history.
Held at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre, the venue of the event since its first-ever puck drop back in December 2014, the chance to skate on NHL ice added a big-league feeling for Williams, one that impacted all players and coaches involved. The privileged occasion definitely took on a much grander meaning for the All-Stars raised in the province of Ontario, like Williams, who honed their skills and established their athletic heritage in one of Canada’s premier hockey hotbeds.
Calling Windsor, Ontario her hometown, Williams had never enjoyed the opportunity to visit the venue that the NHL’s Maple Leafs call home prior. Walking through the fabled door of 40 Bay Street for the first time, relishing the privilege of taking to the ice as a celebrated athlete in her inaugural visit, the presence of proud family and fond friends perched in the stands allowed for the feeling of a shared milestone,
“Playing at the Scotiabank Center was a unique experience. Despite growing up in Ontario, I have never been to a Maple Leafs game before, so it was my first time being in that building. Yet, the proximity to home meant that my family and some friends from high school were able to come watch the game, so that was special.”
In addition to the familial presence, Williams benefitted from another feeling of reunion. Having starred with the powerhouse Wisconsin Badgers at the NCAA level, she is part of a growing heritage of elite stars whose on-ice heroics have propelled them to other exciting facets of the game post-graduation.
On this magical day at Scotiabank Centre, Williams was among eight Badgers alumnae whose sensational skills allowed them to adopt the All-Star persona. While names from Badgers lore such as Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight, Sarah Nurse, Alex Rigsby and Blayre Turnbull were familiar to fans, each having participated in ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Games, Williams was part of a new generation extending the Badgers formidable legacy.
Joined by former Badgers teammate (and fellow Ontarian) Mellissa Channell, a Toronto Furies draft pick, they were also connected by a notable figure who once wore the Wisconsin jersey as first-time CWHL All-Stars. Of note, Curtis Joseph, a former goaltender with the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames, made his CWHL All-Star debut as a head coach.
The native of Keswick, Ontario stood between the pipes for the Badgers during the 1988-89 season before making the jump to the NHL. Despite playing only one season in Madison, Joseph racked up 21 wins, a solid .919 save percentage and 2.49 goals against average. For his efforts, he earned honors to the WCHA All-Conference Team.
Fittingly, Joseph was not the only legendary Badgers backstop part of the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game. Rigsby, a Winter Games gold medalist and first-year competitor with the Calgary Inferno, was a key factor in the Badgers capturing the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four championship.
Although Rigsby had graduated before Williams arrived on campus at Madison, she made a continued presence in later years. Certainly, the chance to call each other teammates on Team Purple certainly emphasized a significant sense of Badgers pride. As a side note, Turnbull, who shall be a Maid of Honor for Rigsby’s wedding next summer, and a Clarkson Cup champion from 2016 also skated for Team Purple.
Undeniably, playing alongside Rigsby and Turnbull in the All-Star jersey represented a strong point of pride for Williams. At the CWHL level, both suit up for the Calgary Inferno, a team that also includes Brianna Decker, forcing Williams into the role of rival. A role that Williams first experienced on October 27, 2018 as the Blades hosted the Inferno in a weekend series, Turnbull was the only Badgers alumnae in action for the Inferno, which saw the visitors post back-to-back shutout wins.
Therefore, this get-together allowed for a much more pleasant setting as it provided Williams with the treasured gift of enhancing her Badgers body of work, while sharing the ice with Rigsby in a CWHL setting for the first time. Along with the other Badgers alums, certainly some of the University’s most notable players, it added an elated delight to her All-Star experience,
“Playing with Blayre and Alex was fun. Blayre graduated at the end of my freshman year so I am sure (that) I have changed a lot to her since then. She is a great competitor and leader. Although Alex graduated the year before I got to Wisconsin, I saw her around Labahn (Arena) a lot, as she came to workout and skate every now and then.
It was nice to see her again and it was fun to not be playing against the both of them for a change. I would also have to say the same for Badger alums Melissa Channel, Sarah Nurse, Hilary Knight, and Brianna Decker. It was great to have such a great showing of Badgers on the ice, and on the bench including Curtis Joseph.”
Despite Team Purple trailing throughout the game, the roster’s refusal to quit provided significant motivation for Williams, allowing the change to achieve another memorable first during her rookie season. With the score 5-2 in Team Gold’s advantage during the second stanza, Williams provided Team Purple with a fighting chance, while relishing in the revered result of her first-ever CWHL goal.
Attaining the feat in such a memorable event is one that only enhanced the feeling of achievement that comes with All-Star status. Definitely, such a special goal is one destined to be a treasured prize for the remainder of Williams’ professional career, made sweeter by the fact that she was able to place the biscuit in the basket in front of a large number of acquaintances,
“Scoring in the All-Star game was pretty surreal. I know that my family and friends loved watching it.”
That feeling of enjoyment and rejoicing in that landmark goal was part of a richer narrative that served to redefined the essence of friendship for Williams. Although she may have been the lone Blades player participating in the game, she was far from the only Blade to be found at Scotiabank Centre. Embodying the values of teamwork and devotion, the presence of Blades players Megan Myers, also the team captain, fellow first-year player Alexis Crossley-Miller, and Shannon Hickey, provided Williams both an emotional boost and a valued highlight that was certainly one of the most heartwarming aspects of All-Star weekend.
“One of my favourite moments from that weekend had to be when I looked in the stands and saw my Worcester Blades teammates with signs screaming my name. They made the eight-hour drive in some pretty terrible weather to come support me... I still cannot believe they did it, but I am very happy they made it.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Acknowledgements: Merisa Boyd