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Breakthrough Season for Brock Badgers Budding Superstar Annie Berg

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With no ceiling to her potential, Annie Berg is a gem for the Brock Badgers women’s ice hockey program. Heading into her sophomore season, the 2017 OUA Rookie of the Year Award winner, whose 23 points ranked seventh in the conference, and CIS All-Rookie selection is a natural scorer who is more than just the centerpiece of their offensive attack.

The only player from the OUA that gained CIS All-Rookie honors, Berg was on-hand in Kingston, Ontario, site of the 2017 national championships, to receive the recognition. Being part of such a prestigious event, it definitely provided a strong impetus for Berg, eager to propel the Badgers into the national championship conversation,

“It is obviously a great experience and really humbling too. I owe it to a lot of the girls. I have great linemates and the team has great defense. I was at the CIS banquet (in Kingston) to get the award and it was such a great experience. Being there motivated me, as I want my team to get there (the CIS Nationals) as soon as we can.”

Raised in Beamsville, Ontario, a stone’s throw away from the Brock campus in St. Catharine’s, Berg is already a local hero who already boasts a phenomenal hockey resume. Having starred at the PWHL level with the Preston Jr. Rivulettes, while claiming a national U18 title with Team Ontario Red, the cherished opportunity to don Canada’s jersey at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds served as her coming-out party.

Considering that the event was hosted in St. Catharines, the element of home ice advantage was one that held profound meaning for Berg. Playing for head coach Lisa Haley, a member of Canada’s coaching staff at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games; she would score her first goal of the tournament in an 11-0 whitewash of the Czech Republic.

Of note, the Winter Games influence extended beyond Haley’s inspiring presence. Serving as the bench boss for the Swiss U18 team, Margot Page, a member of the IIHF Coaching and Ambassador Program (whose resume includes working on Melody Davidson’s staff at Torino 2006), also holds a revered place in St. Catharines’ hockey, foreshadowing a fascinating future for Berg.

Undoubtedly, the event would significantly shape Berg’s sporting destiny. With an opportunity to compete at the NCAA level with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints, the privilege of playing for Canada, in her community no less, inspired her to extend her local legacy.

“An amazing feeling! Although I got used to playing in front of friends and family, there (at the U18 Worlds), there were sold-out crowds. Whenever I looked up at the crowd, I could always see a familiar face. It made me want to stay at Brock and keep playing hockey at home. To represent your country, it made you want to stay there, and of course, I loved the hockey atmosphere in St. Catharines.”

Committing to the Brock Badgers, the luster of the U18 experience continued to enrich the prodigy of Berg. Gaining the opportunity to call Page her head coach at Brock, she would prove to be the ideal mentor for a competitor of Berg’s caliber.

Coincidentally, another unique element of Berg’s inaugural season in Brock’s colors brought the U18 experience full-circle. Competing on the road against Toronto’s Ryerson Rams, the match was one where Berg savored every moment. 

From the outset, Haley serves as the Ryerson head coach, an integral component in helping to build the program from scratch. It was serendipitously fitting that she would part of this milestone game for Berg, one which held significant magnitude.

Of note, Ryerson’s home games take place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, which occupies a place inside the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens, the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and known affectionately as the Shrine of Hockey. The chance to grace the ice at such a venerated venue allowed Berg the chance to pay tribute to her hockey roots.

Berg is part of a captivating sorority of phenomenal female hockey talent, consisting of second and third generation players, with a proud lineage to the Maple Leafs. Such a group includes the likes of Hannah Armstrong, Gillian Apps, Katie Fergus, Kaitlyn Keon, Morgan Richardson, Meghan Sittler and Laura Stacey (the great grandfather of King Clancy), among others.

Competing for the blue and white from 1992 to 1996, highlighted by the 1993 Norris Division championship, Bill Berg amassed 42 points. Coincidentally, his junior hockey would also take place at Maple Leaf Gardens, as he was a member of the Toronto Marlboros from 1985 to 1987. As a side note, his NHL career also included stops with the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers (where he called Wayne Gretzky a teammate) and the Ottawa Senators.

Proudly in attendance for his distinguished daughter’s appearance against Ryerson, it was only fitting that the venue would help connect both epochs in their careers. In addition, the presence of women competing inside Maple Leaf Gardens is also helping give a new generation of competitors their rightful place in the spotlight.

“Playing at the MAC, inside Maple Leaf Gardens, going in, it felt like I was following in his footsteps. To play there, it finally felt like I got to be in his footsteps. My father was at the game, and I think it was emotional for him. I also remember at the U18 Worlds, there was a power point before our game, and there is a clip of him tearing up. It was awesome to play there (at Maple Leaf Gardens).”

In reflecting on the opportunity to play in a venue that her father called home for six seasons Berg represents a time where her on-ice heroics are helping challenge traditional cultural thinking. The proud opportunity to have her hockey odyssey cross paths with her father’s prior on-ice journey was truly one of the most endearing moments of the 2016-17 OUA season, the type of highlight that encompasses the ambition of this new generation of talent.

“I think it is all about growing the game. Our dads helped us get there, and everyone knows that Tie Domi’s son, Max, is in the NHL. It is great to finally see the daughters taking over. It is an era of the daughters making it. Before, people would say that they (the NHLers) got a son who can play. Now, people can say that they’ve got a daughter than can play too.”

Of note, Ryerson would also play another key role in Berg’s breakthrough season. With her regular season debut taking place on home ice against the Rams, it was another opportune example of Haley’s presence in St. Catharines. After Ailish Forfar, a Dartmouth Big Green alum tied the game in the third period, double overtime was required to determine a winner. Scoring unassisted on Rachel Seeley, Berg survived the baptism of fire, the game serving as an affirmation of her prodigy as a prime time player, while providing a key season highlight.

“Definitely, it’s my first OUA goal. It was our first game (of the season) versus Ryerson. It was double overtime and it was 3-on-3 play. I consider 3-on-3 my game and I got to score. That felt awesome. It was humbling.”

With sights set on an even stronger sophomore season, Berg possesses a remarkable raw talent, able to outfox defenders and spur others to elevate their game, poised to exceed the expectations that come with superstardom. Also employing tremendous maturity, it is the kind of quality that is poised to see Berg blossom into a key leader this season,

“I want to lead and be a big influence. I still look out for my team, regardless of what goals I take. Everyone needs to take charge as we are all in it for the same goal.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Mark Staffieri

Images obtained from: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2016/01/05/berg-ready-to-represent-canada-at-under-18-worlds and USPORTS on Twitter (https://twitter.com/USPORTS_Hockey/status/842170548209750017)

Follow Annie Berg on twitter at: https://twitter.com/annnie98

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