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Calgary United championship victory at CBHA Nationals

Calgary United CBHA Nationals

Representing one of Western Canada’s premier hockey cities, Calgary United emerged from a highly competitive field in Winnipeg to emerge as the CBHA national champions. With a revered roster featuring an assembly of superlative talent, this collective group brought a well-rounded competitive background, ranging from the Ivy League to a Clarkson Cup title, there were no shortage of heroes to be found on this roster.

Defeating the Ottawa Capitals in the gold medal game, adding to the frustrations of the ball hockey elite from Canada’s capital region, enduring a fourth year without a national championship, Calgary is on the verge of creating a new dynasty in CBHA lore. Considering that the city has enjoyed championships throughout numerous leagues, including the Grey Cup (CFL), Stanley Cup (NHL), Clarkson Cup (CWHL), along with the National Lacrosse League and a handful of titles at the USPORTS level, the prestige of a CBHA title adds lustre to its sparkling status as a sporting haven.

Statistically, United was a force during the preliminary round. Although Ottawa’s Audrey Ann-Boutour led the scoring race by recording eight points, the remainder of the top five was filled with names from United. Kendra Dunlop paced all United scorers with seven points, while Rhianna Kurio, Reagan Fischer and Chelsea Karpenko each logged six points. Worth noting, Dunlop and Fischer led the way among all players with five goals scored, respectively.

Michelle Marsz, who competed with Canada at the 2017 edition of the ISBHF Worlds, took on a key leadership role with Calgary United, extending an impeccable career that has seen her become one of the game’s premier blueliners. Having also enjoyed another championship earlier this year with a highly competitive club team known as the “Baby Ducks”, Marsz has become highly adept at big game experiences. Recording three points in the preliminary round, her superb play resulted in the honor of the tournament’s Defensive MVP. Serving in a veteran capacity, she was a considerable influence for many of the younger players on the roster, many who were experiencing the thrill of competing at a National Championship level for the first time in their promising careers.

“For some of the girls, this was their first time competing at the National level. I am proud of how we evolved as a team throughout the week to achieve our goal. My hopes are that this accomplishment inspires more women to participate in the sport we love so much.”

Having competed for Danielle Goyette in women’s ice hockey for the University of Calgary, Heather Berzins has also enjoyed status as a two-sport star. A frequent competitor in Equestrian events throughout Alberta, Berzins is also making her mark on the ball hockey hardcourts. Calling Marsz a teammate on Canada’s contingent at the ISBHF Worlds, an event that saw Canada emerge with the bronze medal, they are part of a growing legacy for Calgary hockey.

Running parallel to the prestige of the national championship, competitors such as Rhianna Kurio, who was part of the Calgary Inferno’s Clarkson Cup championship team in 2016, plus goaltender Keeley Prockiw, both competed for Canada in 2017, gaining a bronze at the ISBHF Worlds. As Marsz and Berzins were part of the bronze medal roster, the presence of four fantastic players on Calgary United is also testament to the Canadian footprint on international ball hockey. Undoubtedly, the Team Canada experience was crucial for Berzins, cultivating a confidence that allowed her to raise the quality of her already impressive game and emerge as a productive member of the team whose work ethic stood as one of her greatest hallmarks,

“To have been selected as a member of Team Canada allowed me to compete confidently in key situations. I tried to lead by example more than anything. We had such a strong group of women so leadership was something that we were not lacking as a team.”

The presence of so many extraordinary women with superb leadership skills was not lost on Marsz. Recognizing that the gathering of the nation’s finest ball hockey teams in Winnipeg represented an opportunity for the sporting community to celebrate its players and their commendable achievements. That feeling of celebration is one that definitely represented a proud tournament highlight for Marsz, cultivating friendships while getting acquainted with the game’s luminaries from all Canada’s corners.

“Another tournament highlight for me would have to be quality time spent with friends throughout the week. The Canadian ball hockey community is tight knit and while we do not necessarily convene on a regular basis, coming together for this annual event was truly a memorable experience.”

Calgary United’s road to CBHA glory also brought with it many unique subplots. Among them included a tremendous trio of alumnae from Dartmouth University calling each other teammates with United; Jenna Cunningham, Reagan Fischer and Margaux Sharp. Recognized as Tournament MVP, Fischer was not the only member of United to enjoy a haul of hockey hardware. Michelle Marsz earned MVP honors on defense, while the offensive MVP went to Chelsea Karpenko. Coincidentally, Karpenko played for Dartmouth rival Cornell while Fischer and Sharp played there.

That sense of coincidence was also evident for goaltender Keeley Prockiw, who played alongside former Butterworth Trophy winner Nathalie Girouard on past editions of Team Canada. Standing between the pipes for the Ottawa Capitals in the gold medal game, Girouard, who last captured the CBHA National championship in 2014, went from teammate to Prockiw’s rival in Winnipeg.

Playing one of the biggest games of her career, Prockiw provided Calgary United with a flawless performance, enabling her to join Girouard among the pantheon of championship goaltenders in CBHA lore. Rewarded for her effort with a spot on the tournament All-Star Team, other United players that joined Prockiw with All-Star honors included Cailen McLean on defense. As a side note, Girouard was recognized as the tournament’s Goaltending MVP.

While both hold a significant standing as world-class goaltenders, there was no shortage of remarkable goaltending talent on-hand. Edmonton’s Kristen Sugiyama, who called Girouard a teammate on Team Canada 2017 was a key contributor towards Edmonton Red Light reaching the medal round. Worth noting, Prockiw’s goaltending partner, Engi Lim was also a highly effective member of United. During preliminary round play, Lim ranked second overall in goals against average, while Prockiw ranked fourth.

Joining Prockiw and Girouard on the podium was Jennifer Price, a veteran of the former Western Women’s Hockey League and former national team member. Backstopping Team BC, a roster that included 2018 Sarah Butterworth Memorial Trophy winner Silvia Traversa, to a bronze medal, it not only strengthened Price’s formidable legacy as one of ball hockey’s most accomplished goaltenders, their collective presence defines what is great about the sport.

“It was an honor to back United this year. There were so many great goalies at the tournament this year, including my partner goalie. The opportunity to play in the final game was such an amazing feeling. My team played hard and blocked so many shots that I only faced a handful.

We laid everything on the line in the final game and I was able to make some key saves when needed. I was completely honored to be selected to the All-Star team after our hard fought win, especially in the field of goalies at the tourney.”

In the immediate aftermath of the CBHA Nationals, the distinguished duo of Prockiw and Girouard shall become teammates once again. Both part of the Canadian contingent looking to capture the gold medal at the ISBHF Masters in Bermuda, such a feat would place Prockiw into rarified air. Along with United teammate (and fellow Edmontonian) Colleen Gamache, both are looking to become part of an exclusive sorority of women that have captured both the CBHA Nationals and Masters Gold in the same year,

“This will be my second year competing on the Masters world stage representing Canada. We were able to grab Gold in Banff in 2016, and being the only Alberta born female (on the roster) it was a very special gold medal for me. Defending our title this year is our ideal goal.

To complete my summer of ball hockey with another medal would make all the training, financial costs, and time off work worth it. This summer already has been an amazing one for my ball hockey career, I did not think it was possible to fall more in love with the game and the position of goalie more but this summer has definitely done that for me.”

Adding to the sense of coincidence is the fact that Prockiw is not a Calgary resident. Calling the Edmonton Cherry Pickers her club team, she managed to cram the CBHA Nationals into an already active calendar of competition, loaning her skills to Calgary United. Such an acquisition would prove crucial for United. Prior to the Nationals, Prockiw made the trek across the country, standing between the pipes in the border town of Windsor, Ontario, elevating the Cherry Pickers into championship status,

“This year, I was able to attend B nationals in Windsor with Cherry Pickers. They are my main team here in Edmonton, we play in the A/B division in WBHE, and it was a lot of fun to go with them. We were able to win bronze over New Tecumseh in a 1-0 shootout win.

The experience with Cherry Pickers was a really great opportunity to fill a leadership role throughout the tournament as a I had previously attended other high level ball hockey tournaments. Filling that leadership role really allowed me to gain confidence both on and off the field.”

Considering that ball hockey in both Calgary and Western Canada is experiencing a renaissance, with improved results at CBHA Nationals, along with a higher number of talented ice hockey competitors taking to the hardcourt, the exceptional quality of play is certainly reflected in the results. Equally important as the results themselves is the chance to help build a foundation for the sport’s future in Calgary.

Definitely a dynasty in bloom, Calgary’s captivating ability to capture a second CBHA national championship in three years represents an amazing source of pride for Berzins. Considering that United’s roster consists of distinguished competitors throughout the city’s burgeoning league, their ability to join forces, aligned towards the collective goal of a championship truly encompasses the meaning of “dream team”,

“Ball hockey is still a growing sport in Calgary, so it means a lot when we can bring back a national title. To be able to say that some of the best players in the country come out of Calgary and to have the privilege to compete against each other at home everyday is amazing. This being our second title in three years has put us on the map. People are finally taking us as serious competitors and to be a part of the growth of the sport in Calgary is an honour.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

All images obtained from Facebook


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More about Mark Staffieri

Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Mark holds an extensive writing background. A contributor to Wikipedia since 2007, his writing endeavors have included writing for Bleacher Report (2012-13), the former CWHL (2012-15), the Legends Football League (2013-14), he was part of the team of writers for Hockey Canada at the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championships in Ottawa. In addition to composing more than 700 articles for Women's Hockey Life (since 2012), his current slate of duties includes covering female tackle football for Canada Football Chat, along with pieces for NowVIZ Magazine (digital format) since its inaugural issue. Also the publisher of allowhertoplay, a website devoted to the heroics of sporting heroines, Mark remains focused on raising awareness of the positive impact of women in sport.