As the Canadian and American women’s ice sledge hockey teams renewed rivalries, a familiar setting served as the backdrop. Competing in Brampton, Ontario, the host city for the inaugural IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s International Cup in 2014, Canada was looking to avenge its silver medal outcome.
Heading into a three-game exhibition series, there was a sense of redemption for Canada. Earlier this year, Canada competed against the United States in a similar exhibition series in Buffalo, New York, with the US maintaining the advantage, prevailing in the series.
In Game One, Canada was looking to make a statement. With the Brampton faithful providing encouragement, Canada would enjoy the first lead of the game. At the 3:30 mark of the first, Geneva Coulter opened the scoring with Canada’s first goal of the tournament.
Less than four minutes later, the US tied the score, as Kelsey DiClaudio, one of the most recognizable and talented members of the squad logged her first of the tournament. As a side note, she is also the only female member of the US Developmental Team.
While the first period ended in a 1-1 deadlock, it would continue to be a theme of the first game. Canada and the US would exchange goals again in the second, as Brampton resident Claire Buchanan scored for Canada, while US captain Erica Mitchell contributed the second goal of her team.
After DiClaudio scored her second goal of the game, providing the US with their first lead of the game at the 2:35 mark of the third period, Buchanan would contribute another goal, tying the game once again. As tensions arose as to who would prevail in the contest, Ashley Goure, a charter member of Canada’s national team would log the game-winning tally, adding to her growing legend.
The second game saw the US struggle to mount an offensive attack. Five different members of Canada’s roster (Myriam Adam, Peggy Assinck, Danica McPhee, Christina Picton and Goure) contributed points.
Canada’s captain, Christina Picton, opened the scoring in the first period, with McPhee and Goure earning the assists. Just 22 seconds after Picton’s goal, Goure would add her second goal of the tournament. While Picton reciprocated with an assist, Adam would log her first point for the national team, gaining the second assist. For Picton, her two-point effort is one that she hoped set a positive example for many of the newer faces on the team, which included six rookies,
“My mindset when I am playing is to never back down. I know when I am watching my teammates play and I see them giving it everything they have, it inspires me and makes me want to play even harder. I hope that the example I am giving is one that inspires not just our rookies, but our whole bench to stay positive and to give it their all no matter what the situation is on the ice.”
A three-goal outburst in the second period put the game out of reach for the United States as Goure contributed two points (one goal, one assist). McPhee and Peggy Assinck, another charter member of Canada’s team, would log the other two goals. As a side note, Adam would earn the assist on Assinck’s goal, giving her the first multi-point game of her career as a member of Canada’s national team.
Erica Mitchell would score the only goal of the third period, as rookie Madison (Maddie) Eberhart and Rachel Grusse logged the assists. With the 5-1 final, Canada would clinch the series win, putting the US in jeopardy of being swept in the third and final game. For Buchanan, the chance to clinch a series win, especially in her current city of residence represented a proud career milestone,
“The weekend was a successful one for Canada. Winning the series against the USA was an incredible feeling. To be able to come together and put 2 wins under our belts was a great accomplishment especially with having a few new girls on the team. The rivalry between the two teams is an exciting one and we were glad to be able to give our Canadian home fans a weekend of great sledge hockey.”
Playing for pride in the third and final game, the US was hoping to emerge with the win. DiClaudio would make her presence felt, logging the first goal of the game for the US during the first period of play. With Grusse and Kelly Lavoie earning the assists, they were hoping to being a positive string of momentum.
Before the period would expire, Canada found their way onto the scoreboard as Picton and Goure teamed up again, with Goure continuing to establish herself as a key offensive contributor.
The second period would see Canada score the only goal, resulting in an important milestone for three players. All rookies with Canada’s national team, said three would log their first career points for Canada on the scoring play. Jessica Matassa, a long-time teammate of Goure at the club level, along with 14-year old Mackenzie Spong, Canada’s youngest member of the team, both earned assists on a goal scored by Veronique Major.
DiClaudio would continue to be a force for the US, as she scored twice in the third period, scoring the tournament’s only hat trick. While Canada bounced back as Alannah Mah scored her first goal of the tournament, as McPhee and Matassa registered the assists, the 3-3 tie would not last long.
With 2:08 remaining, Mitchell registered the game-winning goal, as Robynne Hill and Kesley DiClaudio (with a game-high four points) earned the assists. It was the kind of performance that allowed the US to finish the series on a positive note.
As Canada’s starting goaltender, Jessie Gregory was proud of Canada’s strong performances throughout the three-game series. Although a sweep would have been the proverbial icing on the cake, she was impressed by the strong team chemistry and the on-ice determination that helped make the series such a successful one,
“I would have to say the highlight would be how well we came together as a team and played great together as one unit.”
Emerging as Canada’s leading scorer in the series, Goure continues to bring a consistency to the offense, one of the hallmarks of her storied career. Approaching this series with a strong desire not to lose on home ice, she helped make a powerful statement with a superlative on-ice performance. "Heading into the series against USA, my goal was to play smart but be puck hungry at the same time. Meaning I wanted to win 90% of my one-on-one battles. I believed I could achieve this goal as I am a very determined player and it is one of my strengths that I bring to the team."
In reflecting on the outcome of the tournament, Thea Hill, who competed with Canada at the first-ever unofficial women’s ice hockey world championship in Philadelphia (not recognized by the IPC), the chance to be back in a Team Canada jersey was only part of the story. Being able to start the season with a match against Canada’s biggest rivals was an important event, helping determine the level of competition between the two, and key lessons to build upon,
“It was very exciting to play the US so close to the beginning of the season. We really wanted to see how our two teams stacked up against each other this year after having them be a very challenging opponent last year. For me in particular, it was the first time playing with the Team Canada jersey on, and so our first win was very emotional.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Connor Mah