In an era when the quality of play in women’s hockey has grown to unprecedented heights, so too has the level of competition. Such an unparalleled level of play has extended to recreational players and adults over the age of 40, enabling them an opportunity to appreciate how the residual warmth of the rink fosters a sense of friendship.
Leading the way in this rapidly expanding segment of the game is CARHA, established as a not for profit and charitable organization, motivated to ensure adult recreational players and the oldtimers market are provided the necessary resources and benefits. With their signature event being the CARHA Hockey World Cup, the presence of a women’s division acknowledges the growing importance of female players in the recreational realm.
Held last April in Windsor, Ontario, home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Spitfires and Winter Games gold medalist Meghan Agosta, the Cup was sponsored by Molson Canadian. Organized every four years in a Canadian city, previous host cities have included Toronto, who hosted the inaugural event in 1996, Vancouver, Ottawa, Quebec City and Sault Ste. Marie. Of note, the 2016 event featured over 2500 participants from 14 different countries.
Combining elements such as sportsmanship and fair play, the love of the game shone while an international camaraderie unified players. As the 2016 edition of the Cup featured the second ever women’s competition, there was no shortage of opportunities for heroics to occur.
The first women’s competition began in 2012 with two divisions named after event sponsors. Station Mall Division was highlighted by Shannon Clement’s 10 poinst leading Garden Rivers to a first place finish. A highly competitive Stella Artois Division saw three players (Debbie Johnston, Justine Rodgers, Kellie Nelson) tie for the scoring lead as Roadhouse finished first based on goals for with 13, compared to just 7 for Blind River Ice Cats.
Spearheading such an exceptional effort was Ashley Burrill, a coordinator for both Member Services and Women’s Hockey in CARHA. An accomplished skater herself, Burrill is a former member of the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s team that competed in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) play.
Also a nationally renowned competitor in ball hockey, Burrill would claim a bronze medal at the 2015 CBHF Nationals. Quick to point out that the women’s division featured a high quality of play, it was an opportunity for the participating players to build on the legacy of the inaugural women’s tournament four years ago.
“All of the women’s teams brought a level of competitiveness to their games. I think that when you are participating in an event of this magnitude, as a team, you really want to represent your city, town and country well, which means that a high level of competitiveness will always be there.”
Having worked tirelessly in making such an event a reality, Burrill noticed a unique aspect that added an exciting dimension. With female players from throughout Canada and the rest of the world participating, the challenge of male players to a friendly contest actually helped The Cup not only raise the profile of the female competitors, but added a newfound element of importance to women’s hockey.
“I think what made the event help women’s hockey grow are the men’s teams who wanted to play exhibition games vs. a women’s team. This is a unique aspect to the event that we offer.
Throughout the week, teams can schedule exhibition games with teams they meet or may not play during the competition. I think it shows a lot of respect for the women’s game and to show how far it has come over the years.
The teams would mix up the players so that it was not just the men vs. the women, but there would be a few men on the women teams and vice versa. Those exhibition games were men’s teams from Europe vs. women’s teams from North America.
We also had a woman from Slovenia (Vesna Azman) who was the team manager for one of the men’s teams at the event play on a Canadian women’s team. It was very cool to see the two countries come together and combine their hockey experiences.”
With multiple divisions of play in the men’s tournament, featuring various age groups, the women’s division was named after sponsor Windsor Crossing, featuring six teams. Among said teams were WinCity, who finished first with an undefeated mark while pacing the circuit with 28 goals for. A pair of 7-0 wins against Charleston and Chicks Hockey was followed by an 8-2 victory against Roadhouse.
Emily Friest, an alumni of the PWHL’s Southwest Wildcats who once scored seven goals in a high school game, set the standard for WinCity as she paced all tournament participants with an astounding 22 points on the strength of 14 goals (also a tournament best) while teammate Katie Martin ranked second overall with 11 points. As a side note, five of WinCity’s players would finish in the top 10 in the scoring race.
Ranking second was Roadhouse Women, who were led by Ashley Bradley’s 10 points. The Canadian Beavers, who participated in the 2012 edition of the CARHA Hockey World Cup, held in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, which featured the first-ever women’s division, and the Northern Ontario-based Sioux Snipers ranked third and fourth in the standings as Krystin Lawrence finished the event as the Sioux’s leading scorer, fourth overall in the tournament.
One of the most unique members competing for the Sioux Snipers was Vesna Azman, a former member of the Slovenian national women’s team, playing for head coach Andrej Verlic. Having settled in Montreal after emigrating to Canada, she would play for famous head coach Les Lawton with the Concordia Stingers calling Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato a teammate.
In addition, she would play for the Montreal Axion (pronounced action) in the original NWHL, playing alongside another American-born Hall of Famer in Angela Ruggiero. While with the Axion, she played in the 2005 Esso Women’s Nationals, capturing a bronze medal.
Among the two winless teams in The Cup were Chicks Hockey and the Charleston Ladyrays. Of note, Chicks Hockey was awarded fifth place as they scored more goals. Amanda Rylaarsdam would finish as the leading scorer for Chicks Hockey.
Between the pipes, Amanda Wigfield of WinCity would log an undefeated mark, while leading all goaltenders with a sparkling 1.25 goals against average. As a side note, Wigfield played on the boys high school hockey team at Cardinal Carter, an accomplishment matched by fellow alums Meghan Agosta and Shannon Bowman.
Ranking second was Cheri Taylor of Roadhouse Women, whose three wins accompanied a 3.20 GAA. The Sioux Snipers’ Kathy Roberts would play valiantly in the tournament as well, as her 3.33 GAA represented a third place ranking among all goaltenders.
Through it all, the emphasis at the 2016 Molson Canada CARHA World Cup was foremost fun. As Burrill reflects on a moment at The Cup that stood out as her favorite, it was the Opening Ceremonies that helped set the tone for the event to come. Undoubtedly, such a positive experience is one that should only make the next CARHA Hockey World Cup an even more exciting event for female recreational players.
“My favorite moment is the Opening Ceremonies where all of the teams gather to meet each other and party. Nothing but good vibes the entire night and it is fun seeing all 14 different countries come together to enjoy the game of hockey and the friendships it creates.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by: Ashley Burrill