Part of three gold medal championship teams in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, Cherie Piper is an essential contributor in Canadian hockey lore. Stoic and self-assured, she assembled a solid playing career, providing every team that she played with a combination of scoring brilliance and a role as an ambassador for the game.
By the time that Piper hung up her skates for good, she was the all-time points leader for Canada’s U22/Development Team. In addition, she was seventh all-time on the Senior Team’s scoring list, and also had the status of being the runner-up for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award
Even though the 2013 Clarkson Cup postseason represented her swan song as a player, after a brilliant career with the Brampton Thunder, it certainly was far from the end of her hockey odyssey. Instead, it was merely a transitional phase, one chapter reaching its denouement, while a bold new beginning was taking place, enhancing such a rich narrative.
In a post-playing career that has seen Piper take on the role of coach and manager, her efforts continue to make a positive impression, proving that women can still make significant inroads in the game after hanging up their skates. While such a role also allows for the duality of a new generation of players admiring her on-ice greatness, enlightening them about those who helped pave the way, it also encompasses Piper’s never-ending commitment to give back to the game,
“My teammates and I have always prided ourselves on growing and developing the female game across the country. We are grateful for the opportunities we have had and giving back is essential to continuing to grow the game.”
Having played with the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, Cassie Campbell and Jayna Hefford, fans could be forgiven if Piper is not the first name that comes to mind when speaking about the greats of this golden generation. While she may have been one of the game’s quiet superstars, Piper is highly underrated, the type of player whose exceptional skills any player would love to have on their roster.
Recording a goal and an assist in her Winter Games debut, she would average a point per game at Salt Lake 2002, helping Canada reach the apex of its first-ever gold medal. Her heroics contributed to a sense of redemption, following the heartbreaking silver medal outcome of Nagano 1998.
As a player, the gold medal won at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games represented more than the first of many milestones for Piper. Resulting in the first gold medal for the national team, its legend enhanced by the “lucky loonie” buried at centre ice by Trent Evans, such a watershed moment for Canadian hockey encouraged an entire generation of young girls to take up the game, looking to emulate the efforts of newly-minted Canadian sporting icons such as Piper.
Piper’s offensive brilliance was on display two years later in another unique facet of the game’s unfolding narrative. Along with Meghan Agosta, Amanda Benoit, Charline Labonte, Caroline Ouellette and Amy Turek, all competitors who have represented Canada’s national ice hockey team, they were part of Canada’s inline roster that captured gold at the 2004 FIRS Inline Worlds. Contested on home soil in London, Ontario, Canada defeated the US in the gold medal game, an extension of their eternal rivalry.
If any event affirmed Piper’s status as a superstar, that would have been Torino 2006, undoubtedly the prime of her career. Logging an impressive 15 points, she ranked only second to Hayley Wickenheiser in scoring among all competitors in Torino. Akin to the glory of Salt Lake, it was another heroic effort that allowed the hockey mad nation to experience a historic gold, this time emerging as the first to claim back-to-back gold medals in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games.
Although a devastating combination of a knee injury and the unfortunate loss of her father resulted in the nadir of Piper’s career, inactive for one season with the national team. Her tremendous resolve and admirable character allowed her to rebound from such horrible depths of despair. Showing her mettle by gaining a third straight spot at the Winter Games, truly embodying the Olympic spirit, it allowed for one of the most cherished milestones in her career.
Fittingly, she would capture the gold on home soil at Vancouver 2010 in one of the most important victories in the history of the national team. In between the glories of Torino and Vancouver, Piper would also graduate from Dartmouth University as a member of the NCAA’s 200-point club.
Remaining active, and busy, since her final game, it sees Piper employ a combination of acumen and leadership that continues to exemplify her strong approach to teamwork. Part of the management staff for the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, she works alongside the likes of the province’s builders in the female game, including Fran Rider and Pat Nicholls.
Among the numerous roles that she has taken on in Piper’s post-playing career, 2015 was a memorable year. Showing her skills as a tremendous off-ice leader, the result was a pair of milestones that show the OWHA’s future is in good hands.
From the outset, she served as the General Manager for Team Ontario’s entry at the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Such a position truly brought Piper’s gloried career full circle. As a teenager, she was part of the Team Ontario roster that participated in the 1999 Canada Winter Games, capturing a gold medal, while simultaneously contributing to the province’s legacy of elite world-class hockey talent whose careers involved Canada Winter Games gold, including Campbell, Meghan Agosta and Haley Irwin, among others.
Bradi Cochrane, whose hockey resume includes numerous titles with the PWHL’s Oakville Hornets, along with a national U18 gold as Team Ontario Blue head coach in 2012, was the ideal selection to serve as Ontario’s coach at the CWG. Of note, it was an impressive roster that featured many future NCAA superstars.
Featuring the likes of Jamie Bourbonnais, whose grandfather Roger was a captain for Team Canada at the 1960 and 1964 Winter Games, she was joined by two eventual members of Clarkson’ 2017 NCAA Frozen Four championship team, Josiane Pozzebon and Rhyen McGill, whose aunt is Cheryl Pounder. Other notable players included Lindsay Agnew, Samantha Cogan, Loren Gabel and Kristen O’Neill, among others.
Later that year, Piper would take on an exciting role as she was the General Manager for the U18 Women’s Nationals. Held in Huntsville, Ontario, located in the Muskoka region, she was joined by IIHF Hall of Fame member and OWHA President Fran Rider, along with elite player Jamie Lee Rattray (who also works for the OWHA in General Administration) in an introductory Press Conference. In the gold medal game of the 2015 U18 Nationals, Lindsay Agnew would score the gold medal clinching goal for Team Ontario Red, while Alexa Vasko, whose uncle Elmer Vasko played for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks recorded a pair of assists as Team Ontario Blue emerged with the bronze, testament to the province’s talent.
Piper’s role, which also sees her organize U16 and U18 Training and Evaluation Camps only adds prestige to such a polished hockey resume. Having recently enjoyed the accolade of being inducted into Scarborough’s Walk of Fame, the sporting world is catching up to Piper, appreciating what she means to hockey.
“I have been working with the OWHA for two and a half years now. Being the High Performance Technical Manager allows me to continue to be a part of the female game and help develop the future generations. The OWHA High Performance Committee strives to grow and develop new opportunities for young female High Performance athletes.”
Having also worked with Canada’s U18 national team in a coaching capacity at numerous camps, it allows her to tap into her national team roots, while following in an empowering trend of former national team players taking on coaching roles. For legendary players such as Piper who helped lay the foundation for an amazing time for the game’s growth in the early years of the 21st century, her impact in the game has extended into a remarkable post-playing career, allowing Piper a treasured opportunity to be an inspiring role model twice.
“Being a GM or coach allows me to share my own experiences with Team Ontario and Hockey Canada with the younger athletes. It allows us at the OWHA to set realistic expectations for the athletes so they are better prepared for the next level if they are given the opportunity.”
"All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated"
Acknowledgements: Joey Butkevich
Image obtained from: http://www.metronews.ca/sports/2014/02/07/canadian-hockey-hero-cherie-pipers-jeers-and-cheers.html
Winter Games photo credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Huntsville Photo Credit: Lisa Gillan