In a season filled with numerous accolades and honors, the members of the Markham Thunder organization have also obtained memories that are destined to last a lifetime. Except for winning the Clarkson Cup itself, perhaps no other memory shall be as enduring as the cherished opportunity to enjoy an audience with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Since the Clarkson Cup was first contested in 2009, the Thunder gained the privilege of being the first-ever championship team to meet the PM. Worth noting, the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Clarkson Cup Finals were hosted at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, the first to be contested in an NHL arena.
Prior to the 2017 Finals, both the Prime Minister and his spouse, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau acknowledged the championship game on their Twitter accounts, simultaneously raising awareness of the compelling events taking place in the capital during Canada’s sesquicentennial.
As a side note, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the CWHL Awards Ceremony in 2015. Among the award recipients at that notable event included multiple Winter Games gold medalist Cassie Campbell garnering the CWHL’s Humanitarian Award. Coincidentally, Campbell once called the Brampton Thunder her club team prior to the formation of the CWHL.
Taking into account that the 1992 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays visited both Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and US President George H. W. Bush, while the 1993 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens also made the trek to Parliament Hill, the visit of the Clarkson Cup winning Markham Thunder rekindled such exciting memories, while creating new ones. Although years past has seen numerous athletic visits to the capital, such instances tend to involve triumphant participants from the Summer and Winter Games.
Although Grey Cup winning teams and numerous teams from Canadian Interuniversity Sport have enjoyed local, and sometimes, provincial acclaim, the presence of the Markham Thunder in Ottawa adds to the growing legacy of the female game. A victorious validation that has propelled these wondrous women into a much larger world, it speaks volumes to the impact of women in society while recognizing their expanding role as sports idols.
Worth noting, the Clarkson Cup’s visit to Parliament also adds to a common thread quickly developing. While the lore of both the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup has involved surviving damage, misplacement and robbery, they have also been well-travelled artifacts.
Quickly joining them among coveted and iconic prizes of sporting Canadiana, the Clarkson Cup is also boasting quite the travel itinerary. Having been brought to legendary Fenway Park in Boston, the Clarkson Cup has also traveled to the base of Mount Everest. As one member of the Thunder triumphantly hoisted the Clarkson Cup over her shoulders in the halls of Parliament, it signaled a sensational sporting highlight that defines the essence of celebration and nationalism.
Acknowledging both the honor and the rarity of such a milestone, Taylor Woods felt a tremendous sense of achievement in the chance to be part of such a historic visit. With an optimistic outlook, Woods hopes that this tremendous moment becomes the springboard for an empowering tradition to follow.
“It has been a long time since any Cup has made the trip to Parliament Hill, and it’s great to see the PM hold an audience with a female championship team. It was great to come together with some of the country’s leaders to celebrate our championship season, and support women in sport. I hope that this will become an annual visit for the league, and that other sports can experience the same.”
Having once captured a gold medal with Team Canada’s U18 medal in 2012, a team that also saw Woods call Laura Stacey (who scored the Clarkson Cup winning goal) a teammate, the golden journey culminated with an inspiring celebration that saw the victorious skaters meet hockey idol Wayne Gretzky.
As the Clarkson Cup represents a second major championship in Woods’ hockey odyssey, the chance to meet another iconic Canadian in Justin Trudeau only adds to the thrill of becoming a champion once again. Of note, Trudeau has evolved into a celebrity, gaining acclaim the world over, also gracing the cover of Rolling Stone. Definitely, such acknowledgement serves to validate the sweat and sacrifice for all women in hockey,
“It was a true honour to meet PM Trudeau last week! The fact that the Markham Thunder, a professional female team, got recognition and celebrated our championship season at Ottawa with some of Canada’s leaders is crazy to me.
Both Gretzky and Trudeau have accomplished tremendous things, and to celebrate a championship with some big influencers and successors like themselves reminds me of our character season, and maybe we did something right this year.”
As the Thunder made the train trip from the Greater Toronto Area to Ottawa, thrilled at the prospect of making history, it was understandable that the magnitude of the visit would take time to absorb. Among a group of players who also donned the Thunder jersey when they played in Brampton, Melissa Wronzberg indicated how the stature of this spectacular social call brought with it a flurry of emotions,
“I was kind of in disbelief. We had heard it was a possibility. But until it was confirmed I did not believe it. And even then I do not think it fully sunk in till we were booking our tickets to go.”
Considering that every member of the Thunder brought their own unique personal stories, all part of diverse backgrounds, the chance for their athletic journey to cross paths with a Clarkson Cup championship brought with it a shared sense of attainment. For Wronzberg, that sense took on an even greater meaning.
Having called Jessica Hartwick a teammate at the junior, university and professional levels, their careers have literally run parallel, growing up together on the ice. As charter members of the Ryerson Rams program in OUA hockey, to the thrill of contributing towards the Thunder’s first-ever Clarkson Cup championship, it was only fitting that their collective experiences culminated at Parliament Hill,
“Jess and I have been through a lot together from Jr. hockey to Ryerson, and now this. It’s nice to be able to share such an amazing experience with someone you have known that long. Especially to think back to our first year at Ryerson when we won one game. Now this many years later were shaking hands with our Prime Minister after winning a professional title."
Traditionally, sports champions south of the border, including some Stanley Cup champions, have gained numerous audiences at the White House with the American President. Of note, a visit by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins with George H.W. Bush was featured on a hockey card by Upper Deck in their 1991-92 offering.
The 1990s also saw succeeding President Bill Clinton invite Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings to the White House, while this current decade has seen the Boston Bruins obtain the honor of visiting Barack Obama. As a side note, women’s ice hockey has also been part of the history of hockey and the White House.
Worth noting, the 2010 US Women’s Ice Hockey Team were among a group of American athletes from Vancouver 2010 that met both President and First Lady Barack Obama. Among the athletes in that visit included Caitlin Cahow, who served as captain of the Boston Blades when they captured the 2013 Clarkson Cup.
Thunder captain Jocelyne Larocque also enjoyed a White House visit. After winning her first NCAA Frozen Four with the UMD Bulldogs, she was part of a group of NCAA national champions that enjoyed the company of George W. Bush II. Also part of that Bulldogs roster was future three-time Clarkson Cup champion Emmanuelle Blais. She would also enjoy a White House visit with Barack Obama when the Bulldogs captured the Frozen Four once again in 2010.
Akin to the Presidential visits, the Thunder have also emulated the custom of presenting the honored dignitary with a personalized jersey. With the gift of the Thunder’s iconic green jersey, the Prime Minister displayed a kind gesture by donning said jersey in front of the visiting team. It was the type of moment that definitely made an impression, as Megan Delay, who played her university hockey on both sides of the border (Brock University, Plattsburgh State University) recounts with awe,
“Watching the PM pull our jersey over his head was a satisfying feeling, to watch all your hard work from the season pay off, and have our PM recognizes and represent us with confidence, it was a very proud moment for all of us.”
A former member of the vaunted “Fab Five” with the Manitoba Bisons hockey program, Delay also enjoyed the thrill of an NCAA Division III Frozen Four national championship. Similar to so many of her Thunder teammates, Delay is younger than 25. Taking into account that Trudeau is one of Canada’s youngest Prime Ministers, there is definitely a shared feeling of success that serves to encourage today’s youth.
“Winning an NCAA National Championship was an incredible feeling, especially for experiencing it in my freshman year of University. It couldn’t have ended any better, and I had the privileged to check that off the bucket list. With that being said, winning the Clarkson Cup in my first year of professional hockey, now that is… unbelievable.
I am absolutely, forever grateful for experiencing what I have, before the age of 21. It’s a pretty good start to the rest of my career. I guess you could say I’m a lucky one- two championships in three seasons, I would say that is noteworthy, one more accomplishment checked off my list.”
For Thunder players such as Laura Fortino, Erica Howe, Liz Knox, Larocque, Jamie Lee Rattray, Stacey and Woods, among others, who have enjoyed the thrill of representing Canada on the ice, the connotation of national pride was enhanced through the Prime Ministerial visit. Although it is unquestionable that all members of the Thunder on this day felt tremendous patriotism, the theme of national pride was prevalent for another player that has worn the Maple Leaf.
Among the star players for the Canadian inline team, Lindsay Grigg is among one of their most accomplished and talented forwards. On the ice, her resume includes the captaincy for the NCAA’s Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers. Part of an exclusive sorority of women that have competed professionally in three different countries, the chance to skate for the Thunder and hoist the Clarkson Cup championship serves as the accoutrement to a sensational legacy.
Having helped the Inline team capture numerous gold medals during international play, Grigg is definitely a Canadian sports icon and a treasure. Coincidentally, Grigg will be participating with the inline national team this summer. With an under-appreciated impact that extends beyond the ice, Grigg’s well-deserved opportunity to meet the Prime Minister represented an emotional victory for inline hockey, as both facets of her hockey journey collided in euphoric jubilation,
“I think there is a strong sense of pride being a part of Markham as well since we represent the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. There was definitely a strong sense of national pride in getting to meet with the PM.
It is a tremendous honour and privilege to be able to represent Canada in any sport. I feel very fortunate to have played in seven World Championships and it was truly an honour to meet the PM knowing that in the summer I get to wear the maple leaf and represent my country.”
The chance to be part of both Canadian female sporting history and CWHL history in this unique fashion is about more than just meeting such an influential and popular figure. It represents another key step forward in helping to inspire young women to follow their dreams in all aspects of life, one that Grigg is ecstatic to be involved with, embodying the empowering spirit that brought a triumphant end to a dream season that shall endure with greater stature through time, shining as a gold standard of what the women’s game means to Canada’s cultural and sporting heritage,
“It means so much to be given the opportunity to meet the PM. It is a step for women’s hockey and also shows younger generations that they can have goals and dreams of playing professional hockey. We are the first professional women’s hockey team to be invited to meet the PM and that just shows you how much women’s hockey has grown. It is an amazing feeling being a part of history and guiding and path for future generations of female hockey players.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1936234763056425.1073741886.167994276547158&type=3