After a memorable finish to the 2017-18 season that saw Liz Knox become the all-time winningest goaltender in Thunder franchise history, followed by a highly emotional overtime triumph in the Clarkson Cup finals, it would have appeared that she reached a professional pinnacle. In such a celebrated career, Knox managed to surpass such superlative achievements with an exciting first.
Bestowed the honor of the captaincy for the fourth CWHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Knox became only the second Thunder backstop to gain an invitation to the event. Coincidentally, Erica Howe, a member of the Thunder’s Cup championship team, and Knox’s goaltending partner, was the winning goaltender in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game.
Following in her footsteps by attaining the prestigious All-Star status, Knox also makes history by becoming the first player in Thunder franchise history recognized as an All-Star captain. As the longest serving goaltender in the league, Knox is not just a veteran player, but also a role model for a new generation of players. Demonstrating the essence of perseverance and work ethic, achieving a brilliance that future players can aspire to emulate, the captaincy certainly marked a crowning success for the distinguished Knox.
With online fans determining the All-Star captains, providing an interactive opportunity for the game’s aficionados to help shape the event’s mythos, a pair of unique captains captured the imagination of the voters. Brigitte Lacquette, one of the defensive stalwarts for the Calgary Inferno, made history last season as the first indigenous player to wear Canada’s jersey in the Winter Games.
Garnering over 50% of the votes, such an astounding result, Lacquette became the captain for Team Purple. With a tight race to determine the second captain, one that would don the jersey of Team Gold, there was an inspiring show of support via social media by fans, friends and teammates alike. With a captive collaboration, a unified effort to recognize the greatness of Knox and her meaning to both Thunder lore and the elite goaltending that has helped define this decade in CWHL hockey, the enthralling results were indicative of a highly deserving individual.
“I was honestly so surprised. I knew that the Markham Thunder campaign had been going well but I also knew that I had some really tough competition. It made me feel very special to see how my team, friends, family and fans rallied behind me.”
Becoming the second goaltender to have the honor of the All-Star captaincy to add to her hockey resume, it also allowed for several unique examples of six degrees of hockey separation.
From the outset, Charline Labonté, served as Team Red’s captain in the inaugural All-Star Game, which also saw Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray among the players on the Red roster. Serendipitously, Labonte was among the coaches for Team Gold at this year’s All-Star Game.
Taking to centre ice for the ceremonial face-off, one that saw former Maple Leafs captain Doug Gilmour drop the puck, Knox paid homage to Labonte, mimicking the legendary backstop’s actions, one that set the tone for a very enjoyable All-Star Game, while serving as one of the league’s most memorable highlights.
Worth noting, the face-off for the inaugural Game, also held at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre, was one that saw Labonte amicably pounce on the puck after the ceremony, drawing smiles from Team White captain Jessica Campbell, plus the dignitaries at centre ice, which included the legendary “Hurricane” Hazel McCallion. With Knox, executing her own leap towards the puck, it is likely destined to start a tradition duplicated by the next goaltender to gain CWHL All-Star status.
“The atmosphere was electric. I think you could tell everybody (from fans to players to coaches) were there to have a good time and showcase the talent of the CWHL.
With Charline Labonté on our bench, I knew I could not let her down on the opening face-off. Again, it was kind of a game-time decision but I think everyone got a laugh of me pouncing on the puck.“
Yet, the face-off theme also provided another unique connection with Knox and the Thunder. Team Gold’s fellow goaltender, Noora Raty of the Shenzhen KRS Rays was also making her All-Star debut. During the Thunder’s second game in Markham last season, Raty and Howe participated in a ceremonial faceoff, as Howe’s mother, a proud member of the Canadian Armed Forces was also at centre ice to drop the puck.
Although Howe was not part of this year’s All-Star class, there was no shortage of star power from the Thunder. Megan Bozek, Laura Fortino and Jocelyne Larocque constituted a significant element of the defensive unit for Team Gold, providing Knox with many familiar faces protecting the crease.
Super rookie Victoria Bach headlined the gathering of Thunder forwards that opposed Knox as members of Team Purple. Jamie Lee Rattray, the 2018 recipient of the Jayna Hefford Trophy, along with Laura Stacey, who scored the game-winning goal in the Clarkson Cup finals, comprised a terrific trio.
Among the aforementioned, Knox selected one with her five selections in the Frozen Fantasy All-Star Draft. With her third pick overall, she made the shrewd selection of Larocque, who also serves as the Thunder’s captain.
Prior to gaining Laroqcue for Team Gold, Knox acquired Triple Gold Club member Brianna Decker with her first pick (second overall), becoming the first piece in the starting lineup for Team Gold. As a side note, Decker, along with fellow CWHL All-Stars Renata Fast and Rebecca Johnston would go on to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills competition in San Jose one week later.
Ann-Sophie Bettez, a former winner of the Angela James Bowl, and a member of Canada’s team that shall participate in the upcoming Rivalry Series versus their eternal rivals, the United States was Knox’s second selection for Team Gold.
With the fourth and fifth picks, Knox looked for more strong leadership, finding Toronto Furies captain Natalie Spooner, who is also the first (and only) player to have served as a captain in two separate All-Star Games, still available. Jessica Wong, who opposed the Thunder in the 2018 Clarkson Cup final with the Kunlun Red Star, completed the starting lineup.
Reflecting on the selections, the key theme of Knox’s decision-making involved a balanced attack, with players from five of the CWHL’s six teams constituting her starting lineup.
“In the interest of representing the parity of the league, I wanted to try to draft a player from each team as best I could. Because I picked second, I was somewhat always returning the serve; so I had to make some tough in-draft decisions.”
Duplicating Howe’s achievement, Knox would also play for the winning team in her first All-Star experience. With Brianne Jenner becoming the third player in All-Star history to record a hat trick, her contributions established her as the catalyst in a convincing 8-4 victory for Team Gold.
Although there is an element of pride that encompasses being part of a triumphant team, Knox remained humble, testament to her dignified demeanor. Feeling an element of respite in the fact that Team Purple did not duplicate the remarkable scoring chances that Team Gold created; her keen observations concerning the bigger picture reveal a profound appreciation for the essence of elite competition. Gathering together in one venue, weaving a formidable tale which saw Knox as one of the peerless protagonists,
“I was mostly happy to not be facing some of the opportunities that Team Gold generated. It was exciting to see what happens when some of the best players in the world come together.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Video still of All-Star faceoff obtained from: https://twitter.com/NHLGIFs?lang=en