Part of the greatest draft class in Toronto Furies history, featuring second overall pick Sarah Nurse, whose jersey from the Winter Games was acquired by the Hockey Hall of Fame, goaltender Shea Tiley, a two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion, and Brittany Howard, a former CHA Player of the Year, Mellissa Channell has made her own mark with this distinguished group. Earning recognition as a CWHL All-Star, the Furies third round pick, 14th overall, is staking her claim as a key component in the Furies efforts in reloading for the promise of a fulfilling future.
Raised in Milton, Ontario, Channell established herself as one of the draft’s elite defensive prospects, following an exemplary career playing for head coach (and Miracle on Ice member) Mark Johnson with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Appearing in 147 games for the national powerhouse program, Channell amassed an astounding career plus/minus ranking of +116. Complemented by four appearances in the NCAA Frozen Four, including the 2017 Finals, Channell would score the biggest goal of her career en route to those Finals.
Facing off against Boston College in the March 18, 2017 semifinals, the contest was scoreless heading into the game’s final minute. Firing a slapshot from inside the blueline, Channell propelled the puck past All-America backstop Katie Burt to score the game’s only goal with merely 16.2 seconds remaining.
Internationally, Channell appeared with Team Canada at the 2016 Nations Cup, where her playmaking abilities were crucial in a gold medal effort. Recording an assist in the championship game versus Finland, an intense 4-3 overtime triumph, such efforts provided Canada with its second straight gold at the event. A glimpse into the future was evident too, as three of her teammates on that golden roster, Jamie Lee Rattray, Erin Ambrose and Laura Stacey, would also gain the prestige of competing in the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game.
Donning the number 9 for the Furies, Channell recorded the first point of her professional career on October 20, 2018 versus the Worcester Blades. Such a strong start culminated with the prestige of All-Star status, simultaneously cementing her status as one of the CWHL’s rookie sensations. Gaining an assist on a goal by team captain Natalie Spooner, it was testament to her big play ability, as said goal proved to be the game-winning tally in a 2-1 final, providing Tiley with the win.
Before the holiday break, Channell logged her first multi-point game, amassing a pair of assists in a December 8 win. Coincidentally, this offensive output took place against the Blades. Assisting on Brittany Howard’s second of season, it provided the Furies with a 2-1 advantage after the first period. Helping take advantage of a power play opportunity, Channell collaborated with Spooner on the eighth goal of the season by fellow rookie, and All-Star, Sarah Nurse.
As the league mentioned the number of All-Star participants in three separate announcements, Channell was among 12 players mentioned in the league’s second announcement, part of a group that included Brigette Lacquette and Liz Knox, both elected as All-Star captains via an online vote. One of four Furies to be named to the All-Star Game, joining the aforementioned Nurse and Spooner, plus fellow blueliner Renata Fast, it signaled a milestone in the newest chapter of her hockey odyssey,
”It was an honour to be selected into the All-Star Game in my first season. I honestly did not see it coming, and once I received an email I was pretty excited.
Knowing that I would be playing against the top girls in the league, the world even, was so cool to think about. There was, what, 20+ Olympians, and to be able to play with/against them was something I will always remember.”
Contested at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre, the fourth CWHL All-Star Game presented Channell with a pair of unique scenarios. Akin to the other first-time All-Stars on-hand, the thrill of skating on NHL ice, with a national television audience watching on Rogers Sportsnet, allowed for a feeling of relevance: “It was incredible to be able to play at Scotiabank Arena.”
In addition, the mid-season classic allowed Channell the cherished chance to call Nurse a teammate for the third terrific time. From their standing as revered rookies for the Furies, to their time as teammates from 2014-17 in Madison, Wisconsin, contributing towards maintaining the Badgers’ status in the Frozen Four conversation, the chance to don the regalia of Team Purple added another unique facet to their friendship.
While the All-Star Game featured eight Badgers alumna (including All-Star Coach Curtis Joseph), testament to the program’s star power, Team Purple saw Channell and Nurse joined by Blayre Turnbull, who scored the game-winning goal for the Calgary Inferno in the 2016 Clarkson Cup Finals, plus Worcester Blades blueliner Lauren Williams, the first pick overall in the 2018 CWHL Draft.
Undoubtedly, the players that Channell was keen to skate with on Team Purple included a prominent pair that have defined her progressive years on the ice. Renata Fast, also a teammate prior to their sojourn together as Furies, donned the paraphernalia of the PWHL’s Burlington Jr. Barracudas, while the chance to share the All-Star milestone with Nurse rekindled glories from their NCAA years, finding solace in the presence of valued acquaintances, while creating new memories.
Taking into account that Williams was also a teammate of Channell at Wisconsin, the feeling of reunion made the transition into All-Star players one that tapped into a highly satisfying past. Adding lustre to the All-Star experience was the fact that Channell and Fast, the key components of the Furies blueline unit, were able to play as defense partners on NHL ice for a period of play, an unforeseen yet pleasant opportunity,
“Yeah! It was a lot of fun to be able to call them teammates. Renata and I were teammates with Burlington, so it was so fun to be able to play with her again here in Toronto.
Then, once we both were picked for Team Purple I was pretty excited. We got to play one period with each other too which was fun because we do not normally get to with the Furies.
Sarah Nurse has been my teammate for five years now, and honestly going into the draft, all I kept saying to her was ‘I hope we are on the same team because I have not played a game without you in five years and I do not want that to change.’ She is such an amazing player, and seeing her transform from college into the player she is now is just… incredible. When my name got picked to be on Team Purple, it is safe to say I was very excited!”
Ruminating on a very proud highpoint to her rookie point, the most enjoyable aspect for Channell encompassed the entire happening itself. Adding lustre was the feeling of homecoming. Of note, she joined Fast for an opportunity to return to the rink they called home during their PWHL years.
Gaining the opportunity to meet with the current crop of junior players in Burlington, providing inspiration and generosity alike, simultaneously relishing the opportunity to come full circle. Allowing said players the privilege of attending the All-Star Game, they reveled in the opportunity to meet Nurse, another hockey heroine from the Golden Horseshoe, as she joined Channell and Fast on an empowering panel, part of a wondrous weekend supplying a lifetime of memories for all involved.
“Just the overall experience, from the community day on Saturday, to the game on Sunday. Renata and I were lucky that we got to go back to Burlington and Mainway Arena and surprised two teams with Adidas gift bags, a chance to come downtown Toronto for a panel with Renata, Nurse and I put on by Team Adidas, and tickets to the game.
Seeing how excited these girls were brought so much joy to my heart. It is exciting to see how much the game has grown, and how much more room there is for growth.
The game part (itself) was so much fun. Being able to play with all these incredible hockey players was something I will for sure remember the rest of my life.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: David St. Luka, Badgers Athletics
All-Star Images obtained from: https://twitter.com/mellissachan?lang=en