As the Canadian Women’s Hockey League continues to grow, resulting in brand awareness and an increasing impact as home to some of the most talented women’s hockey players in the world, one of its cornerstones has involved opportunities to give back to the community while establishing worthwhile occasions to raise funds in a way that is enjoyable to all. Such a tradition continues with an exciting new event that promises to bring hockey aficionados together in a collective goal of keeping the women’s game strong while adding to the overall fan experience.
Starting in May, this admirable initiative to help grow the game shall be defined by the league’s inaugural Pave the Way ball hockey tournament. Calgary and Toronto, two of the CWHL’s premier markets shall host fundraising events on May 15, while Montreal will take on the role of host city for a date to be determined in June.
Proud supporting partners include sportswear technology company UHWK and KIND Healthy Snacks, who shall be providing granola bars for all participating players. Of note, UWHK will be on-hand in a tent, allowing participants the opportunity to observe a wearable camera whose mission is to innovate through video, while improving training and provide more real-time assessment of game situations.
In some regards, ball hockey has allowed many of the CWHL’s players an opportunity to appreciate the game from a different perspective, allowing them a new dimension to their off-season training while incorporating their love of the game. Perhaps the most unique aspect is the fact that so many players compete in different positions.
Ranking as the all-time games played leader in CWHL history, Kristy Zamora of the Toronto Furies does not occupy her forward position in ball hockey. On the ball hockey court, Zamora can be found between the pipes. Among her accomplishments, she backstopped the Toronto Shamrocks of the Greater Toronto Ball Hockey League to the 2015 Canadian national ball hockey championship.
Another member of the Furies that occupies a different position in ball hockey is assistant captain Alyssa Baldin. One of the CWHL’s rising stars, Baldin competes on the blueline when gracing the court, showing tremendous willingness to learn and escape her comfort zone by playing a different position,
“I enjoy competing in ball hockey because it is a great way to stay in shape throughout the summer! It is a ton of fun and it is a nice change from ice hockey! I am a defence in ball hockey so that’s a fun challenge for me. I am still working on my point shot!”
Teams can register online, although players without a team are still welcome, as they shall be sourced to fill out other rosters. Said teams will consist of 8-10 players, all participating in a series of contests lasting 20 minutes. All funds raised not only help contribute towards more than just a bright future for the league, but provide opportunities for growth in both the women’s and girl’s game.
Of note, the top fundraising teams will have a special opportunity to actually draft a CWHL player to their roster. Among the remarkable players that are eligible to be drafted at the Toronto event include Brampton Thunder captain and Sochi Winter Games gold medalist Jocelyne Larocque. As a side note, other Thunder players that are draft eligible include Jamie Lee Rattray (a two-time national ball hockey champion) and Laura Fortino.
Having competed in national ball hockey tournaments with her older sister Chantal, ball hockey has proven to be an exceptional source of enjoyment for Jocelyne, while strengthening an unbreakable bond between the two. In addition, Chantal Larocque is a world-class competitor who has also played for Canada at the International Street Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) Worlds, most recently capturing a gold medal in 2015. Such an exceptional career on the court has been a tremendous source of pride for Jocelyne,
“My sister got me playing ball hockey about 5-6 years ago and I love playing it! We’ve been fortunate enough to play at the Nationals together on a number of occasions. I love the opportunities when we get to be teammates! I am so proud of the two Ball Hockey World Championships she has won with Canada.”
One of Chantal Larocque’s teammates from the ISBHF Worlds, Delayne Brian shall be on-hand for the city of Calgary’s edition of Pave the Way. Home to the 2016 Clarkson Cup champions, the Inferno will see registered players bring stick in hand to Hayley’s Rink at the Silver Spring Community Centre. Recognized as Clarkson Cup MVP, Brian has also established herself as a superstar in ball hockey. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Goaltender at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland, Brian was the starting goaltender in the championship game against the Czech Republic.
Among the other women of the Inferno who proudly hoisted the Clarkson Cup last March, team veteran Kristen Hagg is eagerly looking forward to the event. As the Calgary event shall feature numerous players from the championship roster appearing at the inaugural Pave the Way, Hagg has spent her offseasons competing in the Calgary Women’s Ball Hockey League. Proud of ball hockey’s impact on her athletic career, it has allowed her the chance to play with current and past Inferno teammates (and Team Alberta alum) in a fun environment. Such values represent the feeling of teamwork as a unified effort to raise funds while providing fans with a positive experience, one that sees them meeting their hockey heroes (and possibly calling one a teammate), is defined by a win-win feeling.
“I think that any events getting fans out and interacting with one another and with players is a great thing. Ball hockey (is) great choices of activity for the obvious reason that it is something hockey fans would presumably enjoy doing; it is also a great idea to have something that anyone can participate without the need to know how to skate.
For numerous members of the Calgary Inferno, Clarkson Cup weekend actually served as their first exposure to ball hockey this year. Prior to Pave the Way, the CWHL hosted a ball hockey related function prior. Taking place on a warm Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, one day before the Cup finals, five players from both the Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal proudly participated in a ball hockey demonstration that involved 30 registered youth players.
Organized by the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation (OBHF), it was part of an exceptional female outreach weekend, proudly supported by both the CWHL and the the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA). The event also featured some of the members of Team Canada’s gold medal winning roster from the 2015 ISBHF Worlds along with a brief introduction about the OBHF. The following day, the OBHF had a booth inside Canadian Tire Centre as fans in attendance at the Cup finals were able to obtain pamphlets, view championship trophies and medals, along with obtaining hats and banners, enlightening patrons of the growing legacy of women in Canadian ball hockey.
Iconic Ontario Place shall look to add to the impetus generated from Canadian Tire Centre, serving as the venue in the Greater Toronto Area for Pave the Way. The CWHL’s two franchises in this market, the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder will join forces as co-hosts for the event. Participating teams will be found in Lot 2 at Ontario Place, with players from both teams on-hand. As a side note, Natalie Spooner will be playing on a team sponsored by Hogan Chevrolet.
Despite being classified as a tournament, the objective is built on fun rather than competition, akin to the excellent Hockey Helps the Homeless events, which many CWHL players have graciously donated their time to for several seasons. Pave the Way aims to be just as enjoyable, enhanced by the presence of many CWHL stars which shall be making amiable appearances. Such stars add to the sense of celebrating the game while allowing fans an opportunity to meet their favorite players in a pleasant environment.
Among such stars looking forward to the event is Emily Fulton, selected in the first round by the Furies in the 2015 CWHL Draft. Finishing her freshman campaign as the Furies leading scorer among rookies, she would also grace the ice at Air Canada Centre in the CWHL All-Star Game. After such a momentous season, the chance to build on this momentum in the offseason by greeting fans, encouraging participating players and the possibility of being drafted into a team combine for what hopes to be a memorable day.
“I am excited for a great day of ball hockey! Anytime we can bring people together to help grow the game is an exciting event; it is a time for fans, sponsors and players to interact where we otherwise would not get the chance to. I am sure it will be a competitive day filled with fun. It is just another step in the right direction to continue to grow the women’s game and also the CWHL.”
During its history, there have been no shortage of CWHL stars that have spent their offseason on the ball hockey court, displaying their tremendous skills in prestigious events such as the Hockey Night in Canada Play ON! Tournament, the Canadian Ball Hockey Nationals, along with the ISBHF Worlds. Considering that so many major cities throughout Canada feature elite ball hockey leagues for women, the sport is only destined to grow, running parallel with their ice hockey sisters.
One such player that has carved a remarkable legacy in ball hockey is Kori Cheverie, a great ambassador for the game in the Greater Toronto Area (and a charter member of the Furies). One of four Furies eligible in the celebrity draft, which also includes Baldin, Fulton and Michelle Bonello, she has also been a fixture in the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League. No stranger to the rivalry between her Furies and the battling Brampton Thunder, Cheverie acknowledges how ball hockey unifies traditional ice hockey opponents while creating new rivalries on the court.
“Ball hockey is something that more and more CWHL players are taking part in so this was a perfect partnership in my mind. It’s a great workout and an opportunity to keep the competition going with other teams (Brampton) throughout the summer. The Furies are also scattered on different teams throughout the league so there’s usually some bragging rights up for grabs each night!”
Along with Brampton Thunder goaltender Liz Knox, who plays defense in the league, the two were members of Team Italia at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, with Cheverie finishing among the team’s leading scorers. As a side note, former CWHLers Chelsey Purcell and Karolina Urban were teammates of Delayne Brian on Team Canada at the Worlds. Undoubtedly, the presence of the women of the CWHL has added an element of prestige to the ISBHF Worlds which is akin to the Four Nations Cup and the IIHF Worlds.
Considering that ball hockey has only helped to expand the impact of the CWHL, Pave the Way solidifies its influence. Proud to be able to participate, Cheverie sees collaboration as the key to a successful day as the event is an ideal way to celebrate the game, regardless of one’s team affiliations.
“I think it is a sport that is becoming more popular and there is an opportunity to compete at the international level and travel the world at the same time. Anytime we (Canadians) are able to travel and share our knowledge with other international teams about the CWHL or share our ball hockey experiences with our fellow CWHL players it is a win-win situation.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Images obtained from Twitter
To learn more about Pave the Way, please visit: http://pavetheway.cwhl.ca/
Donations can also be made at: support.cwhl.ca