Durable and determined, Dania Simmonds assembled a spectacular career employing a dutiful work ethic that made her a significant asset. Numerous milestones defined such a tremendous run, one that entailed six seasons as a member of the celebrated Thunder franchise. The proud holder of the CWHL’s consecutive games played mark, Simmonds, who first debuted on CWHL ice on October 20, 2012 versus the Toronto Furies, quickly became a fan favourite in both of the Thunder’s homes: Brampton and Markham.
While the glory of the 2018 Clarkson Cup represented a proud summit for the affable Simmonds, it was the aftermath that accentuated her career. Adding the crowning touch that brought a tireless career to a historic and glorious climax, it was the ideal venue to commemorate Simmonds’ contributions to both, Thunder and CWHL lore.
Representing a feeling of celebration, the opening game of the 2018-19 CWHL season on October 13, 2018, became a marquee event for the proud Markham Thunder. Returning to home ice for the first time since defeating the Kunlun Red Star in the 2018 Finals, the wondrous women in green enjoyed a heroes welcome, highlighted by raising the championship banner in an emotional ceremony commemorating the emotional Cup win, the first in franchise history.
Equally essential during this notable night was Simmonds, who closed out the previous season tied for the most consecutive regular season games played, gracing the ice 148 times. Certainly, the off-season was one filled with an exciting anticipation for the veteran star. Akin to Hank Aaron, who was one home run away from tying Babe Ruth’s career record for home runs following the 1973 Major League Baseball season, Simmonds’ own hopes of rewriting the league’s record books, like Aaron, required commendable patience.
Undeniably, Simmonds’ return to the rink at the Thornhill Community Centre proved to be well worth the wait, as all facets of the game found her highly inspiring influence. From the outset, the championship banner ceremony concluded with a ceremonial opening faceoff, bringing numerous luminaries, including current and former CWHL Commissioners, along with the Honorable Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham. Fittingly, Simmonds represented the proud Thunder at the face-off, while Erin Kickham of the new-look Blades, having relocated from Boston to Worcester, joined her at centre ice.
In the aftermath of the face-off, Simmonds’ first strides on the ice signalled an illustrious brush with history, making the consecutive games record all her own. Prior to the start of the third period, fans were notified of Simmonds’ historic feat, skating in 149th consecutive game. Worth noting, the sense of milestones reached became a prevalent theme, as highly touted draft pick Victoria Bach recorded her first CWHL goal, capitalizing on a power play opportunity.
Gaining a heartwarming, and well-deserved, round of applause by fans grateful at watching history unfold, Simmonds’ new mark already supplied the nascent season with a memorable highlight. Although that first game of the season would also be Simmonds’ last, announcing her retirement postgame, there were fêted feelings of closure, affirming her standing as one of the Thunder’s greats.
Fittingly, Simmonds earned recognition afterwards as the First Star of the Game, supplying a spectacular storybook finish. As a side note, blueliner Laura Fortino earned Second Star honors, while the Third Star was bestowed upon Jess Jones, a former CWHL All-Star returning to the Thunder franchise after spending a season in Buffalo.
“It was quite the gesture and send off, I did appreciate it, and free Timmies (laughs)! It (the record) means a lot. I put a lot of time and effort into playing with the Brampton and then Markham Thunder over my career. I am thankful I could stay healthy during that time to play and that I had the support of my parents, family, and friends to push me and keep me going.”
Similarly special was the feeling of hoisting the Clarkson Cup over her elated shoulders. During Simmonds’ CWHL journey, the Thunder underwent significant ups and downs. Following her rookie campaign of 2012-13, the retirements of Lori Dupuis and Cherie Piper marked a change in franchise fortunes.
Followed by Jayna Hefford, the all-time leading scorer, not returning to league play after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it seemed sacrosanct not having such an accomplished star in Thunder paraphernalia. Sadly, the franchise fell into the doldrums, suffering last place finishes in consecutive seasons, capturing a cumulative total of merely 11 wins in regulation. Despite this difficult time, Dupuis ascended to the General Manager position, providing a sense of continuity, while Simmonds blossomed into one of the Thunder’s leaders, a fundamental component in the franchise’s resurrection.
Undeniably, such a role was a natural extension for Simmonds. Having served as team captain at the Midget AA level with the Toronto Jr. Aeros, followed by the honor of captaincy in her senior season with the Union College Dutchwomen, she was essential during the Thunder’s rebuilding. To have persevered through such a strenuous stretch was testament to her tenacity and standing as a strong leader.
With the Thunder finishing in third place in the 2015-16 season, returning to the postseason after a three-year absence, Simmonds also enjoyed the milestone of her first career goal, finding the back of the net versus the Toronto Furies on October 25, 2015. Scoring against former Clarkson Cup MVP Christina Kessler, as Becca King and Kristen Richards earned the assists, Simmonds’ goal also stood as the game-winning tally, adding luster to such a magical moment.
Having contributed towards the return to respectability, one that culminated with the celebrated achievement of a Clarkson Cup championship in 2018, it heralded Simmonds’ arrival in franchise lore. Considering the realization of this championship dream was accentuated by the fact that her name was engraved on the hallowed Cup, the milestone was also part of a much more profound narrative.
With the win occurring at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, home of the American Hockey League’s Marlies, who would capture the Calder Cup in 2018, there was certainly a feeling of home ice advantage for the Thunder. Of note, Simmonds, raised north of the city in the York Region suburb of Aurora, Ontario, enjoyed the privilege of friends and family in the stands, witnessing one of the sensational summits in her proud professional career.
The Final certainly generated a tremendous excitement for the women in Markham green. Liz Knox, one of the longest serving players on the roster, having gained renown back in 2012, becoming the first rookie goaltender to start a Clarkson Cup Final, was still looking to add the prestige of a championship in her odyssey. Additionally, just days before, Laura McIntosh, part of the same Draft Class as Simmonds, experienced the visceral and difficult loss of a close family member, adding a layer of emotion.
Televised nationally on Sportsnet, providing a major league feeling, as Laura Stacey scored in overtime for the Thunder, bringing a highly intense contest to a rapturous climax, it also brought a celebratory finish to the club’s inaugural season in Markham. Enhancing the moment was the fact that numerous alumnae from the Brampton era, including former GM Lori Dupuis were in attendance, simultaneously supplying the feeling that the franchise had come full circle.
Undeniably, the sense of euphoria extended beyond the game itself, taking a place in Canadian cultural relevance. Enjoying an audience with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the first CWHL team to earn the honour, another cherished element of celebration involved the allocation of Clarkson Cup championship rings, another unprecedented first in league lore. While the rings are definitely sporting artifacts unto themselves, it is also a constant reminder of this sensational summit. Reflecting on the Cup triumph, only the second championship in CWHL history enjoyed by the Thunder, it has taken on a mythical connotation, one that remains highly cherished by Simmonds.
“The highlight of my career! It was incredible being able to finally lift the cup, surrounded by teammates, friends and family, more or less at ‘home’. It’s also amazing to celebrate with teammates and friends that have been there with you through the ups and downs.”
While the consecutive games mark signified a coda for Simmonds, supplying a record-breaking tone to the start of the 2018-19 CWHL season, the ending resulted in a highly different fate. An unforeseen and abrupt ceasing of operations brought a tinge of tragedy to the female game.
Spending six full seasons garbed in Thunder paraphernalia, the chance to be part of such a time in the game’s growth consisted of a highly communal feeling. With the essence of competition and spirit of good sportsmanship a constant theme through each successive year, standing as the substance which made the game so enjoyable for a league luminary as Simmonds, so many of its aspects tug at her heartstrings, destined to provide with a residual warmth,
“(What I miss most is) the hockey… it is tough to leave it behind. Aside from that, it is definitely my teammates. We do see each other still but the atmosphere of a team is like a big family, one that you’re with basically every other day.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”