An integral player in bringing an unprecedented era of elite professional women’s hockey to Calgary, Delayne Brian’s career is synonymous with success. Whether it was competing for Canada at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds, backstopping the Robert Morris Colonials to a College Hockey America championship, or earning the gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, Brian was destined for greatness in Calgary.
Upon Brian’s arrival in Calgary, the existing franchise, Team Alberta, was transitioning into the new-look Calgary Inferno. Certainly, Brian’s presence helped to herald an exciting time. Following a bizarre turn of events, in which Hillary Pattenden, the first pick overall of the 2012 CWHL Draft, never played for the Inferno, Brian, who was selected with the sixth pick overall in the 2013 Draft, was the first goaltender taken in said Draft.
The franchise’s new look and name, along with the ascension of Brian to starting goaltender went hand-in-hand, leading to the beginning of an exciting era. Reflecting on that first season, embracing the underdog role, Brian was a driving force in helping the Inferno reach the post-season for the first time, symbolic of the theme of a new beginning,
“I think it was a good thing for the team to make the transition from Team Alberta to the Inferno so that we looked more like our professional sports counterparts in Calgary. The fact that our logo was a mix of the Flames’ ‘C’ and the Hitmen logo I think was pretty cool. It was a fresh start for the club, and for us to be the underdogs just pushed us to want to prove ourselves that much more.”
Compiling the first-ever winning season for an Inferno goaltender, Brian persevered through a surprisingly rocky start, displaying an indomitable spirit that came to be one of her greatest traits. Actually winless in her first four games, including a shootout loss in her CWHL debut on November 10, 2013 versus the Brampton Thunder, she would suffer losses against four different teams, including Boston, Montreal and Toronto.
With the onset of a new year, Brian reeled off three straight wins, the first Inferno backstop to achieve such a feat. All taking place on the road, she would start with a respectable 20-save effort against the Toronto Furies for a 2-1 win on January 12, 2014, gaining her first win. Including a pair of triumphs against Brampton, amassing 72 wins over the course of said wins, she resuscitated the Inferno’s postseason hopes.
Of note, Brampton would once again figure into Brian’s season. With a three-game home stand against the visiting Thunder to finish the regular season, Brian, whose record improved to 5-5 (one loss from the shootout), established herself as a franchise player. Starting with a dramatic 4-3 overtime win on March 14, the following day brought with it an identical score. On the final day of the regular season, Brian needed only 18 saves to end her season in grand fashion, recording her first career shutout, as the Inferno punched their tickets for Markham, Ontario, site of the 2014 Clarkson Cup postseason.
Undeniably, the three-game sweep versus Brampton not only marked a defining moment in Brian’s nascent time in the CWHL, it also signified the start of an upward progression for the franchise. Adding to the theme of history by becoming the Inferno’s first-ever recipient of a major award, capturing Goaltender of the Year honors during Clarkson Cup week, such a milestone cemented her revered place in team history,
“Receiving the top goaltender award in my rookie season was such a great honour. I was not aware that I was the first major award winner in team history, so that makes it that much more special. Obviously it goes without saying that my goaltending opponents were also well-deserving of the title, so it was definitely a surprise when my name was called to accept the award. Individual awards, however, always come back to the team and coaching staff in front of you and I will never forget the group we had in my first season.”
Raised in Winnipeg, there was a sense of serendipity for Brian in the fact that many notable players from Manitoba skated for the franchise. In addition to Brian, Jocelyne Larcoque was one of the most recognizable players in the Team Alberta navy blue colors. Ironically, she would be traded from the Inferno to the Thunder in exchange for fellow Ste. Anne native Bailey Bram.
Other notable Manitobans included Halli Krzyzaniak and Brigitte Lacquette, both part of the Inferno’s blueline unit, contributors the franchise’s final Clarkson Cup win in 2019. Worth noting, Taylor Woods, who grew up 132 km south of Winnipeg in the community of Morden also enjoyed the prestige of having her name engraved on the Cup, part of the Markham Thunder’s victorious roster in 2018.
Brian would contribute to the growing legacy of Manitoba stars who made their mark in Calgary, becoming an All-Rookie team selection, following Tara Watchorn, a 2013 All-Rookie team honoree. The succession of achievements constituted a profound narrative, with many other fantastic firsts to follow, affirming her place in Inferno lore.
Named to the first-ever CWHL All-Star Game, contested in December 2014 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Brian was selected in the Frozen Fantasy Draft to play for Team White, sharing goaltending duties with Genevieve Lacasse of the Boston Blades, along with league co-founder, and fellow Manitoban, Sami Jo Small of the Toronto Furies. As a side note, before their careers would end, all three would have their name engraved on the Clarkson Cup.
Taking into account that Small was the first goaltender from Manitoba to play on Canada’s national women’s team in the Winter Games, she served as a role model for Brian, who aspired to emulate her. As the 2007 IIHF Women’s Worlds were hosted in Selkirk and Winnipeg, that same year, Brian crossed paths with the legendary backstop, working at her goaltending camp. At that time, it would have been difficult to fathom that one day, the two would grace NHL ice as teammates in a professional women’s ice hockey event.
The 2014 All-Star Game not only allowed Brian an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her idol, there was also a treasured opportunity for levity. In the aftermath of the contest, which saw Inferno teammate Rebecca Johnston, score the game-winning goal for the opposing Team Red, an All-Star Skills competition, hosted by longtime Toronto Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen extended the feeling of celebration and achievement.
With Team Red and Team White renewing rivalries in the skills competition, there was a sense of play to the affair, an opportunity for comedic relief following an intense contest which did not disappoint. As contestants in the fastest skater competition were facing players from the bench throwing their gloves as obstacles, a rapid fire event brought about three goalies in the crease. As Boston Blades defensive stalwart Blake Bolden took to the ice to shoot for Team Red, the surprising and yet humorous sight of Brian, Lacasse, her Blades teammate, and Small occupying the goal mouth together brought with it chuckles from the crowd, embodying the feeling of amusement,
“Sami Jo was always someone I looked up to growing up. When I got to work her camp with her in Winnipeg as a 17-year-old, that was a dream come true. It’s so nice when you get the opportunity to meet your childhood hero and they turn out to be an even better person off the ice than they are on it.
The first All-Star game was such a great experience sharing the pipes with her and Lacasse. It was either Sami or Lacasses’s idea to go all three in at once, and neither of us are small goalies, so to say we build quite the wall would be an understatement! My five years in the league gave me so many memories (lots of ups, some downs), and that was certainly one of the moments I will cherish forever.”
During Brian’s first three seasons of CWHL play, goaltending duties were shared with the affable Kathy Desjardins. A star goaltender from the university level with Les Aigles Bleues de Moncton, and a Team Alberta alum, Desjardins’ value took on significant meaning in the run towards the 2016 Clarkson Cup.
Ending the regular season on the road versus the Thunder, the two were poised to oppose each other in the first round of the playoffs. With home ice advantage in said round at stake, the last game of the regular season provided the Inferno with a 5-4 win, although fatigue had taken its toll for both teams, in what proved to be a roller coaster contest. Scoreless through the first seven minutes, Brampton jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the next eight minutes of play. Having allowed a pair of goals in just 10 seconds during that stretch, the crestfallen outcome saw Brian pulled from the game, replaced by Desjardins.
After two periods, Calgary tied the game, and would take their first lead of the game at 1:52 of the third period as Brigitte Lacquette found the back of the net versus Erica Howe, another iconic goaltender who appeared in the first All-Star Game. Brampton’s Laura McIntosh would tie the game, capitalizing on a power play opportunity, reclaiming the lead.
Following McIntosh’s goal, the Inferno gained their first lead of the game, one they would not relinquish. Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid would score one of the biggest goals in her distinguished career, as Hayleigh Cudmore and Rebecca Johnston gained the assists on the game-winning tally, securing home ice advantage.
Desjardins recorded 25 saves in 45 minutes of play, in a performance that emerged as her finest hour. The night before, Brian posted 23 saves in a very valiant effort, which saw Brampton squeak by in a 3-2 win. It would prove to be the last loss versus Brampton, as back-to-back games on February 26 and 27, saw Brian remain poised between the pipes. Providing a full 120 minutes of play, Brian’s labors resulted in hard-fought wins by scores of 4-2 and 4-3, reaching their first-ever Finals.
Taking place at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, the first-ever Finals contested in an NHL venue, the first-place Canadiennes de Montreal entered as favorites to capture their fourth-ever Cup. Certainly, Brian believed that a win was possible. Although her last regular season meeting versus Les Canadiennes was a St. Valentine’s Day match on home ice that ended in a visceral 2-1 loss, the effort exerted, able to subdue a high flying offense, was evidence that the favored Canadiennes could be contained.
With many fans from Montreal making the 200 km trek to Ottawa for the Finals, there was definitely the sense that it was a road game for the Inferno, decked out in their white jerseys. After Brianne Jenner’s power play goal at the 15:53 mark of the first, the Inferno would never relinquish the lead for the remainder of the contest. Despite Montreal outshooting Calgary in each period (the cumulative total was 41-26), a 17-save second period for Brian served as the key to victory, with Calgary putting the game out of reach with a 5-2 advantage.
Prevailing by an 8-3 tally, the Inferno would sweep the Three Stars as Brian gained First Star honors. Rebecca Johnston, who scored the game’s opening goal, along with another in the third, earned Second Star recognition while the Third Star was bestowed upon Blayre Turnbull, whose second period goal proved to be the game-winning goal. With Brian also receiving Playoff MVP honors, there was a festive feeling of coming full circle. Taking into account Brian’s status as the first player in franchise history to win a major award, it was only fitting that she would be the first to gain the Playoff MVP nod.
“I knew we had the talent to win the Cup that year. Personally, I was having a terrible second half and Kathy (Desjardins) saved our butts a few times when I got pulled. The shoebox rink in Brampton was our kryptonite so the fact that we clinched home ice on that last win with Kathy standing on her head really helped us against them in the first round. After that, we knew we were not the favourites to win it all so we had nothing to lose. We had a few lucky bounces, but our girls just came to play that game. A moment in my hockey career I won’t ever forget!”
Following the epic Cup win, Brian and the rest of the Inferno gained the rock star treatment. From being honored in a pre-game ceremony by the Flames, to marching with the Cup in a local parade, followed by an audience with highly popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi, it marked a remarkable time of relevance for the Inferno.
Although the next two seasons brought with it variations on the Inferno’s goaltending picture, Brian remained focused on team success. The 2016-17 season signified the arrival of Genevieve Lacasse and Emerance Maschmeyer, one that culminated with the Inferno finishing first overall in the league standings, and a return to the Clarkson Cup Finals, although Maschmeyer was pencilled in as the starter.
Regaining the starter’s role in 2017-18, a season defined by expansion to China, Brian found herself surrounded by a pair of rookie goaltenders. Both Canada West superstars, Regina Rams record breaking goaltender Toni Ross and Lindsey Post, who led the Alberta Pandas to a U SPORTS National Championship in her final season, found a perfect role model in Brian, whose superlative efforts were critical in the Inferno returning to the postseason for the fifth straight season.
Despite the goaltending carousel, one that continued again in 2018-19, following Brian’s retirement, an announcement that took place on July 16, 2018, the same day that fellow teammates, and Cup champions, Jacquie Pierri and Brittany Esposito also made the decision to retire, there was never any doubt that she was the Inferno’s first superstar goaltender.
Headlining a sorority of superlative backstops, it served as one of the Inferno’s great legacies to the game. Including the likes of Desjardins, Lacasse and Maschmeyer, plus the rookie sensations Ross and Post, this legacy would shine brighter in what proved to be the Inferno’s final season (2018-19).
From the drafting of 2018 Winter Games gold medalist Alex Rigsby, plus former Connecticut Huskies backstop Annie Belanger, the result was the second Clarkson Cup championship in franchise history. Worth noting, Rigsby would join Brian in the fascinating sorority of Clarkson Cup championship-winning goalies, one that included Kim St. Pierre (2009, 2011-12), Megan van Beusekom (2010), Lacasse (2013, 2015), Christina Kessler (2014), Charline Labonte (2017), and Erica Howe (2018).
Serendipitously, Rigsby would also capture the CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, while defeating Les Canadiennes in her only Clarkson Cup appearance. Fittingly, this unique linkage shall see Brian and Rigsby forever intertwined, helping define a remarkable time in Calgary hockey history, one that Brian hopes shall be restored in the years to come.
“We have definitely had a good group between the posts as a franchise. It is hard to see the league fold, mostly because of the young Jr. Inferno girls that were always so excited to meet us after games. My hope is that a solution comes to light sooner rather than later, and those young girls can grow up to play in a sustainable, professional league, and hopefully the run of great goaltending in Calgary is not quite over yet. I know one Jr. Inferno that I have watched grow up in the crease for about six years now, and would love to see her playing for a team in Calgary after a successful college (and perhaps national) career.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”