Following the triumph of a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Games, Brianna Decker has valued into iconic status. From gaining entry into the Triple Gold Club for Women, an ensuring offseason was filed with celebration. Including First Pitch Ceremonies at multiple Major League Baseball stadiums, the prestige of an ESPY Award, talk show appearances and public speaking engagements, there was anticipation as to what would follow for a highly accomplished (and celebrated) Decker for the 2018-19 season.
Signing with the Calgary Inferno as a free agent, the distinguished Decker was joined by fellow gold medalists Kacey Bellamy and goaltender Alex Rigsby. Along with the acquisition of Zoe Hickel, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, and alum from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the result was an unprecedented American invasion of world-class women’s talent making their professional hockey home in Western Canada.
Among the highlights of Decker’s time competing for Calgary has involved the chance to call long-time rival Rebecca Johnston a teammate. Having opposed each other at the last three Winter Games competitions, along with multiple 4 Nations Cup competitions and IIHF Women’s World Championships, both have also added CWHL hockey hardware to their list of accolades and honors.
Johnston became the first player in franchise history to capture the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the league’s leading scorer, while Decker was a recipient of the CWHL Rookie of the Year Award when she wore the jersey of the Boston Blades in 2015. Fittingly, the two would become intertwined in an unfolding narrative that simultaneously affirmed their status among the game’s luminaries, while resulting in a fascinating brush with history.
“Playing with Johnny all year has been awesome. We push each other to get better everyday we are on the ice and hold each other to high expectations. She is very talented and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to play with her this year.”
Named as a participant in the fourth CWHL All-Star Game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, Decker was among nine members of the Inferno named to the mid-season classic. With the league announcing the participants over the course of three separate press releases, Decker, who had 17 points leading up to the Game, along with Inferno teammates Brianne Jenner and Hickel were mentioned in the final release. Other members of the Inferno that joined the aforementioned at the All-Star Game included Bellamy, Johnston, Halli Krzyzaniak, Brigette Lacquette, Rigsby, and Blayre Turnbull, comprising Calgary’s nifty nine All-Stars.
Worth noting, Rigsby and Turnbull wore the colors of the University of Wisconsin Badgers, calling Decker, capturing the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in her junior season, a teammate at Madison. Following the Game, Lacquette and Krzyzaniak would be part of a significant milestone in Decker’s sojourn as a member of the Inferno, recording assists on a landmark goal. Of note, a January 22 contest versus the Shenzen KRS Rays resulted in Decker logging the first goal of the game, obtaining the 50th point of her CWHL career.
Selected second overall by Team Gold captain Liz Knox in the CWHL’s Frozen Fantasy All-Star Draft, which determines the Game’s starting lineups, Decker was the only American-born player to grace the ice as a starter. Bellamy, Jenner and Johnston also represented the Inferno on Team Gold, all key contributors in a convincing 8-4 triumph over Team Purple.
Worth noting, there were several familiar faces from the US National Team that were also garbed in the Gold jersey. Hilary Knight, who has skated alongside Decker in three Winter Games (2010, 2014, 2018), along with a memorable run as Frozen Four champions with the Wisconsin Badgers, were also teammates once before in CWHL play, capturing a Clarkson Cup in 2015 with the Boston Blades.
Joined on Team Gold by the likes of Megan Bozek, who calls the Markham Thunder her club team, and Alexandra Carpenter from the KRS Shenzhen Rays, they were also teammates of both Knight and Decker with Team USA at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds and the 2014 Winter Games.
While the reunion enhanced the milestone of participating with Team Gold at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, Decker would actually return to the venue on February 14 for the second game of the Canada vs USA Rivalry Series. This was not the only memorable All-Star milestone in a memorable January, though. One week later, Decker was back on NHL ice, among another gathering of elite talent.
Across the continent at the All-Star Skills Weekend at San Jose, California’s SAP Centre, Decker was among four female stars of the game, including the NWHL Minnesota Whitecaps’ Kendall Coyne-Schofield, a teammate on the US National Women’s Team since 2011. Along with fellow CWHL All-Stars Johnston and Renata Fast of the Toronto Furies (who skated for Team Purple), both were also members of Canada’s contingent that earned a podium finish at the 2018 Winter Games.
Demonstrating the Premier Passer event, which sees participants attempt three skills over the course of one round: breakout pass, mini nets and target passing. The result involved Decker recording the fastest time in an astounding total of 1:06. Besting all other participants, Decker actually finished approximately three seconds faster than the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisatil, the top NHLer.
Unfortunately, all the heroines of female hockey were only demonstrating the actual events, except for Kendall Coyne who competed in the fastest skater event. Renata Fast demonstrated the Accuracy Shooting event. Johnston was involved with the Puck Control event, where the three skills that encompass the criterion of the event are: stickhandling, cone control and gates. Therefore, Decker was not considered eligible for the $25,000 prize awarded to Draisatil.
Such formalities were quickly evaporated by a dazzling show of support, as fans voiced their discontent online, believing that Decker rightfully deserved the same financial reward. With the hashtag #PayDecker trending rapidly, CCM commendably came forward, graciously supplying her with the same dollar amount that Draisatil received. Undoubtedly, a jubilant and grateful Decker euphorically beamed, humbled at the outpouring of support which composed another empowering chapter in her sporting chronicle, testament to her inspiring popularity,
“It was incredible how much support we all received on social media. Could not be more thankful to all the dedicated fans out there that posted about us women at the Skills Competition. When CCM told me about giving me the $25K, I was in complete shock but was in no surprise that a classy company like them stepped up in that situation.”
Sharing in the sense of achievement, fellow American Kendall Coyne made her mark by becoming the first woman to serve as a participant in an NHL All-Star Skills Competition. Nathan McKinnon, one of the offensive catalysts for the Colorado Avalanche was no longer available to participate in the Fastest Skater Competition. Following the announcement, a request was issued via social media by the Avalanche, asking if Coyne was keen to serve as his replacement.
Competing against seven NHL All-Stars including Cam Atkinson, Mathew Barzal, Team USA alum Jack Eichel, Miro Heiskananen, Clayton Keller, Connor McDavid, the Oilers franchise player, along with Vancouver Canucks rookie sensation Elias Pettersson, Coyne soared across the frozen perimeter, finishing with a terrific time of 14.346 seconds. Trailing winner McDavid by 0.968 seconds, Coyne’s accomplishment quickly became headline news.
Simultaneously raising awareness of the fact that the women of hockey were on-hand in San Jose, it propelled Coyne, Decker, Fast and Johnston into popular culture, an impromptu “Fantastic Four” of women’s hockey. A well-deserved achievement that is destined to serve as a watershed moment for the relevant and celebrated place that women hold in the game, its greatest legacy may be in the fact that it shall likely inspire a new generation of young girls to skate, emulating the heroics that took place following the shattering of the glass ceiling that was attributed to these wondrous women.
“Being able to take part in the NHL All-Star weekend was incredible! Thankful that the NHL allowed us women to be there to help grow our game. So grateful for the opportunity and hope the NHL continues to welcome us back events such as this one.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
All images obtained from Twitter
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