While the city of Toronto is one of the world’s greatest hockey hotbeds, there are many that have volunteered their time and made significant contributions in helping sustain women’s hockey. Among the women that are establishing a firm foundation for a greater future to come is Deirdre Norman.
In addition to her duties as the Toronto Furies game day manager, her series of accomplishments comprise a remarkable body of work that have provided many women with an opportunity to play the game. Her first exposure to hockey came with family nearly a decade ago,
“It started at Trinity-Bellwoods outdoor rink in 2005 when I played shinny for the first time; with my husband and son. I fell in love with the experience; the cold, the sun shining, the expansiveness of the outdoor experience.
After that day I could not get enough shinny. I found my game with the women and I quickly realized that the women’s game was very different than the men’s game. The speedy young guns who somehow never passed to the women and the guys who didn’t want us on the ice made the game less enjoyable and harder to join. It only takes a few men with this approach to spoil the game.”
While the fight for sporting equality (especially in terms of ice time) is still a reality that exists in the game’s growth, the feeling of friendship that was fostered on the ice solidified Norman’s love of the game. In addition, it provided her with the motivation to add a new element of excitement to the women’s game in Toronto. Serving as the founder for The Women of Winter (TWOW), it would emerge as one of the most popular women’s hockey associations in the city.
“Cold, frosty nights on the ice at Dufferin Rink with women who knew each other only through the weekly shinny game made me realize that we were the women of winter and that this was something to be celebrated. So TWOW was born. Since 2005 we have advocated for women-only ice time; the opportunity to play an inclusive and safe game.”
Upon reflection, the founding of TWOW was the launching pad towards so many more remarkable achievements for Norman. Of note, TWOW has its own website, newsletter format and an innovative crowd sourcing campaign. One campaign that Norman has proudly encouraged is known as Go Go Goalies. The concept is that the team that hires a GGG (known colloquially as a rent-a-goalie) donates $20 for Right to Play for every game that the GGG plays for them.
In addition, she also organizes an annual outdoor shinny tournament. The opportunity to strengthen the women’s game at the grassroots level while building friendships; it is a point of pride for her. Taking into account that the tenth anniversary of the fabled event takes place in 2015, Norman is already hard at work in preparations. As a side note, it shall even feature a group of international players, only adding to the anticipation.
“The TWOW Outdoor Shinny Tournament is my greatest accomplishment. I believe that the men’s game has camaraderie but TWOW is about community; how we support each other through hockey. The TWOW tournament is a celebration of that community.
It is "Definitely the best weekend of winter every year" to quote one participant. Women look forward to it all year and many stories have come out of this tournament. Many friendships have been formed and certainly a sense of belonging has been fostered. We have played through rain, frigid cold and snow storms but the consistent element is the smiles on everyone’s face and the fun we have.”
Of note, Norman has also traveled internationally in her hockey adventures. Having first visited Iceland in 2010, she was among a group of 14 women that were part of a team competing in the Iceland International Ice Hockey Cup tournament. The involvement in Iceland has contributed towards building an annual women’s tournament. In 2011, Norman was joined by Sami Jo Small and her husband, Paralympic Games gold medalist Billy Bridges, who helped run skills classes and goalie clinics.
Many of the tournaments that Norman has helped organize and/or promote also come with a humanitarian aspect. One such example was the Sue Deacon Memorial Tournament. Among many women whose life was positively impacted by hockey, Deacon lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Norman helped organize a memorial tournament to honor her life and memory, with all proceeds going to cancer research.
Another tournament which holds special impact is the Furious Hockey Tournament. Having been hosted annually since 2011 at George Bell Arena, it is another fundraising event dear to Norman’s heart. A wonderful initiative in community outreach, it also features members of the Toronto Furies (hence the use of the word Furious).
Among the Furies that has proudly participated over the years, it reads as a venerable who’s who of hockey. From the involvement of Small and her spouse Bridges, to Tessa Bonhomme and Jennifer Wakefield, and current Amazing Race Canada contestant Natalie Spooner; their dedication makes it an event worth circling on the calendar. Hosted every May, the concept is that every participating team has at least one Furies player as a teammate.
“TWOW has hosted fundraiser tournaments – Furious Hockey – international tournaments whose goal is to bridge women’s hockey, the Iceland national team, a CWHL outreach game and inner city programs, just too name a few things. Our motto is ‘Changing the world, one rink at a time’.”
Of all the memorable moments in Norman’s proud tenure in women’s hockey, a great feeling of joy and validation emerged in March 2014. Taking into account her tireless contributions for the Toronto Furies, she has seen many of their players blossom into strong women, but earn the chance to become Clarkson Cup champions.
”When I think about the Furies winning the Clarkson Cup, I feel so many things. My heart expands a little for the team I call my own. I also feel so deeply the bitter-sweet nature of such a glorious moment when the elite women’s game does not have the deserved support or acknowledgement.”
Her dedication and commitment to the game stands as a remarkable body of work that honors a group of talented and pioneering women in an empowering time where women have challenged cultural norms. More than just a builder and a contributor towards women’s hockey in Toronto (recreational and professional) whose work may one day be worthy of the Order of Hockey in Canada, if any term can describe Norman, it would have to be role model.