For any goaltender, a sign that they have truly arrived and can be worthy of being recognized as a luminary among their peers is enhanced by the achievement of a championship. In Delayne Brian’s accomplished career with the Calgary Inferno, competing in the 2016 Clarkson Cup finals served as a vessel to propel her into such superstar status, subsequently building her legend. If the 2013-14 season, her first in the CWHL was her coming out party, the aftermath of the 2015-16 postseason established her legend, as her Cup victory was complemented by Playoff MVP honors, comprising a seminal moment in her career.
After the heartbreak of first overall pick Hilary Pattenden deciding not to suit up for the franchise in the autumn of 2012, the arrival of Delayne Brian one year later not only eased such loss, it would prove to be a turning point in franchise history, fully fleshing out the goaltending picture for seasons to come, as the Inferno era was sparked. Helping lead the Inferno to their first-ever playoff appearance in 2014, her inaugural season was also highlighted by earning the league’s Goaltender of the Year Award. Such achievement would prove to be merely prologue.
Over the last three seasons, Brian has compiled a sparkling won-loss mark of 30-14-2, highlighted by back-to-back seasons with at least 11 wins and 1000 minutes, respectively. Of note, her 30 wins over the last three seasons are the most of any goaltender in CWHL play. In addition, she has logged three straight seasons with a goals against average under 3.00.
During the 2015-16 season, Brian would continue to shine. Starting said season with a trio of consecutive wins, including a 7-0 shutout of Boston on Halloween, she would gain her next shutout on November 21, a road win against the Toronto Furies. Said shutout would launch another winning streak, one stretching from November 21 – December 5, resulting in five straight wins.
By season’s end, Brian had registered several milestones, including 50 career starts and the 30th win in her career, the first in Inferno franchise history to reach such marks. Adding to such a feeling of achievement was the fact that Brian made a career-high 20 starts this season.
The magical 30th win took place during one of the most memorable moments of the regular season, as the Inferno hosted their fundraiser for Do It for Daron, a 4-2 final against Les Canadiennes de Montreal on February 13. One week later, a road contest against the Brampton Thunder resulted in Brian’s milestone 50th start. Another unique highlight that took place this season for Brian was the fact that she surpassed the 1000 career saves. She would reach the plateau on January 17, 2016, part of a 3-2 win vs. Toronto.
Having stood between the pipes for every playoff game in Inferno history, Brian came into the finals with an added sense of motivation. During the 2014 and 2015 Clarkson Cup playoffs, the Inferno had been swept by the Montreal Stars in the first round. With the team rechristened as Les Canadiennes de Montreal, the club entered the 2016 finals as a favorite, having finished first overall in the league standings, while boasting the top four players in the league’s scoring race.
Despite this, there were a number of unique subplots, highlighted by the presence of star players from Les Canadiennes and the Inferno. From living legends such as Caroline Ouellette and Hayley Wickenheiser opposing each other in the Clarkson Cup finals for the first time, to current superstars including Marie-Philip Poulin and Inferno captain Brianne Jenner facing off, the goaltending rivalry between Brian and Labonte was equally noteworthy.
Not only have Brian and Labonte been the winningest goaltenders in the CWHL since 2013, having also opposed each other at the first two CWHL All-Star Games, it has represented one of the finest goaltending rivalries in league history. Although both are among the most consistent goalies of their era, each embodies professionalism, hard work and a sincere loyalty to their fans.
Both looking to stake their claim to be the league’s finest, one that can only come with a title, their rivalry culminated in a Clarkson Cup finals matchup. Contested at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, the first contested on NHL ice, each goaltender was looking to win their first-ever Cup.
“In regards to all of the Montreal supporters and us being underdogs, I think we as a team knew all along that we could beat them. We went 2-4 against them during the year so we had beaten them previously. We knew if we all came to play that we should be able to get them job done! It’s also a lot less pressure when you’re considered the underdog so we were completely fine with that.”
Brian would maintain a steady presence between the pipes, providing the team with confidence. With Les Canadiennes outshooting the Inferno in the second (18-9) and third (13-7) periods by a cumulative mark of 31-16, Brian was a stone wall, nullifying the efforts of prolific scorers including scoring champion and league MVP Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Emmaneulle Blais and Caroline Ouellette, which worked tirelessly in attempting to mount an aggressive offensive attack.
Adding to the confidence of the Inferno was the fact that Brian quashed two Canadiennes power plays in the first period, setting the tone for the masterful goaltending performance to follow in the second and third. Showing no fear against such a powerful offense, she would continue to suppress their ambitions. The Inferno would respond by scoring three times in the second, while Montreal only mustered one goal, providing their valiant goaltender with a more comfortable lead.
Engaging in a series of larcenous saves as Les Canadinnes failed to capitalize on a pair of power play opportunities in the final five minutes of the game, as any chance of a comeback would slowly slip away. Brian’s abilities were the game changer, providing the Inferno with the assurance that triumph and the opportunity to ascend into hockey immortality was possible.
After suffering from a pair of winless postseason efforts in 2014 and 2015, Brian would find redemption in 2016, not only gaining the first playoff win of her career, she would record a stellar 3-0 undefeated mark. Having played every minute in the Inferno’s playoff journey, she would log a solid 2.67 goals against average, compile 85 saves, highlighted by a .914 save percentage, while never relinquishing a lead. It was all part of a legendary performance that resulted in not only being recognized as the First Star of the Game for the Clarkson Cup finals, but the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 playoffs. Despite such honors, Brian remains humble about her brush with greatness,
“I was definitely shocked I was given the MVP award. To be honest we had so many amazing players contribute to our success that I imagine it would’ve been tough to give it to any one player so they just gave it to me as default.”
Along with Inferno teammates Bailey Bram and Brigitte Lacquette, Brian could now add her name to the list of Manitobans that have won the coveted Clarkson Cup, one that also includes Toronto Furies co-founder, and fellow goaltender, Sami Jo Small. Having enjoyed the privilege of calling her a teammate during the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Brian was exceptionally proud to be able to share in the career milestone of Clarkson Cup champion with such an exemplary figure in the game,
“Sami Jo Small also won it with Toronto a couple years back. To be in any type of category with a player as herself is definitely an honour.”
Their accomplishments are woven into a glorious tapestry part of a growing legacy for female sport in Manitoba, simultaneously adding to the rising reputation of the province producing elite women’s ice hockey talent. Along with the emergence of blueliner Halli Kryzyzaniak as a future star, the impact of Shelby Bram and Tatiana Rafter with the Buffalo Beauts during their inaugural season, and the long overdue return of the Winnipeg Jets, the province may need to be renamed Hockey-toba.
A compelling figure whose graciousness and greatness shall never be taken for granted, Brian has contributed to the mythology of the Clarkson Cup while catapulting the Inferno into rarified air. Among the forces contributing to a new glorious era of professional women’s hockey, enhanced by increased fan support, televised matches, NHL support, All-Star Games, Brian is a symbol of such rising prominence, a role model whose humble heroics represent a greatness that defines what makes the game so enjoyable.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Action shot by Justin Tang (Canadian Press), First Star of the Game image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/InfernoCWHL/