With her name on numerous goaltending records, Delayne Brian is not only one of the most accomplished players in the first decade of the Team Alberta/Calgary Inferno franchise, she may also be its most influential. Arriving to Calgary via the 2013 CWHL Draft, where she was selected sixth overall, Brian quickly established herself in franchise lore.
Completing her inaugural season with a solid win-loss percentage of .895, including a won-loss mark of 8-5-0, Brian emerged as the recipient of the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award, becoming the first player in the history of the franchise to capture a major award. Considering that Brian’s achievement ran parallel to a major makeover for the franchise, abandoning its initial navy blue and gold colour scheme, rechristened as the Calgary Inferno, adopting the NHL Flames’ trademark colours, Brian’s presence between the pipes helped set the tone for this remarkable new chapter.
As the former Team Alberta club had never qualified for the Clarkson Cup playoffs, Brian’s assiduous efforts donning Inferno red for 2013-14 were part of a major paradigm shift. Reaching the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the confidence that Brian exuded was the launching pad towards a new philosophy, one that saw the Inferno capable of competing for the biggest prize in Canadian women’s ice hockey.
Although Brian would have to wait until her third season to reach the Clarkson Cup finals, it was an opportunity that she would capitalize on with tremendous results. While the Inferno would add key pieces to its offensive attack with a series of successful drafts, Brian emphasized her role as a key contributor, building on the legacy of a brilliant rookie season in 2013-14 that propelled the drive towards reaching championship ambitions.
Recording 38 saves, Brian played the game of her life, frustrating a dominant and favored Montreal squad that would end up vanquished in its third Finals appearance in four seasons. With a Montreal roster that featured iconic players, highlighted by iconic Winter Games hero Marie-Philip Poulin, Brian kept star players such as Ann-Sophie Bettez and Caroline Ouellette off the scoresheet as Calgary never relinquished a lead in the last 44 minutes of the game, part of a phenomenal 8-3 final.
In a decade that also saw the University of Calgary Dinos capture the Golden Path Trophy, awarded to the national champions in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the Inferno’s Clarkson Cup victory not only complemented such a monumental victory, it provided a pair of hockey milestones that took on the same relevance and mythology as the Calgary Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup championship.
Recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the Clarkson Cup finals, it was an honour that enhanced her remarkable playoff run, leaving an indelible mark on Calgary sports history, while affirming her place in franchise lore.
“Of course, that is my career highlight with the Inferno and one of the proudest moments we have had as a team over my time with them. It is truly something I am so grateful that I was a part of, and something I will never forget.”
Throughout Brian’s distinguished career, she enjoyed the privilege of competing on NHL ice. In addition to a series of Inferno home games at the Saddledome, one of the city’s great architectural marvels, two significant career milestones also resulted in the chance to grace NHL ice in other markets. From the outset, the aforementioned Clarkson Cup finals took place at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, the first-ever finals contested in an NHL venue.
Prior to the glory of the Clarkson Cup, Brian also enjoyed the privilege of competing in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Hosted at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in December 2014, she donned the jersey of Team White, sharing goaltending duties with Toronto Furies co-founder Sami Jo Small and Boston Blades backstop Genevieve Lacasse. As a side note, Inferno teammate Jessica Campbell served as the captain for Team White, marking the first time that a rookie was bestowed the honor.
While history was definitely the theme of that memorable All-Star event, Brian also managed to incorporate a sense of levity. In the aftermath of the contest, Toronto Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen hosted the All-Star Skills Competition. During one of the shootout events, all three Team White goalies stood in the crease, providing one of the most amusing moments of the dazzling day.
Undeniably, the chance to appear on NHL ice in three major Canadian markets served as a proud milestone, highlighted by a Saddledome shutout on March 16, 2014 that saw Taryn Peacock log three points in a 4-0 triumph against the Brampton Thunder. Taking into account that the rise of professional women’s ice hockey brings with it so many positive elements, the occasions of competing in such memorable venues served as a validation of the major league status that these wondrous women have worked for.
“It is true, playing on those rinks was a lot of fun. We played in Calgary my first two years as well and I actually got my first CWHL shutout in Calgary, so that is obviously something that will stick with me. All that being said, I hope to see the league at a place one day in the future where we have to play in NHL rinks because we have that many fans that recognize the work the CWHL athletes put into their careers on and off the ice.”
The jubilation of victory and achievement for Brian was also compounded by the desolation of reality. In the aftermath of the unprecedented Clarkson Cup triumph, the season to follow resulted in a new reality. During the offseason, the Inferno drafted Harvard Crimson goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, who led Alberta to a gold medal at the 2011 Canada Winter Games. In addition, the club acquired Genevieve Lacasse, another member of the goaltender’s club that has captured a Clarkson Cup title.
Although all three goaltenders have enjoyed the privilege of donning the Hockey Canada jersey internationally, such an embarrassment of riches also resulted in a crowded goaltending picture. Sadly, Brian found herself relegated to a backup role. Although the Inferno coaching staff managed to reasonably share playing time between all three, it was not a situation that Brian had foreseen.
Considering how positional controversies in other sports, most notably the quarterback in football (defined by the tension between Joe Montana and Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers), it would have been very easy for Brian to become disillusioned and vocally express her dissatisfaction. Instead, it was one of Brian’s defining moments, displaying a remarkable professionalism, conducting herself with a commendable dignity. Brian would also be rewarded for her patience during the season, posting a brilliant 7-0 mark, including a shutout of the Boston Blades on October 29, which was also her season debut.
Such demeanor also prevented the formation of a three-headed monster between the pipes that could have easily tarnished the team culture and derailed its hopes at remaining among the league’s upper echelon. The result was that the Inferno finished first overall in the league standings, a historic first for the franchise that Brian certainly contributed to.
While it was understandably a difficult time, the professionalism and maturity of Brian not only set the tone for a season filled with team achievements, it also set a positive example. Testament to her strong yet reliable leadership, it demonstrated to the younger players how the team first approach, even at its most challenging times, is the right path.
“I will not lie and say it was easy. We all obviously wanted to play, and we all wanted what was best for the team’s success. Going from such a high the previous season in being the starter and winning the Cup, to not playing many league games and zero playoffs games was not great if I am being honest.”
Change would emerge as another key theme for the Inferno’s goaltending situation heading into the 2017-18 season. With Lacasse a member of Team Canada’s roster for the Winter Games, while Maschmeyer was shipped off to the Canadiennes de Montreal, replacing the newly retired Charline Labonte, it provided Brian with an opportunity to reclaim her role as the starting goaltender, simultaneously extending her legacy.
Playing under new head coach Tomas Pacina, Brian was joined by a pair of first-year goaltenders with proud Prairie roots. Toni Ross rewrote many of the Regina Cougars goaltending records, while transplanted Easterner Lindsey Post led the University of Alberta Pandas to the 2017 Golden Path Trophy.
While these new faces enjoyed the privilege of calling Brian a teammate, forming close friendships during the season, the greater gift may have been the chance to learn from Brian. With both goaltenders enjoying an admirable transition into the professional ranks, Brian’s mentoring definitely solidified her place as one of the team’s cornerstones.
Gaining a franchise record fifth consecutive postseason berth, which coincides with every season that Brian has been with the Inferno, there was a combined sense of motivation and redemption. Considering that Brian did not gain the start in the 2017 Clarkson Cup Finals, the honor went to Maschmeyer instead, it was not the note on which she wished to end her sparkling career.
Considering that the three goaltender situation for the 2017-18 season was much more positive, it also provided Brian with the platform to truly leave on her own terms, proud of the legacy that was formed, while gaining a chance to compete in the postseason once again. Although a disappointing first-round exit was not how the Inferno envisioned the end of their season, the chance to compete against the Kunlun Red Star in their first-ever postseason series brought with it a sensational sense of history.
Taking into account that it also allowed Brian the chance to oppose All-World goaltender Noora Raty, the recipient of the 2018 CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, it was an opportunity for Brian to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the game’s modern greats. With the deciding game of the series versus the Red Star going to triple overtime, Brian and Raty both logged 114 minutes of ice time. In spite of the fact that second generation star Alexandra Carpenter scored the overtime winner, the fans at Angus Glen Centre were privy to one of the greatest goaltending displays in CWHL history, the type of valiant performance that added to Brian’s legend.
“I think because of that, though, I wanted to come back for one final season and leave a sweeter taste in my mouth at the end of the season with the Clarkson Cup back in Calgary. Unfortunately, we lost the final game of the semis in triple overtime, but that team is the best I have ever been on.
We could not have any regrets because we left everything on the ice and had each other’s back, and you can’t ask anything more from yourself and your teammates. I am honoured to have finished my career with the group that I did.”
With such a spectacular body of work, the on-ice achievements, which included Brian becoming the first goaltender in Inferno history to appear in 70 regular season games, only constitute part of the experience of competing for the Inferno. Considering that the women of hockey are role models for an entire generation of young girls, such privilege is one that Brian does not take for granted. As one of the cornerstones for both the Inferno, and the CWHL, is based on a positive fan experience.
From partnerships with junior teams, plus commendable postgame autograph sessions, and public events during Clarkson Cup weekend, the connection with the fans defines a key legacy for Brian. Happy in the knowledge that an autograph or photograph made someone’s day, especially with younger fans, it proved to be an experience that not only enriched the pleasure of being a professional athlete, it provided memories that shall be cherished in the years to come.
“All of the on-ice stuff is obviously what you grow up playing for. You just love the game and do what you can to keep playing at a high level.
However, that being said, I think one of the things that tears at my heart strings the most is the partnership with the Jr. Inferno and all of the kids and fans that stick around after our games to get autographs. The little girls and boys that are so excited just to get to talk to us after we’ve played a game is what makes me the most proud of our team and the league as a whole.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Jess Bazal, Dave Holland
Other images obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/InfernoCWHL/