As the Boston Pride’s inaugural season wound down, it ended on two very important notes. From the outset, the regular season saw their final home game bring one of the most emotional and compelling moments in all sport for 2016. With a game (and fundraiser) in honor of injured teammate Denna Laing brought with a great opportunity to unite and honor her toughness.
Laing held an even more special place in their hearts as the postseason began. After disposing of the New York Riveters in the opening round, an inaugural Isobel Cup finals matchup against Cinderella team the Buffalo Beauts would result in another convincing sweep. With Brianna Decker gaining MVP honors, the fans in Newark, New Jersey witnessed a powerhouse squad determined to bring the Cup back to Boston and dedicate it to their courageous teammate.
Proud members of the newly crowned Isobel Cup champions went to social media to express their feelings of jubilation and achievement. The following day, the Pride would visit Denna in the hospital and bring the Cup to her, surrounding her with devoted smiles and fondness. For hardcore hockey fans, it was an image that was reminiscent of when the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1998, proudly giving it to disabled teammate Vladimir Konstantinov, dedicating their season to him.
The road to glory for the Pride began on February 14, 2016 as it was one of the first events that publicly honored Laing. Considering that several members of the Pride roster helped to organize the event, it only added to the strong sense of team spirit and friendship. Paying tribute to an admirable teammate was more than an important moment for the franchise; it was a collective effort that powerfully captured the essence of teamwork.
Among the teammates that donated their time, there was one that may have known Laing better than others this season. Classified as a practice player, Cherie Hendrickson, who has also participated in the Boston Marathon, occupied the same role as Laing. Both observing the game from such a unique perspective, they both collaborated to try in the spirit of being dedicated to the team above all else. Such values represented Hendrickson’s motivation to be supportive.
“The whole season Denna has brought a positive presence to our locker room and sets an example with her hard work on and off the ice. She’s always enthusiastic about the team, and her attitude helps to set the tone. As a whole, everyone on our team has been willing to pitch in ideas and help out with her fundraisers because she has been such an integral part to our team dynamic.
Denna and I are both practice players, so we would often arrive to the rink together on game days and watch the game together from the stands or walk down to the locker room between periods tossing around ideas for what we could be doing better as a team.
One day we were discussing our role as practice players on game day, and she said ‘We didn’t agree to be on the team to make money, we signed up to be a part of the team, and that’s the important thing for us.’ I think that she lived out that attitude everyday whether she was playing or not. So it was a no-brainer to help out with her fundraiser…I know she would do the same for any of us.”
While Brittany Ott has made an impression on NWHL ice, from becoming the first American goaltender to win a regular season game, along with registering the first shutout in league history, she was moved to help out and make the Day for Denna one that could be memorable.
Considering that Ott had been on the ice when Laing suffered her injury, as a promising career took an unforeseen turn after such an unfortunate accident, she was compelled to help create a positive experience on a day that was destined to be incredible, delivering on all accounts.
“Without question, the most enjoyable part of helping organize Denna Day for the Pride was the opportunity to help our friend and teammate, Denna Laing. So often after her accident I had been looking for any little way to help out and this was just a small way I could lend a helping hand. I was more than happy to be able to throw some ideas around to help make Denna Day successful. Our GM Hayley puts a ton of hours and effort into making our productions successful behind the scenes so I give her a ton of credit for the great job she did assembling all the pieces for Denna Day.”
The approach to Laing’s recovery was one motivated on positivity. Although the initial stages seemed insurmountable at times, a series of small victories have interweaved into something inspiring. It is the type of focus on the fight to regain her mobility that has made a profound impression on Laing’s teammates, eager to show their support and encouragement.
Among them is Jillian Dempsey, who captured a league championship with Laing in March 2015. Having also skated against each other at the Ivy League level, where Dempsey starred with Harvard while Laing skated with Princeton, she remains in awe of Laing’s remarkable spirit,
“I am incredibly inspired by Denna’s positivity, resilience and determination to get better every day. She faces extremely difficult challenges, but somehow stays in high spirits and tackles each challenge with grit and a fearless attitude. There’s nobody tougher than Denna. Seeing Denna on the ice instantly brought to mind Winston Churchill’s quote: "Never, never, never give up." I have the fullest confidence that she will succeed in what appears to be her greatest challenge yet.”
Of note, another member of the Pride with an Ivy League background is highly familiar with Laing. Having enjoyed the privilege of calling her a teammate at Princeton, Kelly Cooke always found remarkable encouragement and motivation in her values and positive attitude. An assistant captain in her senior season with the Tigers, along with 2013 ECAC All-Academic honors, the two played together from 2010-13. Among the group of Pride players that participated in organizing the Day for Denna, she reflects on her friendship with Laing and what it has meant to be able to share in the hockey experience with her.
“Denna has inspired me in so many ways. Not only is she a great teammate, leading by example and always putting the team first, but she is also a loyal friend. Denna is caring and thoughtful and has always remained positive in any situation.
She brings the people around her up, and challenges us to be better teammates and people. Denna has always reminded me not to sweat the little things–to live in the moment and enjoy it–and she continues to inspire me each and every day with her positive outlook, grit and determination. I can’t think of a better role model, teammate, or friend.”
The game itself featured high stakes as the Pride and the Connecticut Whale continued to fight for first overall in the league standings. A 4-2 triumph in which the Pride outshot the Whale by an astounding 44-17 margin had improved the Pride’s record to a convincing 12-3-1 mark.
Dempsey would log an assist as the Pride definitely played with extra vigor and vitality. Among the players on the ice for the victory was Marissa Gedman, a second generation athlete whose father played for the 1986 American League champion Boston Red Sox.
One of only six Pride players that saw action in all 18 regular season games, Gedman also played in the inaugural Women’s Winter Classic. Having known Denna back in high school, when the two were students at Noble and Greenough.
“To be able to host an event in honor of Denna and to benefit her recovery fund is something myself and all of the Boston Pride organization feels strongly about. Of course, at a time like this, it is everyone’s sentiment that they want to do something to help. So to be able to play in honor of Denna, and on top of that to have her in the building to watch, that was pretty darn special.”
It was a special sentiment shared by all on the Pride, ecstatic to see their team return to the rink and witness first-hand the outpouring of love and support shown. For Brittany Ott, the chance to gain the goaltending win complemented a much bigger victory, one that resonated throughout the hockey community. Following the Isobel Cup victory, Ott and Cooke showed a great touch of class as they held a yellow T-Shirt with Laing’s name and number adorned on the back, an amazing reminder of what the championship truly meant.
“Having Denna on the ice with us was a proud moment for all of us. I’m incredibly proud of her for how much progress she is making, for her continual strength, and for the positive outlook she has every day. It’s truly inspiring to see and to see her at the game cheering us on, just gave me the sense of having an even bigger purpose than myself. The standing ovation and cheers from the crowd when they saw her on the ice really spoke volumes about how proud we all are of her.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Game photo credits: Meg Linehan
Isobel Cup images obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/cooke_kelly