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Ailish Forfar plays for Team Canada at FISU Winter Universiade

In the hockey narrative of Ailish Forfar, the feeling of accomplishment reached greater heights with the attainment of a celebrated milestone. Named to Canada’s contingent for women’s ice hockey at the 2019 Winter Universiade, the privilege of wearing the Maple Leaf represented the realization of a lifelong dream for the pride of Sharon, Ontario.

Considering that the development of every player brings with it the dream of one day donning Canada’s colors on international ice, a well-deserved feat allowed Forfar the opportunity to achieve her long-time goal. Reflecting on the attainment of ascending to the status of world-class player, it brought with it a flood of emotion, finding jubilation in the privilege of not only representing her country, but school and community. Commenting on the impact of this significant event, it was also an opportunity for a gracious Forfar to pay tribute to her family, an invaluable source of support throughout all stages of her formidable hockey odyssey.

Forfar proudly displaying the Canadian Flag (Image supplied by Ailish Forfar)

“Being named to Canada’s team for the FISU Universiade was exciting and humbling, and a goal I set this year when I decided to continue playing in the CWHL. Having the opportunity to represent Ryerson and Markham on the international stage filled me with pride.

It was a really special moment to share with my family as well who has supported me for twenty seasons on the ice. They know the magnitude of this incredible opportunity and how many years of work and commitment had been a part of this journey.”

Worth noting, the honour of playing for Canada ran parallel to the realization of another empowering dream come true. Selected in the 2018 CWHL Draft by the defending Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder, making the leap to professional hockey only added to an already strong sense of momentum.

Forfar garbed in Markham Thunder green (Photo credit: Teri Di-Lauro)

From the outset, the spring of 2018 saw Forfar, who served as the celebrated captain of the Ryerson Rams, capture the Marion Hillard Award, testament to her strong leadership and standing as a hockey humanitarian. Following it up with the professional hockey opportunity, Forfar also remained true to her Ryerson roots. Staying on as a member of Lisa Haley’s coaching staff (Haley also possesses international experience, having served as a coach on Canada’s entry at the 2014 Winter Games), the 2018-19 season was one that saw her add to a budding hockey legacy.

Garbed in the franchise’s iconic green jersey for the first time on October 13, 2018, Forfar graced the ice at the Thornhill Community Centre against a Blades franchise that relocated from Boston to Worcester. Worth noting, Forfar holds her own unique ties to New England, having played with the Ivy League’s Dartmouth Big Green in New Hampshire, where she also called Laura Stacey a teammate.

Scoring the first goal of the third period by slipping the puck past Lauren Dahm, Taylor Woods and Laura Fortino, both Hockey Canada alumnae, earned the assists on said goal.

Forfar with Kristen Barbara, joined by the Clarkson Cup and Pikachu at the 2018 Markham Santa Claus Parade (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/thundercwhl?lang=en)

Among the unique elements of the Thunder, besides a culture built on a strong sense of both family and community, is the fact that many of its members, like Woods and Fortino, have worn the Canadian jersey at numerous levels of international competition. Such a celebrated group includes a pair of wondrous women that have also played in the Winter Universiade.

Fellow first-year player Kelly Gribbons, an alumnus of the University of Guelph Gryphons, and Liz Knox, also the first player in Thunder history to serve as a captain in the CWHL All-Star Game, both participated in the event.

Knox would capture a gold medal at the 2011 edition of the Universiade, playing alongside future CWHLers Ann-Sophie Bettez, Vanessa (Vinny) Davidson, Kim Deschenes, Carly Dupont-Hill, Andrea Ironside, Marieve Provost, Ellie Seedhouse, Candice Styles and Kelsey Webster. Gribbons competed for Canada in a silver medal outcome in 2017, skating alongside another grouping of future skaters in CWHL play, featuring Kelty Apperson, Catherine Dubois, Katelyn Gosling, Kelly Murray and Kaitlin Willoughby. As a side note, Rick Traugott, who served as Canada’s video coach, once served as head coach of the Thunder, when it called Brampton home.

Undoubtedly, their competitive background in this event was an invaluable source of stimulus, as Forfar found a wealth of encouragement. Jubilant in Forfar’s milestone, the sense of teamwork, and shared pride that can only come from being a Team Canada alum, resulted in a more confident player ready for her debut with the Maple Leaf on her jersey.

A jubilant Forfar during the opening ceremonies of the 2019 Winter Universiade (Image obtained from: https://www.instagram.com/ailishforfar/?hl=en)

“Knoxy and Gribbs were both very excited for me when I shared the news with them! They told me about all their favorite moments, what to expect, and some tips for the experience! I boarded the plane feeling both prepared and eager for the games, but I was still overwhelmed with how incredible the entire event was from start to finish. They did their best to hype up the games, but it went above expectations.”

For any player named to Canada’s team, the most notable sensation involves the feeling of wearing the jersey for the first time. Taking into account what it means for a skater to gain the chance to play for Canada, putting on the Maple Leaf encompasses a powerful emotion.

The landmark moment is one that a compassionate coaching staff acknowledged, led by head coach Stacey Colarossi of Laurentian University, adopting an initiative appreciated by the players. In a great display of leadership and benevolence, a jersey ceremony took place, presenting each member of Canada’s roster with their jersey, helping to commemorate a pinnacle.

Grateful at the chance to have the jersey bestowed to her, adorned with the letter A, signifying Forfar’s role as one of Canada’s assistant captains, extending a revered run of leadership that defined her tremendous time with the Ryerson Rams, it was an opportunity to fully absorb the realization of the dream becoming a reality. Worth noting, Forfar also became the first player in Rams program history to compete in women’s ice hockey at the Universiade.

“The coaching staff knew the emotions that wearing the Team Canada jersey would mean to the entire team, so they arranged a jersey presentation ceremony in the morning of our first game.

This allowed us to take photos, to absorb the feeling of this moment without being in the dressing room in pre-game mode. I had dreamed of this moment since I was a little girl and to hold the jersey in my hands was an experience I will never forget.

To be trusted with the honor of leading the team as an assistant captain gave me an additional drive to bring the team to a podium finish. We were united in our journey and although silver wasn’t the end goal, to walk away with a medal from this experience was a victory in itself.”

Forfar donning the Team Canada jersey, displaying her silver medal from the Winter Universiade (Image supplied by Ailish Forfar)

Taking to the ice in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Forfar and her fellow Canadians faced off against a gathering of nations including China, Japan, Switzerland, who were making their tournament debut, the United States, along with the host country Russia. The path towards the gold medal game for a talented Canadians squad saw Forfar contribute in the semi-final game.

Opposing the Japanese roster, one of the premier programs in the Pacific, Forfar logged a third period goal, gracefully soaring down the left wing, launching a puck into the right side of the net, nullifying any attempt for Japan to log a comeback. With goaltender Jessica Vance, a former Canada West Player of the Year, recording 19 saves for her third tournament win, Canada earned its sixth straight appearance in the gold medal game.

Considering that Canada became the first nation to win three consecutive gold medals in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade, its goal was to capture their first gold since 2013. With Russia and Canada clashing in the gold medal games of both 2015 and 2017, their dynastic paths crossed once again in 2019.

Despite the fact that Russia emerged victorious, players like Forfar exemplified a “never say quit” determination, valiantly battling, constantly working to frustrate their opponents. While the silver medal was not the objective, there was an element of national pride in the fact that both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams gained podium finishes in hockey at the Universiade, with the men’s roster taking bronze.

With Forfar adding to the Thunder’s lasting legacy of distinguished international players, the podium finish in Krasnoyarsk proved to be the beginning in a series of hockey-related accolades. Among Forfar’s initiatives in her journalism studies at Ryerson, she was part of a collaborative effort where the finished product was a program titled “CWHL All-Access”.

Blending her love of journalism and hockey, the episodes added a human element to the game, a spectacular platform, featuring a series of interviews that allow fans a unique access; the first episode involved Kori Cheverie, a former Toronto Furies skater who coaches on the Ryerson men’s hockey team, Tessa Bonhomme and Laura Stacey.

Holding the potential to be as integral to female hockey as the iconic “NBA Inside Stuff” was to basketball in the 1990s, Forfar and the team behind “CWHL All-Access” captured a pair of Tara Awards, a fitting reward in a labour of love for the multi-talented Forfar. Given out by Ryerson University, the award victories included Best Intermediate Sports On-Air Feature and Best Intermediate Video Production: Sport Media.

Forfar celebrating a 2019 Tara Awards triumph (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ailishforfar?lang=en)

Following it up with an opportunity to join the Yahoo.ca Sports team, working as both NHL Host and Content Producer, it served as the crowning touch to a breakthrough season. From supplying empathic guidance as a member of Ryerson’s coaching staff to a new generation of Rams skaters, enhancing her formidable leadership qualities to enjoying the milestone of professional hockey, it simultaneously allowed Forfar an opportunity to keep adding to her legacy as a hockey humanitarian. Attending numerous functions throughout the season, including the Conn Smythe Celebrity Sports Dinner with seven of her Thunder teammates, complemented by the promise of a stellar broadcast career, it has allowed Forfar the chance to gain new insight on the game, while demonstrating how women in hockey can be a positive influence in multiple facets of the game.

“This season was a mix of learning, enjoying the moment, and growing the game.  My CWHL rookie season was memorable thanks to my amazing teammates, and the opportunities we have to inspire the younger generation through events and attendance at our games.

I felt my impact was felt in these community events and left us all with special memories such as the Easter Seals Gala, or the Baycrest Alztheimers Pro-Am Warmup. I’m looking forward to making even more of an impression on and off the ice next season.

To end my season with the opportunity to represent Canada at the FISU games was truly the best way to wrap up year one as a professional player. It’ll be tough to top this year… but there’s a specific trophy we could win next season that would do the trick!!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”


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More about Mark Staffieri

Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Mark holds an extensive writing background. A contributor to Wikipedia since 2007, his writing endeavors have included writing for Bleacher Report (2012-13), the former CWHL (2012-15), the Legends Football League (2013-14), he was part of the team of writers for Hockey Canada at the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championships in Ottawa. In addition to composing more than 700 articles for Women's Hockey Life (since 2012), his current slate of duties includes covering female tackle football for Canada Football Chat, along with pieces for NowVIZ Magazine (digital format) since its inaugural issue. Also the publisher of allowhertoplay, a website devoted to the heroics of sporting heroines, Mark remains focused on raising awareness of the positive impact of women in sport.