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Friendship Defines Unforgettable Gold Medal at Ball Hockey Masters in Banff

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While the early years of the century have seen Canada experience golden glories in the Winter Games, its accomplishments in ball hockey comprise an equally formidable legacy. Having experienced a podium finish (including four gold medals) in the first five ISBHF World Championships, Canada has added to its status as an international hockey power by capturing its second gold medal at the World Masters Competition.


Held on Canadian soil in Banff, Alberta, it marked the first time that a host country captured the women’s gold medal. Sara Ross and Arsenault would set the tone in the preliminary round, leading all competitors with seven points, while Nathalie Girouard did not allow a goal, posting an impressive four shutouts. Sheila Elliott and Silvia Traversa would each account for six points.

Six teams were on-hand, including teams from rival Slovakia and the United States. The remarkable amount of Canadian talent actually resulted in three different teams donning the Maple Leaf on their jerseys.

Defeating the United States in the gold medal game in a hard-fought 2-1 final (which saw Clarissa Arseneault log the gold medal winning goal), it marked the second consecutive time that Canada obtained Masters gold, also winning the inaugural tournament, which was hosted in Tampa, Florida. As a side note, Canada’s men’s team also emerged with the gold medal. Such a victorious outcome represents an exceptional aspect of sporting Canadiana.

The wondrous women that comprised Canada’s golden entry represented a glorious tapestry of players from many backgrounds. Undoubtedly, such a roster read as a who’s who of women’s ball hockey. Perhaps the most defining aspect of their second straight gold medal in Masters play is reflected by a mutual respect among players and coaches alike, friendships forged over the course of many seasons spent competing in exciting CBHA National Events.

For some, those exciting seasons also involved the chance to represent Canada at the ISBHF level, shining on the game’s biggest stage. Among them was goaltender Nathalie Girouard, undoubtedly, one of the world’s finest at her position. Having experienced ISBHF gold on home soil in 2013 (winning in St. John’s, Newfoundland), the chance to be part of the World Ball Hockey Masters in Banff, Alberta only adds to Girouard’s growing legacy,

“Being on home soil just made it so much easier and more accessible for our fans to be there more, most players had family members  and friends who came to watch with made it that much more special. Nothing like getting a real hug or high five right after your game.

However it does bring a different type of pressure… You never want to disappoint your fans and you always want to perform at the best of your abilities… A lot of the players at the Masters level have kids and had the opportunity of bringing them along, it also allowed them to see a high level of ball hockey. A lot of these younger fans were excited about bringing back the memories and play/promote ball hockey in their community.”

Having also called Girouard a teammate at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, resulting in another exciting gold medal for Canada, Silvia Traversa is one of the finest ball hockey players to have hailed from British Columbia. With the BC Selects having captured the bronze medal at the 2016 CBHA Nationals, it allowed for another treasured experience in her remarkable career.

As the Masters allowed Traversa to don the Canadian jersey for the fourth time in her accomplished career, the chance to do so on home soil made it so much richer from a personal and competitive point of view. Akin to so many of the accomplished women that graced the court for Canada at the Masters, the love of competition and enjoyment of the game kept Traversa young at heart.

“It meant so much for me to be able to represent Canada and wear the maple leaf for the fourth time at the Masters Worlds.  I did not know what to expect going into the tournament because it was my first time playing for the Master Team. 

We had an amazing group of players and staff that arrived in Banff with one goal which was to defend our championship and being able to repeat as champions on home soil is something I will never forget.”

Making her debut as Team Canada’s head coach was Mandi Duhamel, whose remarkable ball hockey career reached several hallmarks in 2016. In addition to the golden outcome at the Masters, Duhamel would also grace the court with Calgary United, capturing the CBHA National Tournament. To make such history as both player and coach in one season represented an amazing feat for a figure whose legend only continues to grow.

Despite her status as a first-year coach at the Masters, Duhamel has assembled an impressive coaching resume in the realm of ice hockey. In addition to serving on the coaching staff of Shelley Coolidge at Carleton University, Duhamel would also return to her alma mater, the University of Ottawa, working with head coach Yanick Evola.

While Duhamel was a member of the Carleton Ravens coaching staff, an invaluable experience involved an opportunity with international women’s hockey. In 2011, Duhamel gained a place on Team Canada’s coaching staff for the FISU Winter Universiade. Contributing towards Canada’s second gold medal, the experience proved to be a key factor in shaping Duhamel’s confidence, while setting the foundation for the glorious outcome that defined a memorable 2016,

“I think all of my experiences from the local to international level contribute to becoming a head coach. Every time you’re on a bench you pick up new ideas, different views and learn the tricks of great coaches in Canada.

The FISU games provided me with International experience and a greater understanding of the expectation level that comes with leading Team Canada in any sport, especially hockey.

Receiving that gold in Turkey set my sights higher than they’d ever been before. Getting this opportunity with the Canadian Ball Hockey Association allowed me to put forward my own style of coaching, jump into the role and have a lot of fun with it.”

Currently on Danielle Goyette’s coaching staff with the Calgary Dinos, also working alongside former NHL competitor and Calgary Inferno head coach Tim Bothwell, Duhamel’s coaching acumen only continues to develop. Among the coaches that she has enjoyed the privilege of working with, the chance to work with a highly respected peer was a strong point of pride at the 2016 Masters.

With Masters gold allowing an exciting milestone in Duhamel’s career, the chance to achieve this with assistant coach Danika Smith only enhanced the golden luster. Of note, Duhamel and Smith were teammates with both the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the CWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators. Having also both graced the court in the ultra competitive OVWBHL, the two have developed a mutual respect that defines one of Ottawa’s most accomplished hockey careers,

“It certainly set a high standard! (laughs) Winning the gold was an awesome accomplishment but what meant the most was having Danika Smith on the bench with me and the amazing group of women who left their hearts on the floor.

The camaraderie and respect that grew amongst the group in a very short time was remarkable, and showed the character of the players. Danika and I had a plan going in that lead to our goal of making sure our players were pushed to be their best while feeling respected and most of all having fun.

I believe we achieved that goal. I gained a lot of confidence in Banff and plan to continue my coaching adventure with ball and ice hockey.”

In reflecting on the Masters experience, Shelley Cockerill, the first captain of the Manitoba provincial women’s ball hockey team, acknowledges that the collaborative efforts of Duhamel and Smith certainly helped establish a positive tone which definitely translated into a victorious outcome.

While the gold medal represents a proud achievement for Cockerill, complementing her outstanding legacy as one of Manitoba’s true ball hockey legends, her reflections represent a bigger story, one that saw a mutual feeling involving both the love of the game and the strong sense of national pride allowing the team to quickly bond,

“My favorite moments were actually spending time and getting to know my team mates… Most of whom I met for the first time upon arrival. My room mates were so amazing and so much fun that we actually took "family" photos in our room.

The combination on Mandi and Danika as our coaches really made the whole experience that much better. They knew exactly what to say to inspire and motivate us to get better every game.”

Gracious and humble, assiduous and enthusiastic, Danika Smith embodies all that is great about the growing sport of ball hockey in Canada. With a trademark smile that displays great confidence and happiness, she was the perfect choice to serve on Canada’s coaching staff.

While the gold medal adds to a seemingly endless list of remarkable ball hockey accomplishments for the sensational Smith, the Masters experience truly defined why she loves this game. Always approaching the game to come with a team-first approach, Smith explains why she relished the opportunity to serve on Canada’s coaching staff,  

“Mandi and I have been really good friends since we played at the University of Ottawa together. It felt really easy to be on the bench with her. We communicate really well and we trust each other too.

The last time I coached with her was in University teaching clinics at Sandy Hill Arena with the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association. Since then she has been working extensively in coaching for the last 10 years in the CIS and in her role at Hockey Canada.

In theory, I have known she has been working to become a better coach. Yet, to actually experience being on the bench with Mandi was an incredible opportunity. She has really become an outstanding coach.

I know she has worked with some great mentors over the years and she has obviously taken full advantage of those opportunities. Some people asked me why I would spend my vacation “working”, but being on the bench with Mandi was exactly how I wanted to spend my summer holidays. I loved every minute of it.”

Also a former competitor with the Ottawa Gee-Gees at the university level and the CWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators, Isabelle Aube holds a legendary impact on hockey in Canada’s capital region. Having both known Duhamel and Smith for many years, both on the ice and on the court, all three are synonymous with legendary hockey status in Ottawa.

In addition, Aube has represented Ottawa’s proud ball hockey legacy at the international level, having donned the Team Canada colors with the likes of Fannie Desforges, Elysia Desmiers, Natalie Girouard and Smith as teammates. With the Masters representing a new milestone in her career, she was proud to share it with so many familiar faces,

“Of course (smiles). I hope to have more representing our league at the next Masters worlds. It was great to meet new teammates but always fun to play with gals from Ottawa.”

With a bronze medal at the 2015 nationals among Dube’s recent accomplishments, the 2016 Masters shall always hold a special place in her exceptional career. In addition to her own gold medal, the jubilation of such a career milestone was enhanced by the presence of her husband, who was a member of the Canadian contingent that competed in the men’s Masters.

“It was very meaningful.  We felt so fortunate to share the experience.  Waking up in Banff every day, representing our country and both winning gold made it extra special.”

Having stood between the pipes for so many seasons with the Ottawa-Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), Girouard has helped transform the league into one of Canada’s finest. With the jubilation of a national championship with the Vanier Mooseheads in 2014, the ISBHF World title in 2015, along with her second Masters Title in 2016, she has achieved a unique Triple Crown in her career.

“One can never grow tired of representing their country. Being part of this amazing group of athlete is such an honour and a great opportunity. Winning gold back to back is just the icing on the cake. It does show how much depth we have in Canada for ball hockey and being the team to beat is a good place to be.”

Complementing such a magical time was the fact that Girouard also had the honor of the Sarah Butterworth Memorial Award bestowed upon her at the 2016 CBHA Nationals. Although the Mooseheads were not able to build on their fourth place finish at the 2015 Nationals, such desolation was replaced by the jubilation of gaining a spot on the CBHA Tournament All-Star team, joined by Mooseheads blueliner Mallory Johnston.

Having called Girouard a teammate at multiple levels, including as teammates at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, Smith enjoyed a great personal milestone at the Masters. While she is considered one of the greatest ball hockey players in the history of the OVWBHL, the chance to serve as a coach at the Masters represented a new chapter in her career.

Although the sojourn into coaching was one that saw Smith transition from playing, the results yielded brought tremendous reward. As Smith explains, the coaching position was part of a much bigger experience, one that always represents exceptional pride,

“Any time you have the opportunity to represent Canada, it is special. Ball hockey is a sport I fell in love with during university. At the time it was great cross-training but it become much more than that.

In the last few years I have realized I needed to take a step back from playing the sport. Mandi sent me the posting for the position and it could not have been better timing as I was really missing the sport. To do this with one of my best friends was really unbelievable.”

While the feelings of friendship and family held profound meaning for the amazing women that donned the Canadian jersey, it enriched the experience for several players. In addition to Dube sharing the golden glory with her husband, Cockerill also enjoyed the privilege of having family from Manitoba make the sojourn to Banff, Alberta to witness an amazing achievement in her career, contributing to Canada’s storied lore in the game’s history.

“Just getting the opportunity to represent my country is amazing and an experience that’s almost surreal. Yet, the best part about being able to win the gold on home soil was that I got to share it with family.

To have family there to celebrate with was absolutely amazing. They were able to share in the experience right along side me as well as share in the pride and excitement of the winning gold.”

Undoubtedly, Canada is the standard bearer for women’s ball hockey, standing at centre stage. Perhaps a little unappreciated in the larger sporting picture, there is no question that the exceptional women that have donned the Canadian jersey are a true national treasure. For Traversa, who scored one of Canada’s goals in the gold medal final, her contributions in the Pacific make her among the region’s congnoscenti. In addition to the treasured gold, the Masters allowed her with a unique personal treasure,

“I have a couple of moments that you can decide which one to choose: first one is getting to know the ladies and being able to share our journey together, second one is I dedicated my first goal to my father, who is quite ill with dementia. 

I had to ask coach Mandi Duhamel to keep the ball because I wanted to give it to him she went one step further. After we won, she came up to me with a sharpie and said I wanted to write something special on there, so I gave her a few words to put on it.  I was able to give it to him on Fathers Day. Even though he no longer understands what it means, I will always cherish it forever, every time I look at it.”

As Masters gold only adds to a fascinating time for women’s ball hockey in Canada, it is an important part of the history of women’s hockey in general. While Canada shall look to repeat as gold medalists at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds in Pardubice, Czech Republic, the golden glory of the Masters only affirms Canada’s status as the standard bearer for ball hockey, standing proud at centre stage, while establishing itself as a true national treasure for Canadian sports fans.

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Image obtained from Facebook

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