Of all the historic moments that occurred at the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, it was only fitting that Toronto Furies goaltender Christina Kessler contributed. From the outset, Kessler became the first goaltender to compete in two CWHL sanctioned events at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
In November 2012, Kessler would occupy the Furies crease for the first-ever CWHL regular season game in an NHL arena. Held at the Air Canada Centre, the Furies defeated the Team Alberta franchise (now known as the Calgary Inferno) by a 3-0 mark. Not only did Kessler earn the win, but she became the first CWHL goaltender to earn a shutout in an NHL arena.
“I think the first time was great. The second time, with the large crowd today, it was even better. The league is growing and there are many exciting things in the future for these girls and the girls to come.”
Selected sixth overall by Team Red in the CWHL All-Star Frozen Fantasy Draft, Kessler was joined by fellow goaltenders Erica Howe (who earned the win) and Charline Labonte (also team captain). Of note, Furies teammate (and fellow goaltender) Sami Jo Small was selected first overall by Team White captain Jessica Campbell in the CWHL All-Star Frozen Fantasy Draft.
Playing against Small represented a unique experience for Kessler. Since the autumn of 2012, the two have experienced many special career milestones together. From the historic Air Canada Centre regular season game to a Clarkson Cup victory in 2014, their careers have only improved from playing together.
Small would play in the first period for Team White, not allowing one goal. Meanwhile, Kessler stood between the pipes for Team Red in the second stanza. “It was different. Small has been there since the league’s start. The three girls I played with were (also) part of a great team.”
Since breaking the goaltending records with the Ivy League’s Harvard Crimson, history has been a prevalent theme in Kessler’s storied career. When the Burlington Barracudas won their final game in franchise history, Kessler was between the pipes.
Earning an overtime shutout to capture the 2014 Clarkson Cup, Kessler made more history. Of note, she became the first goaltender with a losing record in the regular season to capture the Cup.
History would continue for Kessler during the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Giving up a second period goal to Kelli Stack, it marked the first time that an American-born player scored an All-Star Game. While Kessler was on the other end of such a historic accomplishment (similar to a baseball pitcher allowing an historic home run), Kessler reflects on it with grace and class,
“It is always fun playing others. A unique opportunity to play against such great talent. Speaking as a goalie, we thrive on that want to be pushed. Despite the goal, it was great to be on the ice.”
Another aspect that enriched the All-Star Game experience for Kessler was the chance to have Furies head coach Sommer West as part of the event. Of note, Kessler was West’s teammate in Burlington for the 2011-12 campaign. It was West’s final season as a player, and Kessler stood between the pipes during West’s final CWHL game as a player.
Since hanging up the skates, West has served as Kessler’s coach with Toronto. Although West served as the head coach of Team White, it was very important to Kessler to share the experience with her,
“For sure. She’s contributing to our league not only as a coach, but also as a great player. It was really important for her to be a part of this, to watch the league grow. I was glad she was with us.”
Despite such remarkable success, Kessler remains humble, bringing a great enthusiasm for the game in a glowingly understated yet remarkable career. It is that slice-of-life aspect in which she is heroically depicted as hard-working yet determined, resulting in a charming quality.
The impressive body of work which constitutes Kessler’s career is a monument to the tireless efforts of the women who paved the way prior, building the game (such as Sami Jo Small and Sommer West) at a grassroots level. During the CWHL’s opening decade (its tenth anniversary shall culminate in autumn 2017), Kessler is one of its most unique and remarkable characters.
One day, fans will fondly look back at this time, seeing the events at Air Canada Centre, including its historic All-Star Game, as a wonderful coming-of-age, and Kessler shall be among the hockey heroes associated within its framework. Her brushes with history, seamlessly blending together, will convey the feelings of an era where female competitors gradually emerged as significant stars in the game of hockey, an affirmation of early 21st century sporting Canadiana.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Brandon Taylor, CWHL Images