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Homegrown Talent Proudly on Display at Women’s Winter Classic

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In one of the most important women’s hockey games of the last decade, the collection of icons on one playing surface only added to the feelings of celebration and euphoria. Adding to such jubilation was an extra element that resulted in a much richer tale at the Women’s Winter Classic, which may help shape and define the dreams and aspirations for the next generation of skaters.

While Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts is known as the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, the stadium not only became a special place in women’s hockey history, it would serve as the coming-out party for several members of the NWHL’s Boston Pride that were raised in the state. Competing in the first-ever professional women’s hockey game staged outdoors, one that saw over 43,000 fans in attendance, it signified a momentous career milestone for many of the participating players. 

The chance for these homegrown talents to display their skills in one of the most popular sports venues in the Northeast represented a career milestone that may possibly represent a career pinnacle.

Of the 18 members of the Pride roster that participated in the Women’s Winter Classic, seven were raised in Massachusetts. Some with Ivy League backgrounds, one that had the chance to compete in the historic Frozen Fenway match, while others contributed to the remarkable rivalry between Boston College and Boston University. In alphabetical order, Kelly Cooke from Andover, former US national team member Jillian Dempsey from Winthrop, Littleton’s Emily Field along with second generation athlete Marissa Gedman, who hails from Framingham.

In addition, Boxford’s Cherie Hendrickson, a veteran of multiple Boston Marathon races was joined by Denna Laing from Marblehead along with Wilmington-raised Case Pickett. As a side note, Pickett also competed in the first-ever NCAA women’s outdoor hockey match, contested at fabled Fenway Park in Boston.

Having amassed over 100 career points with the Boston College Eagles, Emily Field was among one of the program’s most accomplished players. Having had the honor of the captaincy bestowed upon her as a senior, Field gains the opportunity to continue playing in her home state. With her fellow teammates from the Pride, Field is contributing to an exciting era in the game, laying an exciting foundation for the next generation of players to follow.

“Having the opportunity to play in the Winter Classic was a dream come true to begin with, but I think being from Massachusetts made it all the more special. I mean playing in the same stadium as the Patriots and on the same ice as the Bruins?! That was awesome and a true honor.

We were on a tight schedule from the moment we got to Gillette until the moment we left, but I was able to sneak in a quick walk around the inside of the stadium! I was hoping to run into a few of the Bruins, but during my walk I noticed they were actually out on the ice taking their team photo so I did not get to see them other than that.” 

During such a time of celebration, the chance to compete with friends and family in attendance only added to the momentum. For Marissa Gedman, sports run deep in her family. Her mother was an athlete at the University of Connecticut in softball and basketball, while her brothers Matt and Mike are currently competing in minor league baseball. Not to be forgotten is the athletic career of her father, former Boston Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman.

A two-time American League All-Star who appeared with the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, Gedman enjoyed a 14-year career in Major League Baseball, finishing his career with stops in Houston and St. Louis. Throughout his career, playing in front of large crowds, especially at Fenway Park, was a common occurrence. The Women’s Winter Classic was an opportunity for Marissa to appreciate such a crowd, obtaining her own major league experience. 

“Playing at Gillette was truly an honor. Being able to wear a Boston jersey, play on the Patriots home turf, all while being outside in front of a Boston crowd was a memory I will never forget.

In that crowd, were my two parents. My dad has always been so supportive of my hockey career from learn to skate, to high school, through Harvard, and now professionally with the Pride. I am so grateful for his support and the amazing example he sets each and every day. I know he was proud to watch me, but I am proud to call him my dad.”

Since 2001, Boston has established itself as a true city of champions. Of note, its professional men’s sports teams have captured nine championships combined, consisting of one Stanley Cup, one NBA title, three World Series titles and four Super Bowl titles. In that time span, New York has only garnered three total championships and Chicago has managed four.

In addition, Boston has enjoyed a growing legacy among its female sports teams. Not only have the Blades captured two Clarkson Cup titles, but the Boston Militia women’s tackle football team captured the 2014 WFA championship. The chance for the Pride to participate in the Women’s Winter Classic only adds to Boston’s impact, contributing to a feeling of excitement that Kelly Cooke can attest to. Currently juggling hockey with a career as a paralegal, Kelly Cooke was a teammate of Denna Laing with the Princeton Tigers,

“Obviously having grown up in Massachusetts, the chance to play at Gillette Stadium as part of the Winter Classic was a dream come true. The opportunity to play outdoors and on such a big stage was exciting for our whole team, but I think it meant a little extra to the players from the Boston area.

New England has such a strong tradition of professional sports teams, so to be able to skate where the Bruins would be playing the next day, and at the home of the Patriots was a pretty cool experience and definitely something that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Both of my parents and my older brother were at the game, so it was nice to be able to spot them in the stands and they had a great time as well!”

As New Year’s Eve approached, the feeling of anticipation grew with the excitement. From the announcement of the Women’s Winter Classic, the chance to be part of history was one that resulted in feelings of elation for the jubilant members of the Pride. Gedman reflects on the initial announcement, collective excitement among the jubilant members of the Pride roster,

“My teammates and I were nothing short of ecstatic after finding out about this amazing opportunity provided to us by the NHL, NWHL, and CWHL.

Besides making history, I enjoyed seeing and hearing from young girl hockey players in the stands who truly make what the NWHL is doing this year and in years to come. It is a movement to promote the sport and gain recognition so that their future as professional women’s ice hockey players is a reality.”

Like Gedman, Cooke also attended Noble and Greenough, excelling in field hockey and lacrosse. The chance to compete at Gillette Stadium was also an opportunity for Cooke to gain an even greater appreciation of Boston’s remarkable sports legacy. Prior to the game, Cooke remembers the atmosphere as one where the feeling of acceptance was predominant, presenting feelings of victorious validation as the Pride prepared to make history,

“I think the excitement started to rise when the game was officially announced and we started to receive more details. But the point that really sticks out to me is walking into the locker room and finding a bag full of Winter Classic and Outdoor Classic apparel waiting for us in our stalls.

That is definitely the moment where we started to realize how amazing the experience was going to be, and it just got better from there. It was like we were kids again and we had just discovered a bag full of presents! Everybody was so excited for the game that I do not think there was even time for us to be nervous.”

In the aftermath of the contest, which finished in a 1-1 tie as Blake Bolden, the first African-American player to compete in the NWHL, scored the game-tying goal, the biggest obstacle may have been just absorbing the exciting life-changing experience that transpired.

As the game did not feature three full periods, it was a rather quick event for all involved.  Despite the frigid temperatures, Field mentions that staying warm was not a concern. Adding to the overall feeling of achievement, the players were also invited to attend the following event, another outdoor match featuring alumnae from the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

“After the game I felt great! The game was so quick that I felt like I had not truly gotten the time to soak in how cool of an experience it was to be a part of until after I got off the ice.

Staying warm during the game was not an issue in fact, I was really hot! There was a little wind, but as long as it was on my back helping me up the ice I did not mind! Also, the NHL gave us some awesome gear for playing which helped to keep me warm during the Bruins game.” 

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Image obtained from facebook

#ppw #showyourpride

For more information on the Denna Laing Foundation, please visit: http://www.dennalaing.org/  

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