Among the number of exceptional women that were part of a pioneering chapter in the NWHL’s inaugural season, gracing the ice for the inaugural All-Star Game at Harbor Center in Buffalo, hockey fans had another opportunity to rediscover Blake Bolden. Elegant and graceful, with smooth skating and a flair for offensive proficiency, this highly talented blueliner continuously adds a reassuring presence on the ice, providing her team the confidence to win.
Along with fellow All-Star selection Kelli Stack, both former teammates on the Boston College Eagles, Boston Blades and with the US national team, the two were raised in the state of Ohio, establishing themselves as pioneers for women’s hockey there. As a side note, Bolden and Stack also competed in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, contested in December 2014 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
“It was an amazing privilege to participate in the inaugural NWHL All Star Game. I had so much fun playing with old friends and getting to know new people! It was such an exciting event.”
In addition, Bolden is the first African-American player to compete in the NWHL. Later in the season, Cherie Stewart (also a member of the US national women’s ball hockey team) would make her debut for the New York Riveters, adding to the sense of history.
For Bolden, the All-Star Game provided her with a pair of significant hockey milestones in less than one month. On December 31, 2015, Bolden and her Boston Pride teammates gained the opportunity to compete in the first professional women’s hockey game contested outdoors.
Facing off against Les Canadiennes de Montreal at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the event was dubbed the Women’s Winter Classic. While the Winter Classic, which was an abbreviated contest that only featured two periods that finished in a 1-1 final, it represented an opportunity for Bolden to another empowering achievement to her sensational career.
Scoring on Canadiennes goaltender (and three-time Winter Games gold medalist) Charline Labonte, Bolden would tie the game, becoming the first American-born skater to score a goal in a professional outdoor women’s game. With New Brunswick-raised Kim Deschenes scoring the first goal of the game for Les Canadiennes, the two are now inextricably linked.
“Scoring the goal to tie the game in the Winter Classic was a breathtaking moment. I felt so happy and proud of my teammates, coaches, and staff for making that game even possible!”
Of note, Bolden would become one of four Pride players that would earn the distinction of playing in both the Winter Classic and the NWHL All-Star Game. Other Pride players that are part of this historic class include Emily Field and Brittany Ott. That distinction also includes Connecticut Whale competitor (and Team Knight forward) Kaleigh Fratkin, who was loaned to the Pride for the Winter Classic.
Although Pride teammate Hilary Knight was one of the captains at the All-Star Game (the other was Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer), Bolden was not one of her teammates. Coincidentally, they were not teammates at the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game either. Each NWHL All-Star team featured players from all four charter franchises as some teammates became rivals for one unique day.
Suiting up for Team Pfalzer, Bolden was joined by Pride teammates such as Brianna Decker, Emily Field, Zoe Hickel, Gigi Marvin and Brittany Ott. The remaining All-Stars from the Pride were part of Team Knight, which included Kacey Bellamy, Alyssa Gagliardi, Amanda Pelkey and Jordan Smelker.
Of note, Bellamy and Knight have also played with Bolden on Team USA and in seasons past with the Boston Blades. Despite such newly formed rivalries at the All-Star level, the aftermath of the game proved to be one based on mutual respect, only heightening the admiration that comes from being teammates in the regular season,
”It was all fun and games. I loved it. Playing against Knight, Pelkey and Bells was great. It really just made me appreciate how much I love having them on my team during the regular season.”
Such an appreciation is also reciprocated as Bolden is not just an amazing player, but an admirable person. One of the most overlooked stars in women’s hockey, her high level of achievement is one that makes her a highly valued teammate, always capable of giving her team the opportunity to emerge victorious.
While Bolden is gearing for the postseason, hoping to become part of a rare sorority of players that can claim both a Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup triumph, the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game was more than a chance to make history. It was a remarkable celebration of the amazing quantum leap that women’s hockey in America has recently experienced. Getting the chance to find sanctuary in such an event and absorb the feelings of celebration, Bolden continues to add to her own athletic legacy, which includes serving as a role model for women in sport,
“All the smiles and happiness really made the weekend so special. Every regular season game is so serious and competitive. It was nice to just a step back and appreciate the incredible skill that my teammates and opponents have.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Twitter