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Inaugural World Masters Women’s Tournament Provides Fond Memories

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As women’s ball hockey continues to establish strong roots, a key moment in its growth occurred in Tampa, Florida. With the ISBHF hosting a Masters tournament for male competitors, the 2014 edition represented a breakthrough in sporting equality as a women’s competition was held. Considering that the women’s competition shall be returning in 2016, the inaugural event has provided for fond reflections among the women who claimed gold for Canada.

With a group of women coming from all corners of the country to don the Maple Leaf on their jerseys, it was more than just an opportunity to make history; it represented a tremendous career milestone. The squad was a collection of influential and accomplished players.

Among them was Lori Boyles, one of the squad’s most unique members. Having also played women’s tackle football at the international level at the IFAF Women’s World Championships, she was joined by a pair of remarkable women’s hockey heroes from Ottawa who had previously donned the Maple Leaf at the ISBHF worlds.

A former competitor for the CWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators, Isabelle Aube also skated for Canada’s U22 national women’s team in 1999-2000 and captured ISBHF gold in 2007. With her husband competing for Canada at the 2016 edition of the Masters, a golden outcome would be the perfect bookend to Aube’s historic win in 2014.

“It was an honor to represent our country at this event. I had the opportunity to meet amazing athletes, women and pioneers of this great game. Winning gold was the highlight but playing with all these gals was the best!”

Goaltender Nathalie Girouard is among one of the greatest goaltenders to have graced the ball hockey court. Along with Aube, the two are among the remarkable number of elite competitors that makes the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League one of Canada’s finest. The chance to compete at the inaugural Masters was a cherished moment in Girouard’s sterling career,

“Tampa was the first ever World Masters for Women and it was such an inspiring experience! To be surrounded with women who have been playing hockey all their lives and having the chance to come back and represent their country.”

Of note, the Masters were part of a remarkable run for Girouard, who has not only established herself as one of the greatest goaltenders ever in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), she can stake a claim as one of the world’s finest at her position. At the 2013 ISBHF Worlds in St. John’s, Newfoundland, she shared goaltending duties with Delayne Brian and Katie Passfield. Of note, Girouard was one of six players from the OVWBHL that competed, and was joined by Ottawa natives Shelley Callaghan and Nicole Latreille, who served on the coaching staff.

Having first played in the OVWBHL, Girouard is proud of her ball hockey roots, acknowledging the efforts of her peers in providing motivation and inspiration, “These are the people that I started with. The people that you play ball hockey with, they are the ones that make you ready for the worlds.”

With the Canadian contingent having emerged with an emotional gold medal won on home soil in 2013, it continued a remarkable run for Girouard. Standing between the pipes for the Vanier Mooseheads at the 2014 CBHA Nationals, she was one of the top goaltenders statistically, testament to her world class talent. Of note, she provided a gutsy performance in the gold medal game, an overtime victory against the Toronto Shamrocks, looking for their first title since 2012.

Although that same year resulted in Girouard’s memorable experience at the Masters, it also set the stage for a highly unlikely performance. Taking into account that Slovakia is one of Canada’s biggest international rivals in women’s ball hockey, having played Canada for the gold at the 2011 and 2013 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, their presence at the Masters resulted in an unforeseen event.

“Another really cool part of the experience which made it memorable by itself was to actually play against Team Canada. The Slovak goalie had hurt herself and the Slovaks were borrowing goalies from other teams. Our head coach was adamant that I be in net for that game as she wanted to prepare me for the goal medal game.

So I donned the Slovakia jersey and gave it my all. The girls had no pity and drove the net in their usual way as the score ended up 6-0 for Team Canada. Even if no goalie ever wants to lose by this many goals, it was a great experience and quite unique.”

While Aube has occasionally played against Girouard at the OVWBHL level, doing so at the international level was an event Aube, “It was fun! Nat is a great goalie. I respect her athleticism and composure between the pipes. As much as I rather have her on my team, I love the challenge of playing against her.”

Back with the Canadian team for the gold medal game, Girouard embodied determination. A pre-game meeting resulted in the drive needed to deliver a winning performance,

“One of our older teammates gave us such a great speech just before the gold medal game about getting such opportunity… I was so driven by that speech yet nauseous the whole game knowing that we could not lose. There was no way I was letting anything go in. We ended up winning 2-0 (late goal) in a close game.”

With the 2015 edition of the ISBHF Worlds in Zug, Switzerland, Girouard was back on Canada’s roster, part of another world championship. Serving in a backup capacity to starting goaltender Delayne Brian (who had also won the 2014 CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award), it was another momentous occasion in Girouard’s career.

“I have always been proud to be Canadian. The recognition of who we are as a culture makes it nice to be able to wear the Maple Leaf and represent those values somewhere else as well. It is the ultimate experience you can have. Every time, you always have that proud feeling. It is great to be able to represent my country and do the best I can.”

As Girouard looks forward to the exciting possibilities in 2016, especially with the event being hosted on home soil for the first time, one key element of optimism consists of the increased number of interested players. With ball hockey continuing to grow throughout the United States and Europe, perhaps one day, the game shall be contested at the Summer Games. For now, the Masters is another opportunity to celebrate the game and honor the mature players that have laid a proud foundation and built an empowering legacy that a new generation shall build upon,

“In 2016, it will be in Banff, and Canada should have a strong representation. A lot of the younger potential Masters players (35+) have heard about how much fun it was and will hopefully apply to be on the team this year.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images obtained from: http://cbha.com/photos.php?photo_gallery_id=27015

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