As the CWHL’s five franchises take to the ice during its landmark tenth anniversary season, celebratory events have been highlighted by a series of Heritage Games that have supplied multiple highlights while emerging as one of the signature events. Such games have seen past and present collide in recognition of its grass roots and the prosperous promise of better days that comprises tomorrow’s outlook.
With the defending Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno hosting its Heritage Game against the Toronto Furies, it allowed the opportunity to pay homage to the players and former teams whose efforts did more than just pave the way for the present day Inferno, it helped make the team and game relevant.
Among the highlights of the game involved warm-ups, when elite backstop DeLayne Brian was seen between the pipes donning a Team Alberta jersey. With its iconic navy blue and gold colors, it was an opportunity for Brian to pay homage to a former teammate and still cherished friend, Kathy Desjardins.
Having served in a backup role to Brian during the 2015-16 campaign, Desjardins’ roots date back to the club’s earliest days. With Brian wearing Desjardins’ former Team Alberta blues, it was a tremendous show of class, while providing Brian with a pleasant pre-game surprise,
“I was definitely excited to see a Team Alberta jersey hanging in my stall before the game. I was hoping it was Kathy’s and was pleasantly surprised when I turned it around and saw that it was. I sent her a picture immediately and she responded with some well wishes for the game so it was for sure a special moment given everything she’s done for the organization and after winning the cup last year together as goalie partners.”
Alberta’s proud women’s hockey heritage dates back nearly a century, having first struck a personal chord at the Banff Winter Festival, turning the ice into a fabled surface, transforming the women that graced it into pioneers.
Teams such as the Calgary Grills and the Edmonton Rustlers would add to this legacy, while the Alberta Wild Roses would capture a Canadian Western Shield Championship. With 1971, the year that the Edmonton Chimos were founded, it would signify the rich roots that would one day lead to the Calgary Inferno.
Women such as Shirley Cameron and Dawn McGuire established a magical time in the 1970s for the female game in Western Canada, mirroring the efforts of Fran Rider in Ontario. Suddenly the game and its halcyon days was a unique form of counterculture, challenging social convention while combining an edgy eccentricity, thumbing their noses at nefarious critics.
Those groundbreaking efforts and contributions were bridged through the faultlines of history by the arrival of the Calgary Oval X-Treme and the Strathmore Rockies, which validated such dedication. As a side note, the Chimos and X-Treme would join the Vancouver Griffins to form the Western Division in the original NWHL.
Complimenting these great teams was the fact that the first high performance centre for hockey in Canada was built in Calgary, while Alberta also captured the first women’s ice hokey gold medal at the 1991 Canada Winter Games, setting the stage for the province to become a fertile ground for world class hockey talent.
Although the Chimos, X-Treme and Rockies are now part of mythology, their legacies were honored during a special pre-game puck drop at WinSport’s Joan Snyder Arena. Erin Duggan, Brittaney Maschmeyer (whose sister Emerance was a 2016 first round pick of the Inferno), Rhinna Kurio, Bianca Zuber, Taryn Peacock, Kristen Hagg and Rockies founder Samantha Holmes, who was also the first general manager in Team Alberta history, all wore their former jerseys, celebrating their profound impact on the Prairie landscape.
For players such as Erica Kromm, who has celebrated the fabled milestone of 100 career games this season, she had the privilege of calling several of the aforementioned women as teammates during the early Team Alberta days. To see them again on this special day brought women’s ice hockey in Alberta full circle,
“It is great to see that our organisation has lasted long enough to have representatives from our earlier days wearing a number of different team jerseys (team Alberta, Edmonton Chimos, etc). It is extremely important to remember where you came from. If it weren’t for those first years of sorting out the kinks, we wouldn’t be where we are today. What’s even better is that future players will be saying that about our team today.
Having navigated the rocky roads of those early days, resulting in three straight seasons out of the playoffs, to the arrival of the Calgary Flames’ sponsorship of the CWHL to postseason contention, it was a hockey odyssey that defined Kromm’s career as a professional. Through all these seasons, Kromm was more than just a tireless worker for a franchise working towards a championship, she was one of its ambassadors. To see the Inferno thrive and host a Heritage Game during the CWHL’s tenth anniversary provided a proud highlight,
“It makes me very proud to have been a part of this Calgary team when it was Team Alberta to when it won its first championship. The recognition of that and all of my teammates who have come and gone in the past, is such an important thing and was what the Heritage Game was all about. Our Inferno team prides itself on ensuring everyone who’s ever worn the jersey is still part of the team today. So, it was a special moment seeing old teammates and players from previous years participate in the opening face-off.”
Among the current members of the Inferno, Brittany Esposito is a living linkage to the Prairie legacy of women’s hockey. Akin to Brian, she also wore the jersey of a past era during warmups, bringing Brittany Maschmeyer’s Chimos jersey back to life. Raised in Edmonton, Esposito found many role models in the women who skated for the Chimos during those formative years.
“I was very excited to see so many former players be recognized at our game. As an Edmontonian, I’m really glad we were able to recognize Chimos players and honour how integral they were in establishing a competitive women’s team in Alberta.
I looked up to a lot of those players growing up and was especially excited to be able to wear Brittany Maschmeyer’s Chimos jersey during warmups. I have known her and her family since I was quite young and definitely looked up to her when she played on a team with my older brother.”
No longer some remote outpost on the hierarchy of professional women’s ice hockey, Calgary destined to become the hub upon which a new golden era, metamorphosing the Prairie landscape, shall follow. The 2016 Clarkson Cup championship represented an evolution, as a fascinating collection of remarkable women whose gripping quest for the most celebrated chalice in women’s ice hockey, dominating Calgary’s sporting consciousness.
The championship also provided the Inferno to add another linkage to the legacy of championship teams from Alberta. Of note, the former Oval X-Treme defeated the Brampton Thunder in overtime to capture the 2004 NWHL championship. In 2009, the Oval X-Treme also competed in the inaugural Clarkson Cup playoffs in Kingston, Ontario.
Undoubtedly, the 2016 postseason served as Brian’s coming out party, rising from superstar status to legend. Gaining the privilege of starting the Heritage Game for the Inferno (opposing Furies goaltender and fellow Clarkson Cup champion Christina Kessler), it was a pivotal moment that helped bring the game full circle in Alberta. While the overtime victory carried its share of dramatic properties, Brian recognizes the bigger picture and how the game has grown, a collective victory for all,
“Any time I get to start a game with the Inferno crest on my chest is an honour. I knew a lot of the girls from playing with them in previous years in the organization, so being in net on the night, so that we could honour them and everyone who has paved the way thus far was definitely special for me. To get the win in overtime was the extra cherry on top as well.”
Manitoba-raised Jenelle Kohanchuk would log the first goal of the Heritage Game, as the Furies enjoyed a 1-0 advantage, with CWHL All-Stars Carlee Campbell-Euseppi and Natalie Spooner gaining the assists. Despite the 1-0 setback after one period of play, Bailey Bram would score short-handed at the 1:39 mark of the second stanza.
The tie would be broken by promising young star Brigette Lacquette, as team captain Brianne Jenner and Blayre Turnbull, who logged the game winning goal at the 2016 Clarkson Cup earned the assist. With Brian neutralizing three Furies power play opportunities, the Inferno enjoyed their first lead of the game after two periods.
Kohanchuk and Spooner would each log multi-point games by earning assists on a third period marker by Furies super rookie Michela Cava. Despite the Furies enjoying a power play as Shannon Moulson was called for delay of game, overtime would be needed to resolve things.
Providing the overtime heroics would be two-time Winter Games gold medalist Haley Irwin, as Turnbull and Lacquette gained the assists on the game-winning tally. While Kohanhcuk gained First Star of the Game honors, Second and Third Star went to Lacquette and Irwin.
In reflecting on the opportunity to participate in this landmark event, a jubilant Esposito embodies the greatness of the game, and the impact to inspire a new generation of girls to emulate their heroics. Having also had the chance to skate in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Esposito has enjoyed the privilege of contributing to league history, while sharing the ice with many iconic figures, who she pays homage to,
“It was an honour to play in front of our amazing fans during the Heritage game. Seeing the growth of the Inferno fan base, even in the three years since I started with the team, is extremely exciting and encouraging for the future of the CWHL.
As players, we’re very grateful for the hard work that league pioneers, such as Sami-Jo Small (Toronto) and Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebroux (Montreal) to name a couple, put in to building this league and we’re excited to see how it continues to grow.”
Images obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/InfernoCWHL/?fref=ts
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Special thanks to Tammy Schwass