In a dominant decade of women’s ball hockey for the proud Canadian program, one of the most recent indicators of its success involved the emergence of Michelle Marsz as an essential part of the team’s leadership core. Originally from Port Moody, British Columbia, currently calling Calgary home, Marsz was not only the heartbeat of the Canadian defensive unit, one which featured solid veteran stars as Kara Brumm and Kristen Cooze, the addition of a letter on her jersey served as a rewarding accoutrement.
Validating the sweat and sacrifice that expressed her desire to aspire towards golden status, Marsz was named captain for Canada’s entry at the 2019 ISBHF World Championships, contested in Kosice, Slovakia. Such an impactful result saw Marsz take on a bigger role, adding the prestige of captaincy to an already impressive sporting resume. With the number 19 adorning the back of her jersey, the numerology allowed for a unique setting as said number matched the calendar year of contention.
Signifying a superlative milestone for the highly affable competitor, the stature associated with serving as team captain was burnished by the fact that Canada reclaimed its place on top of the ball hockey world, emerging with a gold medal defined by redemption. Reflecting on the reaction of being bestowed such a prominent honor, it was one filled with plenty of emotion. Recounting the sense of being engulfed by a stream of tears of joy, the perception of this revered pinnacle provided a sense of motivation and fulfillment, enhancing the realization of a long-time goal of competing internationally, driven by the desire to succeed,
“Body shivers, a few tears, then a solid cry! I was overwhelmed with honour and pride. Representing Canada has been a dream of mine since childhood. Adding the leadership role to my responsibilities was icing on the cake.”
For a Canadian team looking to improve on its bronze medal finish from the 2017 edition of the Worlds, Marsz emphasized how there were feelings of frustration and discontent. While a podium finish represents a landmark achievement for any competing nation, the end game always involves golden dreams. Taking into account that 2017 marked the first time that Canada did not play for gold at the IIHF Women’s Worlds, compounded by the fact that it suffered its first-ever loss to the United States, it was not a welcome brush with history,
“After falling short of our 2017 goal, there was a lot of unfinished business. This stewed inside me for two years. In 2019, we adopted the ‘Whatever It Takes’ mantra; everyone showed up ready to win. We were mentally and physically prepared to face whatever adversity came our way. I believe the team who wanted it the most would win; boils down to passion and tenacity.”
Facing the United States in the medal round once again, the growing rivalry between the two took on a new intensity. Competing against each other for the first time ever in the gold medal game, an American victory would have certainly signified a major shift in the game’s balance of power.
With the United States looking to claim its first-ever gold in tournament history, a quick 2-0 lead added to their hopes. Despite the early advantage, Canada’s resolve provided a thrilling come from behind victory, the defensive unit stymying the American offense, while the goaltending remained poised, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic matches in Kosice.
Enhancing Marsz’ growing legacy in the game, the jubilation of a gold medal represented the attainment of a summit that was two years in the making, defined by both patience and perseverance. Among her achievements in between World Championship appearances, Marsz captured a Calgary ball hockey championship. Competing with a club team known by the nomenclature “Baby Ducks”, she also brought along a red rubber duck, complete with a white maple leaf emblazoned on its front. Part good luck charm, part reminder of why she enjoys the game, the local success served as the springboard for an opportunity to enjoy national glories, capturing the second CBHA National championship of her compelling career.
Having first won a National championship in 2016, she would duplicate her success in 2018. Playing for Calgary United, she would emerge as the Most Valuable Defensive Player of the event. As a side note, she would earn the same honor for Calgary United at the 2016 edition of the CBHA Nationals.
Serendipitously, a pair of other stars for Calgary United in both 2016 and 2018, Chelsea Karpenko, the Most Valuable Offensive Player (2018), and Reagan Fisher, the Tournament MVP (2018), were both teammates of Marsz in Kosice. In addition, the triptych of Marsz, Fischer and Karpenko were joined by three other Albertans garbed in Canadian red. Among them were Kendra Dunlop, while Cailien McLean and Tara Swanson joined Marsz among the defensive corps. Indubitably, the chance to follow up on such domestic glories with an IIHF world championship one year later served as a treasured peak that may prove to be her defining moment playing on the slab.
“Adding a world championship means a lot; it fulfilled my childhood dream. Sharing this memory with family, friends, and teammates resulted in hands down, the best hockey experience of my life. ”
Besides the opportunity to capture a gold medal, Marsz approached Kosice with a combination of gratitude and indebtedness. Playing for aspects that are much larger than the game, the feeling of national pride, friendship and a shared love of the game were all crucial elements.
Within such a melange of unique facets, Marsz discovered what she enjoyed most about being able to wear the Maple Leaf in Kosice. Reflecting on the opportunity to share in an impromptu team-building effort, where all the players opened up regarding the people in their lives and what playing for them meant, Marsz absorbed such sentiments, finding common ground while seeing friendships fortified and a collective strengthening of the player’s enthusiasm.
“My favorite moment would be when we went around the locker room and spoke about who we were playing for. Family, friends, the team, and sponsors were mentioned. Without the support of these key people our Worlds journey would not have been possible.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”