An eventful off-season for the Calgary Inferno is one that has encompassed the beginning of a new chapter. With iconic coach Shannon Miller joining the organization, along with the trades of Winter Games competitors Jillian Saulnier and Genevieve Lacasse, it constituted only part of the narrative. With a tremendous trinity of celebrated players that represented the core of the Inferno’s leadership over the previous campaigns, the collective retirements of Delayne Brian, Brittany Esposito and Jacquie Pierri have added a very profound impact to the theme of transition this off-season.
All members of the Inferno’s historic, yet highly emotional, Clarkson Cup triumph from 2016, which was also the first-ever contested on NHL ice, their presence, emphasized by a love of the game, appreciation of fans and franchise alike, plus unquestioned dedication, embodied the spirit of professional women’s hockey. With over 300 games combined between them, each acquiring the privilege of All-Star status their presence shall prove to be difficult to replace.
Undoubtedly, Pierri, a highly dependable member of the Inferno’s blueline corps, also holds a unique place in franchise history, which only adds to her growing legend. Among a rare handful of American-born players to have skated for the Inferno, Pierri was a member of the 2013 CWHL Draft Class, taken 41st overall. Emerging as one of the steals of the draft, a very high value pick, she debuted on November 9, 2013, challenging the Toronto Furies on the road.
Coincidentally, Pierri’s first game on home ice took place against the Furies, with a three-game home stand from November 29 to December 1. Before the month would expire, Pierri would also record her first CWHL point, gaining the assist on Taryn Peacock’s game-winning tally on November 24 versus the Boston Blades, a 2-1 final. With each successive game, Pierri would quickly establish herself as a hockey hero on both sides of the border, following in the tradition of other American-born players that competed professionally in Calgary such as Joel Otto and Gary Suter.
The native of Montclair, New Jersey, capturing the David Greenwald Memorial Hockey Award in high school for leadership, character, and work, Pierri’s collegiate career involved suited up for the Ivy League’s Brown Bears, where she first called future Inferno captain Erica Kromm a teammate. A competitor for Team BC at the 2007 Canada Winter Games, Kromm’s father, Richard, played with the NHL’s Calgary Flames from 1983-86, amassing 104 points, while her grandfather Bobby won the Avco Cup as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets in 1976.
Among the other notable teammates on the Bears that Pierri skated alongside included Amanda Asay, who played in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan American Games, Shannon Flatley, whose uncle Patrick played for the Islanders, while another uncle, John Offerdahl played for the Miami Dolphins. Also a second generation player, Katilyn Keon, the granddaughter of Stanley Cup champion Dave Keon, plus Alena Polenska, a member of the Czech national team which competed at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, called Pierri a teammate at Brown.
While Kromm and Pierri would call each other teammates for another five seasons with the Inferno, there was another unique connection from their Ivy League days. Having both played for Digit Murphy at Brown, the accomplished coach would stake her own claim in CWHL lore, becoming the first coach to lead two different teams into the Clarkson Cup finals, while adding to the growing legacy of Americans making their mark in the CWHL.
Both would gain the opportunity to make their mark in one of the CWHL’s signature event. While Murphy served as the winning coach during the inaugural All-Star Game, Pierri would participate in the second edition of the mid-season classic (2016), both taking place at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, and it was one defined by expansion, heralding the arrival of the Vanke Rays and the Kunlun Red Star, both clubs based out of Shenzhen, China. Along with a significant loss of star power, as over 18 players departed for competition in the Winter Games, parity quickly became the result in such a dynamic season.
For the Calgary Inferno, it was a season which saw Pierri rise to the occasion, shining brightly as a beacon for what is good about the franchise. Undoubtedly, her efforts were crucial as the Inferno remained among the league’s elite clubs, constantly in the race for top spot. Qualifying for a postseason berth, the fifth straight in franchise history, it was a crowing moment for the assiduous Pierri.
Entering the season with 10 career points, the stay at home blueliner took on a bigger role offensively, amassing a career high 11 points. Achieving a major milestone in her proud career, including the first goal of her career, it was the type of performance that certainly made a positive impression. Providing a remarkable consistency on both sides of the game, while serving as a mentor for a solid rookie class, highlighted by Sophie Shirley, who went on to win the CWHL Rookie of the Year Award, it was an extension of Pierri’s leadership, exemplified by her role as an alternate captain.
Amassing a career-best five game scoring streak from October 28 to November 11, 2017, said streak also included the first goal of Pierri’s career. Recording the game winning tally in a November 5 home date against the rechristened Markham Thunder, Pierri would break a 2-2 tie at the 18:19 mark of the second. With rookie Taryn Baumgardt logging the assist, it would mark her first career point. Later in the game, Kelly Murray would also record her first career CWHL goal, and first multi-point game. Serendipitously, Pierri would be named First Star of the Game, while teammate Rhianna Kurio gained the Second Star nod, and Thunder rookie Kristen Barbara emerged with Third Star honors.
Pierri’s other three goals that season included a pair versus the Furies. Taking into account how the Furies were such a key theme in her rookie season, there was a tinge of destiny in the fact that the club re-emerged as a key theme in her newest CWHL milestones. Scoring in a Remembrance Day match versus the club, while a December 16 home affair resulted in her third career goal, the Furies would become the first franchise that she scored more than one goal against.
Fittingly, Pierri’s final goal took place in the CWHL’s newest market, shining on such a grand stage. With all CWHL clubs making at least one road trip across the Pacific to compete against the pair of expansion clubs from China, Pierri gained the chance to expand her global footprint as an athlete. Scoring a goal versus the Vanke Rays in Shenzhen, there was a sense of history as it marked the Inferno’s first-ever game in China. The February 3, 2018 match against Vanke saw Pierri add her name to the scoresheet at 9:11 in the first period, with Esposito and Iya Gavrilova, also a member of Russia’s national team, gaining the assists, adding to the theme of the game’s growing scale internationally. In the 6-2 win for the Inferno, it was acclaimed rookie goaltender Elaine Chuli that would allow Pierri’s final CWHL goal.
In spite of the fact that the postseason did not provide the desired results, it was just one chapter in an absolutely brilliant body of work that has defined Pierri as one of the franchise’s key building blocks. Although Pierri reflects on her achievements this past season in an almost self-effacing manor, testament to her admirable humility, no one can dispute her importance as a prominent member of the roster. Discussing the chance to close the chapter on her unforgettable time donning Inferno colors by eclipsng her previous career point totals with a dazzling 2017-18 campaign, she debates the merits of whether she has retired on a high note.
“On the one hand, it feels like I still have room to grow and have not quite peaked yet, but on the other it certainly is nice to have had an impact this past year. I think the only high note I would have been satisfied with would have been another Cup, but unfortunately that is not how the season played out.”
Coincidentally, a highly dramatic 2018 postseason allowed Pierri one final opportunity to cross paths with a key mentor. In what proved to be Pierri’s final postseason appearance, it certainly brought with it an exciting sense of truly coming full circle. Of note, Red Star head coach Digit Murphy served in the same role while Pierri and Kromm competed for the Bears.
Although the Red Star would prevail in the deciding semi-final match, contested at a neutral site at Angus Glen Centre in Markham, Ontario, via triple overtime, joining the Toronto Furies (2011) as the only first-year franchises to qualify for the Clarkson Cup finals, the efforts exerted by all Inferno members in that epic contest, quite possibly, the greatest postseason match in CWHL history, is one that constitutes a unique memory in Pierri’s Calgary career. Surely, such a compelling saga, complemented by the refusal to quit and the essence of sportsmanship, encompassed the sense of pride and unity in wearing the Inferno colours for five fantastic seasons.
For Pierri, the only thrill greater than the chance to represent the Inferno was the pleasure of calling so many talented skaters as cherished friends, cultivating a shared sense of honor. Whether it was the excitement of rebranding the club into the Inferno, gaining the All-Star experience, or travelling overseas to Japan for a unique exhibition against their national women’s team, along with taking on the role of ambassador for regular season contests in China, it was all part of a magical journey that will be cherished in perpetuity,
“Continuing from above, I will never forget that triple overtime game. What a heartbreak. Both of my experiences traveling with the team overseas, in China and Japan, stand out and will be with me forever. (There are) three memories in particular:
Trying to navigate the incredibly complex Tokyo subway with Jenner, while a group of teammates blindly followed us (way too much trust). We basically ran around the entire city to fit as much as possible into a one-day tour (Tokyo deserves a lot longer than that, by the way).
We also had a night of team bonding in China where everyone piled into one room (and we honestly could have been at any hotel in the world) when I got to know the girls a lot better. My abs were sore from laughing so much that night.
Also, Kromm trying chicken foot in Hong Kong. Hilarious.”
Racking up 123 career appearances, Pierri is among the franchise’s all-time leaders for games played. Coincidentally, Kromm ranks as the all-time leader, having suited up for 142 games, including a rookie season under the former Team Alberta moniker. It was truly fitting that the two long time teammates and friends would enjoy the jubilation of capturing the Clarkson Cup together in 2016, the greatest moment in franchise history.
Despite the fact that the Inferno were defeated in the 2017 Finals, the franchise managed to finish the regular season atop the standings, an unprecedented first. Such a rise from respectability to prominence clearly reflects Pierri’s lasting legacy, simultaneously cementing the impact of the Inferno in Western Canadian sport.
“It was really special to see the program develop and improve each season. I hope when I come back in two years it will be even better than how I have left it. Without question, I will miss my teammates the most. I have acquired some amazing friend-family through the past five seasons.”
Remaining highly occupied in the aftermath of hanging up her skates, Pierri is preparing for another worldly experience. With a background in Environmental Studies from her time at Brown, she has decided to apply the same assiduousness to her academic endeavors as she did on the ice. Engaging in Master’s Degree studies in Barcelona, Spain (also the host city of the 1992 Summer Games) where she shall definitely embark on a much warmer climate than she is accustomed to, it marks an exciting time for Pierri, as her academic discipline is one that holds very relevant connotations.
Specializing in Sustainability, the concept is one that is just as crucial to the business lexicon as profitability, serving as the cornerstone of corporate social responsibilities. Geared towards maintaining a balance so that the current and future needs can be met, it holds environmental, economic and social implications. Sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet, the goal is one with a better future in mind for next generations.
Such an initiative tailor made for Pierri’s strong teamwork skills and attentive nature. To an extent, it also mirrors her efforts in hockey. With heroics that involved efficiency, social equity, loyalty and productivity, key touchstones in sustainability, that not only contributed towards professional women’s hockey becoming viable in Western Canada, it also served as a template for aspiring professional players to emulate, embodying grace, dignity and fair play.
“I am really looking forward to leaving Calgary winter weather behind me. But in all seriousness, I am very excited to go back to school. I am a nerd, I love learning new things, and I am really passionate about Sustainability, which is what I will be studying. I am looking forward to meeting my new international classmates and to traveling as much as possible over the next two years.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Jess Bazal, Dave Holland
Other images obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/InfernoCWHL/