The calendar year of 2016 represented the hallmark of Jenna Cunningham’s transcendent career, a transition towards the dizzying heights of reaching the championship pinnacle. Starting with the gestalt of the Clarkson Cup, it would be the springboard towards the jubilant accumulation of a second championship, reaching the pinnacle of the CBHA ball hockey nationals, another storied accomplishment worthy of her impeccable talents.
While the 2016-17 season shall be the first in many seasons to not feature the presence of Jenna Cunningham gracing the ice, she is a reminder of the Calgary Inferno’s early roots, having contributed to their rise to prominence composed of strong values defined by dedication on all fronts. Although retirement from active competition is an inevitable reality for all athletes, it always feels like it comes too soon. While it was a decision that Cunningham had contemplated,
“Deciding to retire this year was not as hard as I anticipated. I had thought about it over the last two seasons, and by the end of this past one I felt content with stepping away from playing the game. Winning the Clarkson Cup and seeing how good of hands the franchise is in helped with knowing now was the right time.”
The Cup victory represented a watershed moment for women’s hockey in Western Canada, while allowing Cunningham a place in hockey immortality as her name shall be engraved, allowing future generations to admire her achievements. In such an impactful career, the Cup was complemented by the chance to skate in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Of note, both milestones took place at NHL rinks (Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre), representing a surrealistic background, while simultaneously populating the Inferno’s future mythology.
“Both the All- Star game and Clarkson cup are two of my favourite hockey experiences. The fact they were in an NHL rink were also very special. It demonstrates how much the CWHL helped promote the women’s game. While also continuing to build important relationships like with the NHL to ensure a bright future.”
Adding to the jubilation of such proud achievements was the fact that Cunningham earned recognition on one of the game’s biggest platforms. The black helmet worn by Cunningham throughout most of the regular season, including every postseason game, has now become a treasured artifact, a remarkable symbol of the power of women’s hockey to create heroes. Currently on display at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame, the iconic helmet now finds a home in a breathtaking gallery of hockey history, allowing Cunningham’s final season a fitting tribute.
Cunningham was a model of consistency, constantly ranked among the team leaders in scoring, a cornerstone for Calgary built on character. The first player in franchise history to reach the century mark in games played, while retiring as its all-time scoring leader, it was part of a bigger narrative. Encompassing a progression towards the dream of attaining professional status while reaching exceptional standing as a role model, she was there for all of the franchise’s early stages.
Calling exceptional leaders such as Chelsea Purcell and Kelsey Webster teammates in the early Team Alberta years, while the arrivals of Delayne Brian, along with Bailey Bram and Rebecca Johnston served to enhance the team’s appeal, Cunningham was its heartbeat. Focusing on a full-time career as an educator, an element that she admirably balanced with her on-ice endeavors for so many seasons, both roles saw her providing a positive example, a quality that shall sustain for many years to come.
“The best part of playing for Alberta/Inferno was having the chance to help build up the franchise from the beginning. Having the opportunity to experience the growth of the team, players and relationship with the community was special. I would like to be remembered as someone who was passionate about growing the women’s game, about building a future for young girls and as someone who saw the importance of building a relationship with the community. On the ice hopefully I am remembered as someone who showed up everyday to work hard and who brought some energy and grit to the team.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Twitter: (Left to right) Kelsey Webster, Rhinna Kurio, Delayne Brian and Jenna Cunningham ready to march with the Clarkson Cup in the Calgary Stampede Parade