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Jennifer Price Peerlessly Sparkles Between the Pipes in all Facets of the Game (Part One)

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Among the women that crossed over from competing on the ice to the ball hockey courts, few can boast a career as exemplary as Jennifer Price. From participating in the original NWHL and the ground breaking WWHL, to standing between the pipes for Canada at the ISBHF Women’s Worlds, Price embodies the pioneering yet empowering spirit of women in hockey.

Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Price was part of a formative time for the modern era of professional women’s ice hockey on the Pacific Coast. Emerging as one of the first goaltending stars of the 2000s, Price was in a class with the lauded Danielle Dube, a gold medalist from the 1997 IIHF Women’s Worlds, whose collective efforts were crucial in placing women’s ice hockey on British Columbia’s sporting map.

In recent years, the embarrassment of riches in terms of elite talent emerging from the Pacific Coast is one of Canadian hockey’s most compelling developments. Competitors such as Kimberly Newell, Micah Hart, the Potomak sisters and Stephanie Schaupmeyer complemented the superlative efforts of Graham Thomas in transforming the UBC Thunderbirds into a perpetual contender for the Golden Path Trophy, integral towards the region’s halcyon days while paying tribute to Price’s legacy.

Price’s roots in the game involve competition with the Vancouver Griffins, and later, the BC Breakers, bringing elite women’s hockey to the region. Although there was a struggle to remain competitive against the clubs from the neighboring province of Alberta, such as the Calgary Oval X-Treme and the long-established Edmonton Chimos, Price was part of a collective group of dedicated women that contributed towards establishing a solid foundation for women’s hockey during those trying days.

With a Griffins roster that included the likes of Winter Games medalists such as Cammi Granato, a future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Shelley Looney and Nancy Drolet, whose experience also included serving in an executive capacity for the top women’s hockey league in Montreal; it added a new dimension for the game in Vancouver. Taking into account the fame and revered stature of these competitors, enhanced by the fact that Granato was both a household name and a drawing card for her team, Price was proud to call such superstars as teammates.

“Playing hockey with Olympians Cammi, Shelley and Nancy on the Griffins was outstanding, really special. Not only were they amazing athletes and hockey players; but they were all incredibly humble and down to earth considering their achievements and standing in the women’s hockey world.

Nancy came to the Griffins in my second year and not only did she prove to be the amazing clutch scoring hockey player that we always read about in the papers, but she is turned out to be a tremendous support too—always supportive of the girls and encouraging to the team in general.

She became a good friend and always had my back on and off the ice. You could see the growth in our team from having had a player with such class and experience guiding the younger players.”

Undoubtedly, a fascinating time for Price, she reflects on the privilege of calling them teammates with admiration. As she reveals, such luminaries were not just world-class athletes, but world-class people. Inspired by their humility, along with the love of the competition and subsequent respect for the fans, it represented sportsmanship at its finest.

“As for Cammi and Shelley, what can be said beyond the fact that they had to be two of the most down to earth and enjoyable stars you could hope to have for teammates. As an aside to how caring they were… when they were going to the 4 Nations Cup the first year, I mentioned how much I admired Erin Whitten as a goalie and asked if they would be willing to get her autograph for me… they came back with a poster of the tournament with a personal message from Erin penned on it.

If it was not for the fact they had to go away during the season at that particular Four Nations Cup, and there was always a flock of young kids lining up for their autographs, you would not know they were superstars off the ice.

They were very humble and hard working—Cammi had a quiet almost Yzerman like presence to her, whilst Shelley was almost always the joking, extroverted character in the dressing room that kept everyone from getting too nervous or tense, but on the ice, she had that gritty determination to her that you just naturally wanted to copy.

Practices were almost always a challenge to try and keep up with them… and even more so trying to get the upper hand on any of them. We used to have penalty shot challenges after practices and it was a personal challenge to try and stuff them because they were so good.”

With an on-ice professional career that included five seasons, Price was a consistent presence, frequently making double digits in appearances between the pipes per season. Of note, she competed in more than 90 games, while her first season (2002-03) would prove to be the greatest. Accumulating nine wins, while helping keep the Griffins in the postseason conversation, it was an affirmation that Price was truly a major league competitor.

Testament to her talents was the fact that she was also a mainstay for British Columbia’s annual entry at the Esso Women’s Nationals. While the tournament was constantly dominated by the likes of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the presence of Price signified that star power was prevalent with other provinces too.

The 2003 Esso Women’s Nationals would see the rest of the hockey world catch up to Price’s goaltending brilliance, as she quickly garnered the admiration of fans and opponents alike. In a game against Alberta, featuring a star-studded roster including Samantha Holmes and Corinne Swirsky, plus Winter Games participants Dana Antal, Kelly Bechard, Cassie Campbell, Danielle Goyette and Colleen Sostorics, Price faced an astounding 66 shots, including 30 in the third period alone. Worth noting, Drolet was also part of BC’s roster.

The following year, Sherwood Park, Alberta would serve as the host city, providing Price with one of the greatest achievements in her career. With Team BC recognized as the Most Sportsmanlike Team at the Esso Women’s Nationals, Price was recognized as the Top Goaltender of the Tournament. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the giants in Canadian women’s hockey, Price was part of an impressive list of award recipients including Hayley Wickenheiser (MVP), Cheryl Pounder (Top Defender) and Danielle Goyette (Top Forward)

At the 2005 edition of the event, contested in Sarnia, Ontario, Price would gain Top Goaltender honors for the second year in a row. Among the list of award winners at the tournament, Price was part of distinguished company, including Tournament MVP Cheryl Pounder of the Toronto Aeros, joining Price as the only major award winners for two years in a row. Recording an amazing 20 points for the Brampton Thunder, Jayna Hefford was recognized as Top Forward, while Top Defender was American-born Angela Ruggiero, competing with a number of Montreal Axion teammates on Team Quebec.

Price stopped 57 of 61 shots in the contest, as BC nearly pulled off the biggest upset in tournament history. Holding a 2-1 lead against Team Quebec in the Bronze Medal Game, Quebec managed three unanswered goals with less than 10 minutes remaining in the contest, including a pair by Ruggiero. In spite of the heartbreaking loss, the tireless efforts of Price were crucial in helping to not only increase the level of competition, but instill the belief in other provinces that they were capable of holding their own against the event’s traditional powers, confident that the balance of power could be altered.

“Being named top goalie at the Esso nationals two years straight is still surreal to me. The first came the year after the Griffins had folded and most of the Griffin players (including Cammi) went to one team while I decided to join my best friend on her team, which consisted of a bunch of young players just entering the BC league for the first time and a couple older players that were mostly to try balance out the youthfulness.

If we went off the beginning of that season we weren’t expected to make playoffs, let alone end up winning provincials with the opportunity to make nationals… but somehow around Christmas our new coach, Owen Phigin, managed to bring a completely mismatched group together on the same page and we did something special. When we went to Nationals we knew we were out-matched but I think having that knowledge personally allowed me to just go out and play without worrying about anything more than trying to give our team a chance.

Getting that first award was probably the best surprise for me because I didn’t expect it. To get the second was also special, but the first one is the one that really sticks with me because of the team I shared it with. For the second one, I think it was tempered by the heartbreak of losing the bronze medal game after it had been so close. It’s the one loss that still haunts me.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images obtained from Facebook

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