Representing the third team in Jessica O’Grady’s sojourn in professional hockey, the chance to don the blue and white of the Toronto Furies provides a jolt of strong leadership for the young franchise. Having first appeared during the CWHL’s inaugural season, O’Grady suited up for the Ottawa Capital Canucks, seeing action in 17 games. Making her CWHL debut on October 20, 2007, it would be another five seasons before she was back on league ice.
Following a memorable stint at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level with the Carleton Ravens, where she gained acclaim for scoring three goals in a shootout, O’Grady was claimed by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 CWHL Draft. Among the highlights of O’Grady ’s first full season of CWHL play was the fact that the Inferno qualified for the Clarkson Cup playoffs, a franchise first.
Sandwiched in between numerous endeavors, O’Grady was involved working for the league office in various capacities, including an internship in Marketing, later an appointment as Manager of Operations. Perhaps the most unique duty involved serving as the scorekeeper for the 2016 Clarkson Cup Finals, an event that truly brought O’Grady’s CWHL career full circle. Considering that it was the first Finals contested in an NHL arena, it brought added importance to O’Grady as the event was hosted at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Center. Coincidentally, the Inferno qualified for the Finals, defeating a favored Montreal squad.
“When I was with the league I worked the hockey ops side of things which was great—it made me see the business side of things that most players don’t see or deal with. There are not a lot of people that work at the league but they do put a lot of time and effort into their jobs to help run this league. Sometimes they are working seven days a week and long hours to make sure everything is running smoothly.”
Worth noting is the fact that O’Grady was equally prominent on the ball hockey court. Joining current and future CWHLers Jenny Brine, Mallory Johnston and Fannie Desforges, she would gain a spot on Team Canada’s entry at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Winning the gold medal was an affirmation of O’Grady ’s status as an elite competitor, while also helping raise the profile of ball hockey. It was also the springboard for a triptych of fascinating achievements. O’Grady not only scored the gold-medal clinching goal at the 2014 CBHA Nationals, she would return to the event one year later. With the 2015 edition held in Ottawa, it was an emotional homecoming for a highly lauded player whose local impact was profound.
Heading into the 2017-18 campaign with the Furies, there was a visceral desire to return to the ice. Akin to so many others that have played the game, O’Grady would find employment with a firm that manufactures hockey equipment. While it was an opportunity for O’Grady to gain appreciation for another aspect of the game, expanding her repertoire of skills, while enhancing her acumen, it resulted in a heartfelt desire to return to the action on the ice,
“To be honest, I missed the game a lot, especially working for a hockey company (Bauer), seeing all the new products and dealing with athletes made me miss hockey even more. I had thought about playing in the CWHL for the last year and wanted to be able to make a difference in the women’s game to get more girls to start playing hockey and know that they do have a future after college and university to play pro.”
Making her Furies debut on October 14, 2017, the first of back-to-back games against the new-look Markham Thunder, adding a new dimension to the Battle of Toronto, it was a comeback three years in the making. Donning the number 29, it was a welcome sight to see such a prominent player back on the frozen perimeter. In spite of the Thunder prevailing in a hard fought 1-0 final, there was a tremendous personal victory for O’Grady, jubilant at being back on the ice with a group of distinguished competitors
“Playing my first game for the Furies was amazing. The girls, staff and GM are all great people! To be able to play in Toronto and not have family travel too far for home games is awesome!”
While gaining the opportunity to grace the ice with her fellow Furies has proven to be a great source of enjoyment, rekindling the great memories of seasons past, O’Grady also ponders the months ahead. Employing a tremendous maturity and a wisdom acquired through being involved in the game in so many unique facets, she understands that there is a responsibility to set a positive example for teammates and fans alike. With a strong desire to propel the Furies into the postseason conversation, O’Grady is also eager to ensure that any opportunity to help raise awareness of such a great game, while encouraging youngsters to follow their own hockey dreams is an essential component to a successful season,
“Looking forward to helping promote the women’s game and being an ambassador for young girls!”
Regarding the return of O’Grady to pro hockey, there is a unique subplot, one which sees a growing number of Carleton Ravens alums competing in professional hockey. From a CWHL perspective, the first Raven in this decade to play in the league was Olivia Sutter, who departed the Ravens after her freshman season to suit up for the expansion Team Alberta (later rechristened Calgary Inferno).
Following the Boston Blades second Clarkson Cup victory, Olivia Keefe joined the club as one of a handful of Blades rookies in the 2015-16 campaign. This season, Audrey-Ann Boutour, an alternate captain with the Ravens who also competed at the 2015 CBHA nationals, was part of the Furies 2017 Draft Class. In addition, Wendy Abramenko earned a spot on the Inferno’s roster this season. Undoubtedly, it shall be a unique match when former Ravens collide on the ice when Abramenko’s Inferno take on O’Grady’s Furies.
The remarkable presence of the Ravens in pro hockey has also extended overseas. Renowned goaltender Eri Kiribuchi, a teammate of O’Grady, competed in Finland. This season, Tawnya Guindon, Delaney Ross and Kailee Welk are all in their first seasons of pro hockey in Europe. Undoubtedly, O’Grady is proud to be part of another growing legacy as she joins her fellow Ravens back in the pro ranks this season,
“Extremely proud of this legacy–Carleton has a great program and I’m happy the guys and girls are exploring options after graduation! I still keep in touch with a few of them and I’m super happy and proud of where they are all playing!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Chris Tanoye, Carleton Ravens athletics