As the transformation from Team Alberta into the Calgary Inferno represented a significant step in the evolution of the CWHL’s western most franchise, it was important that the past be preserved and remembered as it made its first appearance in the Clarkson Cup finals. Of all the members of the Inferno roster, four had ties to the team’s incipient days as Team Alberta, when its colors were navy blue and gold.
Among them were Jenna Cunningham, Meaghan Mikkelson, Kelsey Webster and goaltender Kathy Desjardins, all representing the team’s earliest days, living monuments to how far the team had come, and where it began. Having also started in goal for Team Alberta in the first CWHL game contested in an NHL arena (Toronto’s Air Canada Centre), Desjardins held a strong connection to one of the earliest milestones in franchise history.
This season would see Desjardins reach several personal milestones. A December 13 road game against the Boston Blades saw Desjardins appear in her 30th career CWHL game. Adding to the feeling of achievement on that day was the serendipitous feat of her 10th career win with the franchise.
Statistically, Desjardins would reach other milestones, including the lowest goals against average of her career (1.62) and her personal best save percentage of .924. Overall, she would enjoy four wins against the Boston Blades, while recording the first winning season of her CWHL career. Making a season-high 25 saves, the last win of her season would come on February 21 in a 5-4 win against the Brampton Thunder.
Such a feeling of success for Desjardins was enhanced when the Inferno swept the Brampton Thunder in the postseason, qualifying for their first-ever Clarkson Cup Finals. It was a goal that represented four years of hard work and sacrifice for Desjardins. When the final seconds ticked away on the scoreboard at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, a convincing 8-3 victory over the favored Canadiennes de Montreal, Desjardins was ecstatic, arms gloriously raised in joyous approval, another franchise milestone to add to her career.
“Winning the Cup was years of hard work and sacrifices. I finally got what I wanted to win four years ago when I moved from New Brunswick to play professional. Coming back from a year off and winning the Cup was definitely proof that when you work hard and you believe in yourself, everything is possible in life!”
Prior to the opening faceoff of the Clarkson Cup, there was a component of strong emotion as Kelsey Webster, a long-time teammate and friend of Desjardins was not active for this game. As a side note, forward Rhianna Kurio was not active either. Visibly distraught, which is understandable as Webster was an inaugural member of the franchise, Desjardins displayed tremendous kindness, consoling her before the game with a reassuring hug. In addition, Sportsnet, the broadcaster of the Clarkson Cup finals, showed a great touch of class by showing video footage of numerous players, including Desjardins, reaching out to Webster, displaying the essence of teamwork and friendship, while acknowledging Webster’s impact on the franchise.
“Unfortunately, before the game, Kelsey was told that she would not be dressing for it. She was sad and probably frustrated. However, she is a real professional and did not want to affect the girls that were dressing and focusing on the final game. She had to walk away from the dressing room and let it (her emotions) go.
I knew she was sad and we are old Team Alberta teammates, so I wanted to let her know that she is a champion in my eyes and that the girls will win this for people like us. We stick with the team no matter what and we stay positive. I wanted to know that she needed to stay strong because she would lift the Cup just like everybody else, and she did (smiles).”
While the hockey odyssey of Desjardins has taken her from New Brunswick, where she starred at the CIS level with Les Aigles Bleus de Moncton, all the way to Western Canada, helping establish CWHL hockey in Alberta, her future plans include establishing roots in Quebec. Although it was a visceral decision to move on from the Inferno, the franchise shall always hold a special place in her playing career.
“I did announce my retirement with the CWHL as I am moving to Drummondville in Quebec. My heart is with the Inferno and I do not see myself wearing a jersey in the CWHL other than (with) the Inferno. Now I do not want to say that I am done with competitive hockey, so we will see. However, if I retire, IT is with pride and with the feeling of the job done (smile).”
As exciting as the Cup victory was for Desjardins and her teammates, the local celebrations have been just as exciting as the win itself. From gracing the red carpet in a pregame ceremony prior to the Calgary Flames facing off against the Winnipeg Jets, the proud Inferno players have earned a well-deserved place in the spotlight. In addition, the team was featured on Rogers Hometown Hockey and gained an audience with the Mayor of Calgary, proud of the team’s accomplishments, adding to the city’s proud sporting legacy.
Through it all, Desjardins understands that the chance to hoist the Cup was more than just a team win. For the hardcore fans that remember when the club donned the now classic navy blue jerseys, Desjardins, like Cunningham, Mikkelson and Webster, will always hold a place of respect and admiration, grateful for the effort to help bring professional hockey to Western Canada. As the effort has culminated with a Clarkson Cup championship, the outpouring of admiration and support is one that represents a collective feeling of victory.
“Winning was a dream come true. Then, there were interviews and media appearance. Hometown Hockey was an event where you finally realized that winning the Cup was a community win. To see the recognition in the city, it is amazing to see that much support.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/InfernoCWHL/