Raised in the hockey hotbed of Kingston, Ont., hockey was in the blood of iconic hockey journalist Kristen Lipscombe at an early age. While the community was known as the hometown of the celebrated Don Cherry and Stanley Cup champion Doug Gilmour, later years would see Olympic Winter Games gold medallists such as Jayna Hefford and Genevieve Lacasse emerge as local idols.
With a youth spent breaking barriers, part of a pioneering generation staking their claim in hockey, Lipscombe enjoyed an early connection with the Hefford hockey legacy. Of note, both have played for the Kingston Kodiaks, although not at the same time, one of the most influential girls’ hockey teams during the nascent development of the game in Eastern Ontario.
Despite an age difference of four years, there was an opportunity for the two to grace the ice together.. Representing a significant point of pride for Lipscombe, it would be akin to an individual raised in Brantford, Ont., gaining the opportunity to play against Wayne Gretzky in childhood.
As Lipscombe recounts, the chance to be on the same ice as a living legend was part of a richer narrative. Of note, Lipscombe’s career was positively shaped by another member of the Hefford family. Sandra, the family matriarch, and Kingston coach Beth Duff were highly devoted to developing the female game, emerging as role models for the young Lipscombe.
“During my time in minor hockey, I played on all-girls teams with the Kingston Kodiaks and the Church Athletic League of Kingston, as well as on boys spring hockey teams and at hockey camps also consisting mostly of boys.
At the time, it was not common for girls to play hockey at all, so I followed the careers of Team Canada players closely, including of course Jayna, who is only a couple of years older than me but has helped pave the way for girls in Kingston and across the country.
Jayna may not remember, but I actually played hockey against her when she was at Holy Cross Secondary School and I was at Kingston Collegiate Vocational Institute. I also played Midget hockey for the Kingston Kodiaks when her mom, Sandra Hefford, was team manager and under her long-time coach, Beth Duff, which was one of my favourite teams ever.
The women’s hockey circle in Kingston was small, so everyone was connected in one way or another, and like many girls from the area, Jayna inspired me to dream big (even though she still may not know that now!).”
Throughout Lipscombe’s career at Hockey Canada, Hefford was part of the Canadian national team, remaining a significant influence. The crossing of their paths would run parallel to another chapter in their hockey journeys.
With Lipscombe spending five seasons in a communications capacity with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), it represented an opportunity to be part of a significant sporting movement, heralding an era of professional women’s hockey in Canada.
During Lipscombe’s time in the CWHL, Hefford retired as the all-time scoring leader in league history. Having amassed over 500 points with the Brampton Thunder, spanning multiple decades, it was a serendipitous aspect for Lipscombe, strengthening the Kingston connection.
Just as important was the presence of Lacasse. Her first season as an active competitor in the CWHL (2012-13) was a busy one for Lipscombe with both the league and Hockey Canada. It would be a landmark year for Lacasse, who captured the league’s Goaltender of the Year Award, while making history as the first rookie goaltender to capture the Clarkson Cup, achieving the feat with the Boston Blades. During the post-game celebration, Lipscombe was on the ice, adding luster to the connection.
“Working with Jayna Hefford and Genevieve Lacasse during my time at Hockey Canada and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was also very special to me. I have always been very proud of the fact that I am from Kingston, and grew up learning and loving the game in the same place as many accomplished players, both male and female.
Of course, both Hefford and Lacasse have spent time in the CWHL, and we’re always quick to bond over Kingston (or "K-town" as I like to call it). I do feel like I will always have a special bond with them because of our Kingston connection.”
The pinnacle of this amazing connection was achieved in Burlington, Vermont. With Lipscombe working as Team Canada’s communications lead, Hefford and Lacasse were part of the 2012 roster that enjoyed a dramatic come from behind against their eternal rivals, the United States, in the gold medal game.
After Caroline Ouellette, who played with Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser on four Olympic Winter Games gold medal-winning teams, scored the gold medal clinching goal, all Canadians in the venue were euphoric. Part of the thrill for Lipscombe was the chance to join the other Hockey Canada staffers and grace the ice for an emotional rendition of Canada’s national anthem.
“(With regards) to winning that 2012 world championship in Burlington, Vt., I got to stand on the blue line with both Hefford and Lacasse. Once again, I still can’t believe that happened, but it did. And Kingston had three representatives on the ice, in goal, on forward and as media relations!
In all honesty, those moments after Caroline Ouellette scored the game-winning overtime goal were some of the best moments of my life. Head coach Dan Church put his gold medal around my neck — Hockey Canada staff normally don’t receive their medals until after the event is over and they are back in the Calgary office several weeks later — because I had never had the chance to wear a world championship gold medal on the ice before.
Singing O Canada with the members of Team Canada, players who I had looked up to and worked hard alongside and many who I had become friends with as well, was an almost surreal experience. I couldn’t help but cry in those moments, tears of joy, because that felt like the goal I had worked my entire life to reach, and it was right in front of me. I am forever grateful and fortunate for those moments.”
Fittingly, the Kingston connection would take on greater context, simultaneously providing a unique denouement. Representing one of her final assignments for Metroland Media, there was also the sense of a personal milestone. Of note, the farewell tour of The Tragically Hip culminated in the region of their musical roots, Kingston.
Part of the band’s appeal and their modern mythology also bears a unique hockey connection. The father of lead singer Gord Downie was a prominent junior hockey player, whose roommate was Harry Sinden, the future Boston Bruins general manager.
At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the Hip performed on the final day, with newly-minted gold medallist Geraldine Heaney invited on stage to play the tambourine.
In addition, the song Fifty Mission Cap is a modern-day classic, as iconic as Stompin’ Tom’s The Good Old Hockey Game. Reintroducing the legend of Bill Barilko to a new generation of hockey fans, it instantly became a hockey anthem, while its fascinating lyrics still appeal after more than two decades after its release.
The chance to be there first-hand represented a fusion, where Lipscombe’s journalistic career and sporting roots came full circle, as her hometown literally took centre stage. With the night sky echoing a seemingly endless list of hit songs, while a national TV audience indulged in the soundtrack of their formative years, it was Canadian popular culture at its finest.
“Some of my final stories for Metro Halifax — and Metro Canada — were on the final tour of my hometown band The Tragically Hip.
I consider this to have sort have been my Metro ‘swan song,’ as it was a major national story with a special interest for me, since I am myself from Kingston, Ont., originally and grew up listening to The Hip and seeing the band members around town all the time.
As part of this series of Hip stories, I wrote a Hip Guide to Kingston, as well as pre- and post-concert stories that give readers a colourful, inside look at the beloved band’s hometown and its emotionally charged, nationally broadcast show at the K-Rock Centre, home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs.
Having the chance to not just attend that concert, but write about it nationally for Metro, was an extremely special experience for me, both personally and professionally. And of course I felt right at home writing at the concert, since it took place in my home away from home — the hockey rink!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Kristen Lipscombe