With a remarkable number of women at all ages competing in ball hockey, it has emerged as one of hockey’s best kept secrets. Another intriguing fact about the rising importance of ball hockey is that many of the most talented players in ice hockey have extended their seasons by competing on the ball hockey court in spring and summer.
One could argue that all players’ roots can be traced back to ball hockey. Also known as street hockey, generations of children and preteens spent their formative years on a driveway or a side street with stick in hand. Whether it was playing with a tennis ball or the regulation orange ball found on the courts, such games were likely the first times that many boys and girls were teammates too.
The quality of play is such that championships are helped locally, provincially, nationally and globally (as sanctioned by the International Street Ball Hockey Federation [ISBHF]). Perhaps such quality is best evidenced in the traditional hockey powerhouse of Ontario, Canada.
As one of the largest ball hockey organizations in Canada, let alone North America, the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation (OBHF) is setting a gold standard for other organizations to emulate. With a leadership trinity consisting of Leaside Sports Hall of Fame member Chris Pellerin, the Vice-President of the Women’s Game, Karne Dewey-Decker, Vice-President of Girls Ball Hockey and Kathleen McCarthy, the Manager of Business Operations and Development, a golden age is destined to define the game in its near future.
Of note, Pellerin’s legacy in the game is undisputed. Not only is she a board member of the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association, she also serves as a supervisor and instructor for the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association. Not only has Pellerin captured three national championships as a player, she enjoyed another three in a coaching capacity, and also led Canada to three world championships in the role of head coach.
McCarthy, who is also an OBHF certified resume brings solid credentials. Possessing a Masters Degree, she also worked as a Coordinator of Coaching Development with the Ontario Soccer Association for several years. In discussing what a typical day like, it is evident that she is assiduous, determined and focused, all key qualities that shall help set the foundation in place for the promise of even brighter days ahead,
“I enjoy working with people who enjoy the game of ball hockey as much as I do. I also have immensely enjoyed composing the OBHF’s application for Provincial Sport Organization status with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. As we wait patiently for the government, I work with our current Trillium Grant to generate further growth and membership with the OBHF.
Furthermore, I deal with the Marketing and Sponsorship Opportunities, all social media and website development and maintenance as well as writing all governance documents pertaining to the OBHF – whether it be the OBHF Bylaws, Risk Management Guide, Strategic, Operational and Business Plans, Provincial Rules and program development as well consistent communication with my co-workers, my President Les Wilde and the 7 OBHF Board of Directors.
A typical day is always busy, especially this time of year when we are finishing up the winter ball hockey season, running the Winter Provincials, and getting organized and ready for the upcoming Spring/Summer season which typically, is our busiest time of the year.”
Undoubtedly, 2016 has emerged as a milestone-filled year for the OBHF. New partnerships with both the OWHA and the Canadian Womens Hockey League (CWHL) signify the growing importance of this highly relevant sporting organization.
From the outset, the involvement of the CWHL is most important as several of its players competed for both the eventual gold medal winning Team Canada squad, along with a pair of players suiting up for Team Italia at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds. Among the most notable CWHL players to make her mark in ball hockey is Delayne Brian. Having stood between the pipes for Canada in the gold medal game, her ball hockey legacy was destined to follow her to the 2016 Clarkson Cup.
In a serendipitous moment, the OBHF was part of 2016 Clarkson Cup Championship weekend. It would prove to be most fitting as Brian backstopped the Calgary Inferno to its first-ever Clarkson Cup win, garnering MVP honors in the process.
The Saturday prior to the Clarkson Cup finals, the OBHF made its presence felt in parking lot #9 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON. From an educational introduction that consisted of both the raison d’etre of the OBHF and the distinct differences between ice and ball hockey, the event was highlighted by the presence of some of Team Canada’s ball hockey heroes from the 2015 World Championship team.
Subsequently, an exhibition took place in the parking lot as five players from each of the participating teams in the Clarkson Cup, the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal took to the pavement for an unforgettable experience. With approximately 30 young female registrants on-hand, they gained the opportunity to call several of the CWHL’s finest a teammate for one day, as 20 jubilant parents proudly observed. Toques and jerseys adorned with the OBHF also commemorated the event. While McCarthy was proud to be able to help make such an event reality, adding an element of fun to one of the signature sporting events in Canadian women’s ice hockey, she is quick to point out that such a successful outcome was attributed to the proud support of another group, embodying the essence of teamwork,
“The event we ran on Saturday March 12th, 2016 was an extremely successful event for the OBHF. We were thrilled to have been chosen by CAAWS for a bursary to run the event, which assisted us with funding the event. We were able to provide our participants with hockey jerseys and toques while playing a game of ball hockey with 5 players from the Calgary Inferno and 5 players from Montreal Canadiennes.
We had over 60 people participate (girls, boys, parents, CWHL players and OBHF staff and volunteers). All of the participants were able to play hockey with CWHL stars, ask them questions, take pictures and get their hockey jersey signed by the players. The entire event was exciting, and every participant had a fantastic time, playing Canada’s favorite game!”
On Game Day, the presence of the OBHF was noticed inside Canadian Tire Centre. With McCarthy among the individuals from the OBHF in a booth inside the arena, fans in attendance gained awareness of the organization’s impact in female hockey. Distributing promotional literature, along with paraphernalia such as jerseys, hats, banners, and a prominent display that was highlighted by the women’s provincial championship trophy and a series of medals, it was a breakthrough moment that served to inform, educate and entertain, likely gaining new players in the process. As McCarthy reflects on the impact of being part of Clarkson Cup weekend, allowing a chance for novice fans to appreciate the role of women in ball hockey, there was a gratifying yet optimistic tone.
“The support from the CWHL and the OWHA has been phenomenal to both myself personally and to the OBHF and our growth of the female game. We now have a partnership with them both, and look forward to working events together to further promote the sport of ball hockey, ice hockey and women involved in sport in any capacity. Ironically, a lot of the CWHL and OWHA players play ball hockey in the OBHF, some compete at our Provincial Championships and National Championships as well, therefore our sport already has a great base, which we can certainly build on and progress over the next several years.”
Coincidentally, there is another unique Ottawa connection to the growing prominence of female ball hockey. During the summer of 2015, the Canadian nationals were hosted in Ottawa, with no shortage of CWHL stars in attendance. Among the four clubs that participated in the semi-finals, three boasted at least one player from the CWHL, including the gold medal winning Toronto Shamrocks, captained by Meagan Aarts, a charter member of the CWHL’s Furies.
In addition, several players from the now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators, one of the CWHL’s charter clubs, also participated in the nationals, preserving the team’s legacy. As a side note, Team Canada alum (and Team Manitoba player) Chantal Larocque is the older sister of Jocelyne Larocque, the current captain of the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder.
Considering that so many prominent women’s ice hockey players from the university and professional levels are adding ball hockey to their off-season workouts, while remaining close to the game in a unique setting, it is only natural that a growing number of superstar players will overlap into both sports. In discussing such growth with McCarthy, she is confident that the presence of ice hockey heroes on the ball hockey courts can only help to generate interest and increase awareness,
“Absolutely. I feel as though the game is growing so much because it is offered to anyone, in any community. It is an affordable sport as all you need is a pair of running shoes, a helmet with facial protection, a hockey stick and hockey gloves.
It is open to all ages and offers many opportunities for communities in Ontario to play for fun and exercise, or also have the option to play at the OBHF Provincials, the Canadian Ball Hockey Association National Championships or even play for team Canada at the International Street Ball Hockey Federation’s World Championships.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from: https://twitter.com/OBHFBallHockey/media