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Lasting legacy of Hurricane Hazel McCallion inspired generations (Part Two)

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A proud fixture at many local sporting events, Hazel McCallion may have been the biggest fan of the Canadian national women’s team. On-hand for the 1997 and 2000 IIHF Women’s World Championships, held in Kitchener and Mississauga, Ontario, plus the inaugural TSN Challenge, taking place during NHL All-Star Weekend at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, McCallion also shared a passion for the burgeoning professional female game.

Among the dignitaries in attendance at the 2010 Clarkson Cup, the event also the final appearance of the proud Mississauga Chiefs franchise. Also participating in the opening faceoff at the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, made legendary by goaltender, and All-Star captain, Charline Labonte kneeling down to trap the puck in her glove, a roar of applause followed.

Coincidentally, the event featured another pair of prominent players with proud ties to Mississauga. Sami Jo Small, a co-founder of the Toronto Furies, and participant at the 2010 Clarkson Cup, was among the All-Star goaltenders on Team White. A two-time captain for Canada at the Winter Games, Cassie Campbell, a member of the broadcast team for the All-Star Game, played her junior hockey in Mississauga. Worth noting, both Small and Campbell also competed at the TSN Challenge.

Born in Winnipeg, Small, currently the President of the Toronto Six, found a second home in Mississauga. While Small’s distinguished career included gold medals at the IIHF Women’s Worlds and the Winter Games, plus the 2014 Clarkson Cup, an essential chapter in her hockey odyssey involved standing between the pipes for the Mississauga Chiefs. Quite possibly the greatest goaltender in franchise history, Small not only appeared with the Chiefs at the 2010 Clarkson Cup, one of her greatest moments involved winning the Esso Women’s Nationals (EWN) two years earlier.

Recounting one of her most meaningful memories involving the tremendous support of McCallion, it mirrored sentiments previously shared by Cheryl Pounder, also a member of the Chiefs 2008 championship team. The promise of a celebratory barbeque should the Chiefs prevail at the EWN marked a seminal moment for the franchise, a show of support by its biggest fan. Undeniably, one of Small’s proudest highlights, the publication of her autobiography, “The Role I Played”, featured a kind gesture by McCallion, writing a dedication, symbolic of the class and loyalty she represented.  

“Hazel McCallion was a huge fan of women’s hockey and supported, not only her local Mississauga teams, but the National Team and International hockey as well. I remember winning the 2007 National Championships under the banner of Mississauga and having Hazel not only personally wish us well prior to the game, but host us for a barbeque at her house after we won the Championship. Hazel has been a role model and mentor to me over the years.

As a resident of Mississauga, I have seen first hand what she has meant not only to this city, but to the country. When travelling, I would often say, “I live in Mississauga, you know, where Hazel McCallion is the Mayor”, and get an instant response. She worked so hard, yet always had time for people. She went above and beyond to help and she was kind enough to write the dedication for me on the jacket cover of my book. I am a fortunate person to have had Hazel McCallion in my life.”

Of note, the current generation of Mississauga’s junior hockey stars proudly play for a team named in honor of McCallion. Known by the sobriquet Hurricanes, a recent gesture to honor McCallion’s life involved the introduction of the Athlete of the Week Program. As the Hurricanes organization also features programs at different age levels, all competitors are eligible. Rewarded in demonstration of the qualities and values of “Hurricane Hazel”, the first recipient earned the honor on February 16, 2023. 

Among the organization’s star players, Charlotte Pieckenhagen, also a commit to the University of Wisconsin, gained a cherished opportunity to add to Mississauga’s proud women’s ice hockey legacy. A second generation athlete, whose father Curt, rowed for Canada at the 1983 Pan American Games and with the Harvard Crimson, Pieckenhagen also won a gold medal at the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association championships.

Earning the call for Canada, Pieckenhagen proudly represented the Hurricanes at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships. Held in Ostersund, Sweden, she contributed a pair of points in the gold medal game, a convincing 10-0 victory over the host Swedes. With the opportunity to capture the gold taking place on January 15, 2023, exactly two weeks before McCallion’s passing, Pieckenhagen and her fellow Canadians provided her with one more instance of female hockey glory. 

“Oh my God, where do you start? Most would argue that I and other female athletes would play hockey on an international level only because of Hazel McCallion. Most know McCallion by politics but not for Canadian women’s hockey. Hurricane Hazel was the driving force for women’s hockey in Canada.

“Legend” is not a strong enough word to describe Hurricane Hazel. She was the fierce and awesome goddess of the sport in Canada. She was her namesake. She rebuilt the sport for more than 80 years, using her vision for what Canadian women’s hockey can be and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

Hurricane Hazel helped to introduce Canadian women’s hockey to the world many decades ago. I stand proud and honored to wear the Mississauga Hurricanes jersey that represents Hurricane Hazel, her city of Mississauga, her passion and her vision.”

Before the opening face-off of the 2023 PHF All-Star Game, held at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) inside Toronto’s vaunted Maple Leaf Gardens, a moment of silence was held in McCallion’s honor. Among the first year players for the PHF this season, goaltender Kassidy Sauvé, signed with the Buffalo Beauts, recounted meeting McCallion as a teenager.

In addition to a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championships, Sauve also backstopped Team Ontario Red to a Canadian Under-18 National Championship. Proudly wearing her Ontario Red jersey for a highly memorable encounter with the distinguished Mayor and hockey enthusiast, it was one that left that the gifted goaltender in awe.

“When I met Hazel, I knew I was meeting a legend. Anyone who has been lucky enough to meet Hazel, knows that she was a trailblazer and her heart was fully invested in supporting women in sports. She was remarkable to meet and have conversations with. She was so welcoming and familiar, and a prime example that there are no limits for women.”

Possessing an extensive legacy in both civic duty and sporting equality, the fact that so many talented women from Mississauga held a connection to numerous levels of hockey, from the OWHA to USports/NCAA, along with the CWHL/PHF to IIHF, stands as a wonderful tribute to McCallion. Additionally, it is somewhat fitting that McCallion held a unique place in starting the conversation about women in Olympic hockey.

A letter writing campaign by a 10 year old Samantha Holmes in 1988 (later a player with the University of New Hampshire and founder of the Strathmore Rockies) included correspondence to McCallion, a tremendous influence for the ambitious youth. As recounted in an article from the University of New Hampshire website about Holmes, a quote from McCallion summed up the admirable effort, “I remember getting the letter from her. She was a sweet kid, and I’m so proud of her that she would write to me at that age.”

Serendipitously, Pounder, Small and Campbell added to Mississauga’s growing hockey legacy, all teammates on Canada’s gold medal winners at the Winter Games from Salt Lake 2002 and Torino 2006. As 2002 marked the first medal for Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, Pounder recounts how the team’s arrival at Pearson International Airport in Mississauga featured an elated McCallion, proud to welcome them home.

Fittingly, Pounder and McCallion shared another proud Olympic moment. On December 19, 2009, a day which saw the Vancouver 2010 Torch Relay pass through Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, both were among the participants. As the torch went down Burnhamthorpe Road towards the civic center for a celebration, the day provided a lifetime of memories, stirring a strong sense of national pride.

Although the passing of such an iconic figure resulted in an understandable tinge of sadness, Pounder, in attendance at the celebration of McCallion’s life, found the ability to navigate through the sadness, remembering the positive influence such a revered individual had on so many. Undoubtedly, all those who knew or met McCallion shall always reflect on the experience with the same type of positivity, not shrouded in mourning, but filled with joy.

Hazel McCallion with Meghan Agosta

“After the 2002 Olympics, I was met at the airport by Hazel with open arms, welcoming Gold to her City with a triumphant hug. The parade would ensue. The torch to Hazel in 2010 was a highlight. A Community of Sport congregating at the heart of Mississauga to watch the hope and optimism of gathering together.

Her funeral was serendipitous. At Paramount. Being laid to rest in the exact spot where we won gold in OT. Although I shed a tear of sadness, I smiled in recognition of an amazing life that impacted so many. Thank you Hazel.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Featured image by Chris Chapman. Obtained from everythingzoomer.com

Further reading: https://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/2019/06/goal-oriented

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