It was a far different season compared to the last. Despite the visceral familiarity of last place for the Boston Blades, these frozen gladiators were transformed into vessels of hope for a franchise still transforming its identity. Garbed in the wonderfully classic combination of black, gold and white, the path to becoming a team, and a family, served as motivation for an inspiring goaltender’s dream.
Returning to the crease after a far-too long absence, goaltender Lauren Dahm made an instant impression. Making her CWHL debut against the Toronto Furies on October 15, 2016, it was destined to be one of the classic games during the league’s 10th Anniversary season.
From the outset, there was a proud Clarkson Golden Knights presence. Having helped propel Clarkson into a national power during her four years as a goaltender, Dahm was joined on the ice by a trio of other Golden Knights alumnae making their debut.
Of note, Carlee Eusepi-Campbell (who played alongside Dahm for the green and gold) along with blueliners Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast, both members of the 2014 Frozen Four championship team, were Furies draft picks. Also making their debuts in this notable match were Boston skaters Kayla Tutino, the first pick overall in the 2016 CWHL Draft and former Boston College competitor Meghan Grieves.
While the five aforementioned would compete in the third CWHL All-Star Game, Dahm was definitely a most deserving candidate. Despite this, Dahm showed why she is an All-Star off the ice. Displaying an elegant grace, she was very proud to hear that Eusepi-Campbell gained the honor of All-Star captaincy, definitely a point of pride in Clarkson lore,
“Absolutely. I think any time positive attention is brought to Clarkson is a great thing. Carlee is a great representative of Clarkson and the hockey program there. We both returned to the game this season after a decent amount of time away so seeing her have success this year as well made me a very proud Golden Knight alum.”
Dahm’s enthusiastic efforts in her first appearance for Boston resulted in a remarkable 54 saves against Toronto, setting a league record for most saves by a goaltender in their debut. Despite the overtime loss for a dejected Boston squad, Dahm was a revelation. With over 63 minutes of ice time, and a .964 save percentage, her consistency and durability provided the franchise with more than just a cornerstone between the pipes. Her assiduous dedication was able to keep the team competitive, while remaining in the conversation for a playoff berth during the first half of the season.
In five of her first seven starts, Dahm would face at least 50 shots, included an astonishing 65 shots on November 13 against the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Canadiennes de Montreal season. The 65-shot performance would stand as the season high in league play. As a side note, she would amass 249 saves in her first seven starts, tops among league backstops.
Such impressive performances would follow with a proud career milestone for the determined Dahm. Becoming the first goaltender since Genevieve Lacasse, who achieved the feat on three separate occasions in the 2014-15 season (including straight wins against the Calgary Inferno on Dec 6-7, 2014), Dahm posted back-to-back wins in consecutive games on December 11 and 17, 2016, providing Blades nation with an early holiday gift.
The day prior to the December 11 triumph, Dahm enthralled the Furies faithful, collecting another impressive 50 save performance, the third such during her inaugural season with the Blades.
Stopping 38 of 40 shots at Toronto’s Mastercard Centre on December 11, Dahm showed tremendous mettle, instilling belief in her team that a win was possible, facing 32 shots (compared to 10 for Boston) in the first two periods. Her teammates replied, outshooting Toronto by a 7-5 mark in the third.
Overcoming a 2-0 deficit, Tara Watchorn, the first Canadian born captain in Blades history, logged her first goal of the season at the 14:12 mark of the second period. Nicole Giannino would score on Toronto’s Sonia van der Bliek in the third, while the squad’s stout defensive play forced overtime. As a side note, Dahm would nullify five of six Toronto power play opportunities in the game, only adding to her extraordinary exploits.
Coming through with heroics in the shootout, Dahm would deny both Jenelle Kohanchuk and Erin Ambrose, having both been affiliated with Canada’s national team. Meanwhile, teammates Megan Myers and Melissa Bizzari would assist Dahm’s cause, both scoring in the shootout.
Considering that her CWHL debut also took place in the same venue, it would prove to be a venue that holds a special place in her heart. Adding to the jubilation of such a meaningful occasion, it was enhanced by the proud presence of Dahm’s parents, who made the trek from New York State to see their daughter in action.
“The shootout win was extremely exciting. It was such a full team win and I was glad to keep us in the game until Gino scored the tying goal to send it to overtime.
We all knew we wanted a different outcome than the very first game of the season when we lost to them in overtime, so getting to the shootout was a good progression. From there, Myers and Moose (Melissa Bizzari) scored on their attempts so I think that took a little bit of pressure off me and let me just breathe and stop their two shooters.
Getting my first pro win and our first win of the season in that fashion was unreal. When I skated out for my Star of the Game, directly across the ice were my parents and it meant the world for me to have them there for such a pivotal game. Then when I made my way to the locker room, it was absolutely "lit" as the kids are saying these days. Being able to celebrate and just take it all in was incredible.”
Following the win against the frustrated Furies, Dahm remained occupied again, as a busy affair against Brampton saw her make 37 saves. Opposing two-time CWHL All-Star goaltender Erica Howe, it was a unique match for both goaltenders, providing Clarkson hockey fans with a dream matchup. Of note, Howe inherited the starting goaltenders role at Clarkson, building on Dahm’s impressive body of work with the green and gold.
Both Boston and Brampton provided offensive fireworks, with goals scored in each period. Facing a 2-1 deficit during the second period, Melissa Bizzari and rookie sensation Kate Leary, who capitalized on a power play opportunity, provided the Blades with a hard-fought lead. Before the third would expire, Jess Jones (who captured a share of the scoring title by season’s end) tied the game, with Brampton having outshot their opponents by a 30-21 mark.
Despite the Blades being outshot again in the third, it was a period defined for the team by clean play, enabling them an opportunity to break the 3-3 deadlock. In between penalties for Brampton, Erin Kickham buried the puck past Howe at the 12:08 mark, with Sadie St. Germain gaining the assist on what stood as the game-winning tally. Once again, a collaborative team effort, inspired by Dahm’s inspired demeanor between the pipes, set the tone for their second straight win of the season.
Fittingly, Dahm would be recognized as the First Star of the Game, while Kayla Tutino, who was the first pick overall in the 2016 CWHL Draft, had Third Star honors bestowed upon her. Certainly, the milestone of back-to-back wins was a key factor in helping contribute to team morale while bringing the team closer together, inspiring confidence among themselves.
“When we went to Brampton the following weekend, I think we just had a sense of confidence that had not necessarily been present for us yet. I just had a sense we had this game. Putting up back to back wins was not only a confidence boost for us, but I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes across the league that the Blades were not to be taken lightly.”
Undoubtedly, Dahm’s efforts were a key contributing effort in the Blades success in those two titanic outcomes. Like so many of her amazing efforts throughout the season, it was an amazing display of pure raw talent. Instinctively, she assembled some of the finest goaltending performances during the league’s tenth anniversary season, winning over new fans in each of the markets that she visited.
On eight separate occasions, Dahm recorded at least 40 saves or more in one game. Finishing her inaugural season in the CWHL season as the league leader in minutes played, shots and saves, her resolve is just as exceptional. Although the Blades were unable to build on their two-game win streak, mired in the desolation of last place, the game and its camaraderie still held a special magic.
The maturity of Dahm helped to ease the pain of loss, masking the struggle and replacing it with optimism. The ice is like a mirror, and hope lies beneath despair, ready to erupt. Her amazing outlook on the game and what it meant to be able to play for the Blades rose to the surface. Discussing how she remained motivated despite some difficult losses, her dedication shines through, emerging as a beacon of encouragement and a model teammate,
“I think just never losing sight of why I was there and the big picture. I was playing professional hockey and getting to be on the ice with Olympians every weekend.
A lot of the motivation came from wanting to be the backbone for my team and give us a chance to win/keep us in the game, but there was also the fact that I needed to prove I belonged on the ice when I’m sure, especially after my time away from the game, some people doubting or unsure.”
Keeping in mind that the 2017-18 season shall be one defined by many of its stars attending centralization, in the hopes of qualifying for the Canadian national team in women’s ice hockey at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, Boston will be the least affected. Should the core of the roster remain together, the team chemistry and the unified effort to overcome the struggles of this season are poised to reap remarkable dividends.
With the promise of parity in the season to come and the hope of a solid draft class for the continuously improving Blades, not only is a postseason berth within reach, but it may allow Dahm to take her proper place among the league’s elite goalies. Her resilient performances this season truly provided fans a glimpse of the superlative talents that made her a member of Team USA’s Under-22 national team at the dawn of the decade.
Temporarily focusing on a well-deserved break before offseason preparations begin, there was a significant aspect that helped defined Dahm’s inaugural season with the Blades. Throughout every market in the CWHL, part of the experience for any player is the fan interaction.
In all markets, visiting players are also the subject of fan’s admiration, eager for autographs and photographs. Despite the rivalries between the teams, the culture of sportsmanship and respect is one that is not lost on fans, who are proud to meet their hockey heroes. Along with the presence of social media, Dahm charismatically enjoyed the fan experience. In reflecting on this facet of her inaugural season, the chance to sign autographs and get to meet fans of all ages first hand was more than just fun, it was a sense of appreciation reciprocated by both player and fan alike,
“Absolutely. Coming out of the locker room and seeing a crowd of young girls standing there with their sharpies and papers, hats, jerseys, and pucks that they want us to sign is great. It is kind of surreal at the same time, but it is why we do what we do. These girls need someone to look up to so they can dream of one day doing it too.
On top of that, I was able to meet a lot of fans after games (and on twitter) who became fans of mine and the Blades after seeing one of our games. That will only help to grow the game even more and hearing how our performance inspired them to become fans is really exciting. Plus, knowing we have fans in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal makes it even more exciting to travel there and play them the next time.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from: Facebook