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Lesley Reddon Remains Relevant in Growth of Women’s Hockey

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While words such as humble and dedicated, assiduous and hard-working can all define Lesley Reddon, there is no question that she is truly one of the game’s pioneers. Although she may not enjoy the fame that legendary competitors (and former teammates) such as Manon Rheaume, Cassie Campbell and Geraldine Heaney still celebrate in their post-playing careers, Reddon’s current achievements constitute a career that continues to progress, simultaneously adding to a unique legacy in the game.

Proving that female athletes can still enjoy prosperous and dynamic careers in sport long after their playing endeavors have reached their inevitable end, Reddon is making a significant impact with Hockey Canada, having worked with the organization since 2001. Working under the leadership of Melody Davidson on the national women’s ice hockey program, she currently holds the position of Manager of women’s high performance programs.

To still be part of hockey in such a unique way is one that has made Reddon’s work an absolute labor of love. Among the highlights in her career involved the chance to be part of the support staff for the Canadian women’s team that captured gold on home soil at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. As a side note, Reddon was on the ice for the celebratory gold medal photo in Vancouver.

“During high school my elementary school dream of playing in the NHL gave way to the more realistic goal for a female of having a career in sports administration.   Having the opportunity to be a national team athlete delayed the start of fulltime work but I was quite fortunate to have a fairly quick transition from playing to working at Hockey Canada.   I enjoy my role and am very appreciative of being able to work in hockey as a profession.”

In addition, Reddon has carved a unique legacy working with Canada’s U18 and U22/Developmental teams. As such teams are the first rungs in the ladder towards the dream of Winter Games ambitions, Reddon is so much more than just one of the hard-working individuals that make the team’s well-run evaluation camps and subsequent events a classy introduction to Hockey Canada. For so many of these young players, who bring a combination of ambition, a willingness to learn and the all-too obligatory nervous energy, people like Reddon were not just a buffer into the mesmerizing world of donning the national team’s colors, she would also become a mentor and a friend.

At a time when fellow Canadian goaltenders such as Manon Rheaume and Danielle Dube (along with American-born Erin Whitten) were all breaking the gender barrier in hockey, Reddon was among such an empowering group of women. Long before Kim St. Pierre, the winningest female goalie in IIHF history, would play for the all-male McGill Redmen at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Reddon had made history as the first to do so with the University of New Brunswick Reds.  

Prior to her stint with the Reds, Reddon, who was raised in Mississauga, Ontario made her mark at the university level, playing with the University of Toronto Lady Blues from 1989-93. In a decade that saw the program feature the likes of Justine Blainey, Lori Dupuis, Jayna Hefford, Andria Hunter, Laura Schuler and Vicky Sunohara (some of whom would also call Reddon a teammate at Nagano), Reddon was just as relevant to the program, providing a solid presence between the pipes, while gaining OUA All-Star honors four consecutive years.

Among other career highlights, she was recognized as Top Goaltender at the 1995 Pacific Rim Championships, and would follow it up with a nod to the 1997 3 Nations Cup All-Star Team. As a side note, she would also represent Canada in international play at the roller hockey level, capturing gold at the 1992 edition of the World Roller Hockey Championships.

The seminal moment in Reddon’s playing career would take place in February 1998 as Nagano, Japan served as the historic backdrop for the first-ever women’s ice hockey tournament in the Winter Games. An effort practically 10 years in the making, involving the vision of individuals such as Samantha Holmes, Hurricane Hazel McCallion and Fran Rider, among others, it represented a landmark moment in the game’s modern history.

As the approaching Pyeongchang Winter Games shall signify the 20th anniversary of the Nagano tournament, it is an event that Reddon shall remain forever linked to, as she was part of the first-ever Canadian contingent that participated in the Winter Games.

Although it was a time when some fans were reluctant to accept women in the game, Nagano resulted in a paradigm shift. When these wondrous women donned the Maple Leaf and represented their country on the world’s biggest stage, any differences were set aside in the name of national pride. Despite the sullen outcome of the gold medal game, the bigger victory was the endless fascination with the women’s game that developed, transforming skeptics and converting cynics into a group of immersed fans.

“The Nagano season was the first time the national team had the opportunity to train together fulltime so at the time I was just enjoying the experience and excitement of that every day. Now that more years have passed since then, I suppose we can look back at the historical aspect and say it was neat to have played in the first ‎Olympics that women’s hockey was a part of. 

Several years before women’s hockey was accepted as an Olympic sport I had set the goal of playing for as long as I could at the highest level (which at the time was a national championship) so to have that level take me to the Olympics in 1998 was an amazing experience for me and my family.”

Between 2012 and 2014, there was a unique opportunity for many female hockey players (both Canadian and American) to visit NHL teams and participate in practices. Such a magical and empowering time was fitting as 2012 marked the 20th Anniversary of Manon Rheaume breaking the gender barrier in hockey. 

The phenomena produced involved Shannon Szabados, the starting goaltender for Canada at Vancouver 2010, gaining an invitation by the Edmonton Oilers to participate at a practice. Several members of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars attended a practice at Bell Centre that also featured the Montreal Canadiens. Not to be forgotten was the fact that there was another player bestowed a special opportunity.

As Calgary is home to both the NHL’s Flames and Hockey Canada, Reddon would earn a well-deserved career milestone. Serving as a goalie at a Calgary Flames practice one week before Christmas 2014, filling in for backup Karri Ramo, who was under the weather, it was more than an exceptional tribute to a great career. Rekindling the great memories of having broken the gender barrier at the University of New Brunswick, Reddon did not look out of place guarding the crease. Instead, she emerged as a fresh revelation, standing shoulder to shoulder with her counterparts in the NHL, a longtime dream fulfilled. 

“The opportunity to participate with the Calgary Flames was tremendous and I was quite excited to have the chance to do so. I enjoy the shots.”

Prior to the 2016 IIHF Women’s Worlds being hosted on Canadian soil in Kamloops, the national team’s training camp allowed for a special chance to mine the mythology. In one practice, Reddon served as a fourth goalie, sharing the ice with the likes of Erica Howe, Charline Labonte and Emerance Maschmeyer, who would gain the start for Canada in the gold medal game.

One of the most endearing moments for the Canadian team, it was an opportunity for the younger players to appreciate Reddon in an eminently appropriate setting, on the ice. With multiple generations of players on the ice, the past, present and future collided in a perfect portal, properly able to appreciate the magnitude of such a moment as many of today’s stars benefited from the efforts of Reddon, both on and off the ice.

Considering that many of the players currently involved with the national team shall likely be part of the roster competing at Pyeongchang 2018, the practice was a fitting tribute for Reddon, bringing her career full circle. Stoically helping to build a strong future for the women’s game, Reddon remains a hero in the game, someone who makes it matter.

“I still love to play and am on the ice a lot year round when I’m home in Calgary.   Normally when we are at camps it means time off the ice for me so I was happy to have the chance to play at this year’s camp and enjoyed being on the ice with the current group of players.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Special thanks to Morgan Bell

Photo credit: Crystal Schick / Calgary Herald

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