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Memorable First Season in Markham Highlighted by Thunder’s Efforts with DIFD Fundraiser


As the Markham Thunder took to the ice in the aftermath of the Winter Games, resuming the 2017-18 CWHL season and the final push for a postseason berth, there was also a revered focus on bringing betterment to the community. Hosting the Toronto Furies on February 24, 2018, the Thunder donned special edition jerseys as part of Markham’s first-ever fundraiser in honor of Do It for Daron (DIFD).

Honoring the life of the late Daron Richardson, a promising player whose ending came far too soon, subsequent years have seen a surge of support for DIFD. From iconic athlete Clara Hughes to ice hockey teams at numerous levels, including the CWHL, NCAA (ECAC and Ivy League conferences), NWHL, OHL, PWHL, the RSEQ conference’s Carleton Lady Ravens, and the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, all have hosted fundraisers in her honor. In addition to the Thunder, other teams that have hosted DIFD nights this season include the Calgary Inferno and the NWHL’s Boston Pride.

Of note, two current members of the Thunder’s roster called Daron’s older sister Morgan Richardson a teammate. Both hailing from Canada’s capital region, Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray skated alongside Morgan as members of the PWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators, which was coached by Luke Richardson, an NHL veteran of more than 20 seasons. During their careers in Ottawa, all three gained the privilege of competing for Canada at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, testament to their standing as world-class competitors and world-class people. As a side note, when the Lady Senators and Nepean Wildcats co-hosted the PWHL’s first DIFD fundraiser at the Sensplex in Kanata (back in 2012), all three were joined by numerous other Ottawa-raised NCAA competitors for the festivities, testament to the impact of foundation.

Having witnessed the evolution of DIFD, including its positive impact in the ECAC Conference, where Rattray and Howe skated for Clarkson while Morgan Richardson donned the colors of Cornell University, competing in Markham’s first-ever DIFD fundraiser holds profound meaning for Rattray. Not only does it rekindle fond memories of competing with the Richardson family in the PWHL, it adds a strong sense of purpose for Rattray, whose leadership for the Thunder is accentuated by her enthusiasm for this event.

“Very proud of how far DIFD has come, and how many people it has touched. Knowing the Richardson family and how amazing they are it doesn’t surprise me one bit. They are the type of people that included everyone and cared for everyone, two qualities that showed through Luke’s coaching and Morgan’s play and role of being a teammate. This is shown in what DIFD represents, an organization that truly wants to help and care for people who are struggling.”

As purple was the favorite color of Daron Richardson’s, the Thunder paid homage to this personal preference by donning purple jerseys, adorned with white trim for this meaningful game. With the Inferno having adopted purple for its numerous DIFD fundraisers since 2016, the Thunder have continued this admirable trend.

Coincidentally, the Inferno held their own fundraiser during the weekend, skating in black jerseys with rainbow trim for the You Can Play Foundation, adding to the distinct theme consisting of a collaboration of hockey humanitarianism and fashionable on-ice gear. In addition, jerseys from both games were auctioned online for fundraising, transforming from accoutrement to artifact. Upon viewing the very popular purple jersey, it was one that first-year Thunder skater Devon Skeats was very proud to wear,

“The jerseys were incredible—I was so excited to put mine on. I am glad that we auctioned them off, I mean it was not too hard as they looked so awesome!”

Fittingly, Erica Howe gained the start between the pipes for the Thunder, while Amanda Makela was on the opposite end of the frozen perimeter, making her ninth start this season for the blue and white. Merely 80 seconds into the game, Rattray would serendipitously provide the Thunder with the first lead of the game, as Kristin Richards and Lindsay Grigg, who once called Makela a teammate in Buffalo, gained the assists.

Having also participated in the ceremonial faceoff, getting the chance to score, especially the first goal, added luster in a game that held such a profound meaning for Rattray.

“Pretty special, I hold DIFD very close to my heart because of my relationship with the Richardson family and it was an honor to take that face off and kick off a pretty special (purple) night!”

Nearly nine minutes after Rattray’s goal, the Furies would even the score, capitalizing on the game’s first power play opportunity. Jenna Dingeldein, another former skater for Buffalo, logged her eighth goal of the season, while assists were credited to Jess Vella and Hayley Williams, who recorded her 10th helper this season.

Just 17 seconds after Dingeldein’s goal, Sydney Kidd was called for hooking, allowing Markham their own power play opportunity. Makela would remain well composed, denying the Thunder an opportunity to reclaim the lead. Of note, both teams would trade power play opportunities later in the period, although the latter half of this hotly contested first-period saw stout defensive play, each team posted eight shots on goal.

Collaborating effectively, Nicole Brown and Jenna McParland would represent the heartbeat of the Thunder’s special teams in the second and third periods, helping turn the tide in their team’s favor. With Furies skater Alexa Aramburu serving a penalty for interference, Brown would score her second goal of the season to a roar of approval from the Markham faithful. Nicole Kosta, who played with Brown at Quinnipiac University, and McParland each gained an assist.

During their time with the Quinnipiac Bobcats in Hamden Connecticut, Brown and Kosta enjoyed the opportunity to compete in numerous Do It for Daron fundraisers. With Daron’s older sister Morgan suiting up for the Cornell Big Red, the heartwarming efforts to raise awareness about DIFD and mental health was a program staple. Jessica Campbell, who was instrumental in organizing DIFD games when she skated for the Calgary Inferno was also a teammate of Richardson’s at Cornell. Undoubtedly, Brown has found a tremendous fulfillment and pride at the chance to continue to champion the admirable DIFD cause in professional women’s ice hockey,

“We had a DIFD fundraiser game against Cornell in all my 4 years at Quinnipiac. We were able to raise a few thousand dollars for such an amazing charity. Being friends with the Richardson family it meant the world to me to be able to continue raising awareness about youth mental health while playing professionally in the CWHL.”

Before Markham scored their third goal of the game, and second of the period, three more penalties were called, as tensions mounted in one of the CWHL’s signature rivalries. Former Canadian Interuniversity Sport star players Devon Skeats (an OUA champion with Wilfrid Laurier University) and Kristen Barbara (an alum of York University) collaborated on a goal scored at the 16:58 mark. For Skeats, who captured a championship with Buffalo in 2017, it was her third of the campaign.

Indubitably, the atmosphere for the DIFD fundraiser was one that provided Skeats with plenty of inspiration. Highly dedicated and persistent, Skeats constantly remains focused on providing her team with a positive presence, geared towards a successful final result. With the fundraiser serving as one of the finest hours for the Thunder this season, it was the kind of event that had her beaming with pride. Joyous at the opportunity to share in a noble cause alongside an equally devoted group of skaters, she reflected on it as one defined by a great effort in all facets.

“I am always proud of the teamwork the Thunder shows on and off the ice. We all know how special of an event DIFD is and wanted to make sure we provided the fans with a great team performance to top off an important fund raising cause.”

Only 33 seconds after Skeats’ goal, Carolyne Prevost trimmed the Thunder’s lead, with Brittany Zuback and Emily Fulton providing the assists. Afterwards, a sea of purple and blue jerseys flooded the ice at the Thornhill Community Centre as the referees attempted to bring order out of chaos. A total of five penalties were called at the 18:06 mark, as Jessica Hartwick was called for boarding, while roughing penalties were called to a pair of Thunder and Furies skater, aggression pouring out as neither side was looking to emerge from this game with a loss. 

Holding a 3-2 lead heading into the third, Markham was looking to place the game out of reach. As the third began as a defensive stalemate, mirroring the second period, special teams served as the solution to gaining a key advantage. Called for body checking at 8:37, Jessica Platt’s trip to the penalty box allowed Markham their opportunity. Once again, Brown supplied the heroics as McParland recorded her second assist of the game, doubling Markham’s lead at the 9:16 mark. 

McParland was not yet finished as Dania Simmonds and Kosta fed her the puck, burying past Makela less than four minutes after Brown’s goal. With Kosta gaining her second assist of the game, she joined Brown and McParland as Thunder skaters with a multi-point game, all key contributors in a 5-2 score.

Although Markham would serve a penalty shortly afterwards, Howe nullified the Furies offense, preventing any attempt at a comeback. With their third straight win versus the Furies, and fifth win in their last seven, the Thunder rode a wave of momentum as Howe was credited with her sixth win of the season, a fitting tribute to the Richardson family.

For her efforts, Brown was recognized as the First Star of the Game, while Barbara was bestowed Second Star honors. Furies blueliner Brooke Beazer gained Third Star acknowledgement, providing an admirable yet valiant effort on defense. While the chance to obtain the first-ever First Star of the Game honor this season was a tremendous point of pride for a jubilant Brown, she felt a greater sense of victory at the collaborative effort which resulted in over $5,000 raised, one where everyone truly shone on a memorable day,

“This was a game where we were all able to play for something bigger than ourselves and It felt pretty good to get the 2 points as we are in such a tight race for the last playoff spot. I felt on top of the world when I heard we had raised $5200 for DIFD. I can’t thank those who donated and put in a bid for our game worn DIFD jerseys enough, they all deserve the 1st star.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Teri Di-Lauro


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