Serving as a season highlight, the weekend of December 3-4, 2016, resulted in the Brampton Thunder experiencing a profound emotional connection. Such a memorable weekend began with a collective effort defined by empathy and the essence of teamwork as the Thunder participated in the CWHL’s second-ever fundraiser for the admirable Do It For Daron foundation.
Following the fundraiser, the Thunder and Toronto Furies extended their rivalry in Barrie, Ontario, part of an exciting time for the sporting community, as both clubs were featured on the highly popular Rogers Hometown Hockey.
Akin to the Calgary Inferno’s initiative earlier in 2016, when Jessica Campbell helped to organize the first fundraiser, the Thunder also sported purple jerseys with the DIFD heart logo, the official color of the foundation.
The first period saw Brampton take the lead, as Laura Stacey scored her fourth of the season as Shannon MacAulay and Sarah Edney gained the assists. Edney would emerge as a significant factor in the game, as she scored the game’s second goal, capitalizing on a power play opportunity at the 6:01 mark in the second period.
Kelly Terry would try to turn the tide in Toronto’s favor, slipping the puck past Liz Knox, trimming Brampton’s lead by one goal. Before the period would expire, Becca King would score her first goal of the season while Kristen Richards gained her first assist and Edney supplied her second assist of the contest.
After more than ten minutes of scoreless play, fan favorite Natalie Spooner would log the first goal of the third period, as Brampton’s lead was back to one goal. Despite Toronto’s best efforts, which included an extra attacker in the game’s dying seconds, it was Brampton that would go back on the scoresheet, as Stacey scored into an empty net, sealing the victory.
For a pair of highly accomplished members on the Thunder, the DIFD game was an opportunity to pay tribute to the Richardson family, who co-founded the cause in the memory of family member Daron. As a side note, it also resulted in helping them re-connect with their hockey roots.
Having both grown up in the Ottawa area (where the foundation was first launched), Jamie Lee Rattray and Erica Howe played for the PWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators. Serving as head coach was Richardson family patriarch, Luke, a former first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Putting on the Thunder’s special DIFD jersey represented an emotional moment for Howe,
“Growing up in Ottawa and knowing the Richardson’s made putting on the DIFD jersey that much more of an honour. As I pulled the jersey over my head I took a quick moment to reflect on the bigger picture and how amazing it was that we could all put our differences aside and play for a bigger cause.
One of my favourite parts about playing hockey is the hockey community and seeing how the community can come together to make a difference like we did.”
Luke’s daughter Morgan not only played for the Lady Senators as well, she would go on to a four-year career with the Cornell Big Red. Current Thunder rookie Laura Stacey, whose great grandfather King Clancy played for the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, was a teammate of Morgan in a gold medal effort with Team Canada at the 2012 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships.
When the Lady Senators and local rival Nepean Wildcats hosted the PWHL’s first-ever DIFD fundraiser in December 2012, Rattray and Howe were among a proud group of Lady Senators alumnae on-hand. This also included current professional players Amanda Leveille and Cydney Roesler, along with Jenna Hendrikx (who played in the NCAA for Mercyhurst) as all joined Morgan, matriarch Stephanie Richardson and OWHA president Fran Rider at centre ice for a highly emotional pre-game ceremony.
As Howe and Rattray continue their storied careers at the professional ranks, teammates for the fourth time (having also played together with the Lady Senators, Team Canada U18 and the NCAA’s Clarkson Golden Knights) the opportunity to remain faithful to a cause so close to her heart, and subsequently, the entire women’s ice hockey community. Not only does the DIFD game signify a proud milestone in Rattray’s career in Brampton, it also strengthens an already iconic run as teammates with Howe, while bringing her in touch with her legendary hockey roots.
“Pretty special, this is personally my first DIFD game that I have been apart of and it overall was very special. Having known Daron and growing up playing with her older sister this definitely hits home. The impact DIFD has had on the hockey world is amazing, you see that purple DIFD heart everywhere around the rinks and anything we can do to help raise that awareness of youth mental health is pretty amazing.”
Part of this season’s rookie class with the Thunder, Jessica Hartwick is familiar with DIFD. Having played for head coach Lisa Haley with Toronto’s Ryerson Rams at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Hartwick holds the distinction of having played in the Rams inaugural season.
Having blossomed as a leader of the Rams defensive unit, her career also included donning the program’s blue and gold colors to participate in a DIFD fundraiser game against the University of Guelph which also featured Melissa Wronzberg, who is also a fellow rookie on the Thunder, becoming the first Ryerson alums to compete in the CWHL. The chance to continue the positive message of DIFD with Wronzberg in the newest chapter of her career held proud privilege for Hartwick. With so many young players at the DIFD game, she was pleased with the encouraging results.
“I believe that any movement when it comes to supporting any foundation like DIFD will create a positive message. Our game turned out amazing and I am so proud of all the of hard work that our players and especially our GM’s and our volunteers put into this game.
Regardless of the turnout supporting foundations like DIFD will impact a lot of people around us – more than we think. It’s an amazing feeling looking into the stands and seeing how many people can come together to support such an amazing cause and that we as players get to be advocates of creating safe spaces to speak about youth mental health.”
The impact of DIFD is such that American-based have hosted their own events in honor of the cause, resulting in an admirable group of hockey humanitarians on both sides of the border. From Cornell hosting four DIFD nights during Morgan’s run with the Big Red, to rival teams such as Princeton and Quinnipiac (where Roesler starred), even American professional teams such as the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts have also proudly participated.
Adding to the jubilation of an encouraging fundraiser, which also added to a growing league legacy as inspiring hockey humanitarians, the Thunder enjoyed the opportunity to be part of Rogers Hometown Hockey in the community of Barrie, Ontario. Quickly emerging as essential hockey viewing, RHH is equally becoming a significant part of sporting Canadiana.
Taking to the ice in Barrie against their eternal rivals, the Toronto Furies, it added an exciting new dimension to the Battle of Toronto, while capturing the imagination and subsequently, the hearts and minds of young fans and junior players, hoping to one day emulate their hockey heroines.
Having also enjoyed the opportunity to skate in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game (where she earned the win as a member of Team Red with Rattray), the Hometown Hockey experience added another proud highlight in Howe’s career. While Howe is already in her third season with the Thunder, she is among three CWHL goaltenders (including Genevieve Lacasse and Emerance Maschmeyer) to have stood between the pipes at Canada’s U18, U22/Development and Senior levels.
Combining with Liz Knox, who gained the start in the DIFD game, this dazzling duo provides one of the most formidable goaltending tandems in the league. The chance to bring the league to a bigger audience with Hometown Hockey, embodied the reason why she continues to play the game,
“Our hometown hockey game meant a lot for female hockey. It meant that women’s hockey is pushing the envelope and getting bigger and more of a following each year. I am in my third year with the Brampton Thunder in the CWHL and every year the league pushes the barriers further and further.
We become a more professional league every day and I am extremely grateful to have a professional league to play in. From Hometown Hockey to regular season games aired on Sportsnet, the CWHL has done a great deal for women’s and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.”
Gracing the ice at Bayfield Arena, Toronto was seeking retribution in a rematch with their eternal rivals. Just 24 seconds into the game, Kelly Terry would provide the blue and white with the only goal of the first period, which culminated with them outshooting Brampton by a slim 9-8 margin.
All-Star Jess Jones would provide the Brapmton faithful with some hope, tying the game in the second period with her team best sixth goal. With Erica Howe playing valiantly, facing 12 shots during a challenging second, Spooner would score at the 11:05 mark, reclaiming the lead.
It was a lead that would stand as Toronto scored twice in the final frame, as Spooner solved Howe yet again, while Carolyne Prevost scored into an empty net, the second straight game that such a goal occurred. Despite the blue and white outshooting Brampton in all three periods, Howe was a crucial factor in nullifying multiple power play opportunities, providing her team with a chance to remain competitive in the third.
On this day, the final score was merely prologue, part of a richer narrative that saw both the Thunder and Furies bring their superlative skills to a community with a proud hockey heritage. Spanning from the Barrie Flyers to the modern-day Barrie Sharks in the PWHL, the amazing women of the CWHL finally gained the opportunity to showcase their skills on an exceptional stage in this remarkable hockey community.
Over the last few seasons, the Sharks hold proud ties to the CWHL. Sharks alum Alessandra Bianchi played at the Univeristy of Toronto under head coach Vicky Sunohara, a former captain for the Brampton Thunder. Former Sharks teammate Alex Bond skated at the NCAA level for Bemidji State alongside Kaitlyn Tougas, who is currently in her rookie season with the Thunder.
Furies captain Natalie Spooner also serves as a skills coach with the Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks, where current members of the Ridgebacks roster include a pair of Sharks alums, Alex Frigon and Briar Hughes. In addition, former Furies skater Alora Keers sharpened her skills at the PWHL level while donning the Sharks jersey.
Considering that Rattray has developed into one of the game’s most promising superstars, she has not only remained humble, but remains even more committed to a great fan experience. With the presence of so many young players that were present in Barrie, which included a post-game autograph session, Rattray was awed by the exceptional enthusiasm of the young fans on-hand for an event that is destined to shape their young careers with memories that will last a lifetime,
“I think what stood out for me was the passionate group of young fans that came out and watched our game. There were young girls everywhere around the rink in jerseys, representing their team colours. It’s always amazing to see strong female hockey communities, shows that our game is in good hands and growing!”
Having appeared in all 14 contests during the first half of the 2016-17 campaign, Hartwick has provided disciplined play while showing an admirable combination of patience and a willingness to learn.
During her PWHL years, she was a member of the Brampton Jr. Thunder, which sees her career come full circle at the CWHL level.
For Hartwick, the aftermath of Hometown Hockey provided very powerful emotions. Unbeknownst to Hartwick was the fact that she had a different kind of team in attendance, with multiple family members cheering her on.
“I have two favorite memories about the Rogers Hometown Hockey experience. My first was that I had family surprise me and come watch me play live for the very first time this past weekend. They live in Barrie and because of their age, traveling is very hard on them so they are unable to go far.
I was signing autographs after the game when my great aunt walked up to me and asked me to sign her brochure – I did not even know they were there until that moment. The purpose of hometown hockey is for community outreach and community engagement so it is very heartwarming to know that not only did my team give an experience to the younger generation, but that I also had the chance to give my family the opportunity to watch a live game as well.”
That strong sense of teamwork was evident in another way during the aftermath of the Hometown Hockey contest. With players from both teams braving the elements with an outdoor autograph session, empathic enthusiasts generously provided warmth in the form of blankets, jerseys and wool hats.
On a day that was meant to appreciate the fans, such sentiment was reciprocated, providing Hartwick with a defining and heartwarming moment in her inaugural season with the Thunder.
My second favorite memory was post-game when we went down to the Hometown Hockey broadcasting area to sign autographs. When we got there, we were set up at a table outside and since we were all in our dress clothes coming from the rink, we were not exactly dressed for the weather.
The people there gave us hats, mittens, and neck warmers and truly made us feel at home while we were there. It was a very humbling experience to have them be so grateful that we had come by and they could not have done a better job welcoming us to their town.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook. Photo credits: Jess Bazal and John Morrison
Acknowledgements: Lori Dupuis