Having first played ball hockey in 2013, Michelle Marsz has quickly emerged as one of the game’s rising stars, reaching the apex of competition by donning Canada’s jersey at the ISBHF Women’s Worlds. In four short years, her career has grown by a quantum leap, attaining numerous podium finishes while adding to an already solid hockey resume.
During the calendar year of 2016, Marsz participated in three prestigious tournaments (each contested in Canada), all prologue for the heroics to follow the year later in Pardubice. Competing at the 2016 INDO Canada Cup in Calgary, Alberta, Marsz achieved a fascinating triptych of titanic impact. Emerging with a podium finish (silver), Marsz captured the tournament scoring title, along with Top Defender honors, respectively.
Wearing Team Ireland’s colors, Marsz competed at an international 3-on-3 ball hockey tournament in Montreal. With the number 19 adorning the back of her jersey, she experienced the jubilation of another podium finish, earning a bronze medal, as Ireland defeated Team Europe.
Before the year would expire, there was also the historic victory at the CBHA National Championships. With three different tournaments resulting in a full spectrum of gold, silver and bronze, Marsz quickly caught the attention of scouts for Team Canada, who were evaluating talent at the Nationals.
Upon receiving the news in December that Marsz would be named to Team Canada 2017, one definitive word came to mind. Said word would take on an even greater meaning once she actually wore the jersey in Pardubice, the words “Canada” emblazoned on the front, resulting in feelings of national pride and a sense of dedication towards nation and teammate,
“Goosebumps. Representing Canada has been a dream of mine since childhood. It became reality when I put on the jersey. I felt fortunate to represent our country. I not only wanted to succeed for my teammates, but for my family and friends who supported me along the way.”
Prior to ball hockey, Marsz assembled a solid career on the ice, standing between the pipes with the prestigious Pacific Steelers program. Committing to compete in NCAA ice hockey with Erie, Pennsylvania’s Mercyhurst Lakers in 2003, she was one of nine members of the Steelers’ graduating class that year that would play in NCAA hockey.
In addition, Marsz was not the only alum of this prominent program to represent Canada in international athletics. Fellow 2003 grad Amber Bowman would proudly wave the Maple Leaf during international fire fighter competitions, setting numerous world records. Melanie Jue, a 2004 graduate, would compete for Canada at the 2015 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, adding to the program’s growing ball hockey legacy. As a side note, Jue is a charter member of China’s Kunlun Red Star ice hockey team.
Graduating from the Steelers in 2006, Amanda Asay would emerge as a two-sport star with the Brown Bears. In 2015, she was a member of the Canadian team that gained the silver medal in the first women’s baseball tournament at the Pan-American Games.
Spending one season with the Lakers (2003-04), sharing goaltending duties with Desirae Clark and Shivaun Siegl, there were unique elements of coincidence and foreshadowing that defined Marsz’s NCAA career. Fast forward five years, and Hilary Pattenden, a member of the Steelers’ Class of 2008 would also join the Lakers. As a side note, Pattenden would graduate as the NCAA’s all-time winningest female goaltender (since broken).
Among Marsz’s teammates that wore the Lakers colors, there was another that would also extend her athletic endeavors via the courts of ball hockey. Part of Team Canada’s entry at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, Lesley McArthur would also capture a CBHA championship with the prestigious Vanier Mooseheads in 2014. The following year, McArthur was named to the 2015 edition of Canada’s contingent.
Akin to McArthur, not only would Marsz enjoy the prestige of wearing Canada’s jersey at the ISBHF Worlds, she would also reach the monumental milestone of a CBHA National Championship. Converting from goaltending on the ice to defense on the court, it was a seamless transition for Marsz, whose analytical vision cultivated as a goaltender yielded tremendous dividens in her new defensive role.
Capturing the coveted national championship as a member of the Calgary Elite in 2016, there was also a significant sense of homecoming. With Richmond, British Columbia serving as host city, it helped bring Marsz’s career full circle. Raised in the community of Port Moody, approximately 30 km east of Richmond, it is also one of the Tri-Cities near Metro Vancouver, bordering Coquitlam and Burnaby.
During the elimination round, Marsz combined defensive brilliance with offensive efficiency, emerging as a significant contributor towards the Elite capturing Alberta’s first-ever CBHA National Championships. Scoring a goal in the semi-final versus the BC Selects, Marsz proceeded with a sterling two assist performance in the gold medal game against the Edmonton Red Light.
Along with Kendra Dunlop and Margaux Sharp, Marsz tied for the team lead in assists. Recognized as the tournament’s Top Defender, she was joined by teammate (and former Dartmouth ice hockey star) Reagan Fischer with recognition as Top Forward. Such accolades enhanced an unforgettable time that elevated Marsz to superstar status, while providing the city of Calgary with another prestigious national hockey championship.
“Achieving the 2016 CBHA National Championship was special not only for me, but for my teammates. For many of us this was our first glimpse of National level competition. We were privileged to play among the Nation’s best talent, and elated when we brought home Calgary’s first ever National title. Having family and friends there for support made this experience one I will never forget.”
Adding to the impact of this historic national championship in Alberta’s sporting lore is the fact that Marsz was one of four members of the Elite that gained the call to compete for Canada at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds in Pardubice. Joining Marsz included a diverse yet distinct group of accomplished competitors such as Heather Berzins, who captured a CIS national ice hockey championship with the University of Calgary Dinos, Mandi Duhamel, who once served as Canada’s head coach at the FIRS Inline Worlds, plus Rhianna Kurio, who also captured a Clarkson Cup in 2016 as a member of the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno.
Appearing in every game for Canada, wearing the number 19 for another cherished occasion, one of Marsz’s most compelling performances took place on June 7 against host country Czech Republic. With both clubs jockeying for position in the preliminary round standings, the extension of this epic rivalry in ISBHF lore did not disappoint. In a hotly contested match which featured superlative goaltending and a heightened sense of intensity, it was Marsz who would help shift the momentum into Canada’s favor.
Capitalizing on the power play, Marsz provided Canada with the first lead of the game, while attaining the first goal of her ISBHF career. Gaining the assist on the landmark goal was Giuliana Pallotta, a member of the eventual 2017 CBHA national championship New Tecumseth X-Treme. Prevailing by a 2-1 tally, the only loss in tournament play for the Czech Republic, as Elysia Desmier logged the game winning goal, Marsz’s contributions represented a tremendous point of pride, resulting in a tournament highlight,
“We understood Czech was going to be top contender in the tournament. Gaining an early lead and sticking to coach’s game plan was key. I’m thrilled I was able to contribute to our game success.”
As monumental as the feeling of scoring the first goal represented for Marsz, there would be another highlight before tournament’s end. With Canada appearing in the bronze medal, there was a heightened sense of motivation, a strong desire to emerge from her international debut with a podium finish.
Facing off against long-time rival Slovakia, it brought a serendipitous sense of closure to Marsz’ inaugural experience with Team Canada. Taking into account that her international debut took place on June 3 versus the Slovaks, an eventual 2-1 loss, the chance to claim the bronze and earn a coveted spot on the podium also offered a sense of redemption.
Earning the assist on a third period goal by Amanda Kean, it was part of an inspiring contribution that saw Marsz and her fellow Canadians emerge victorious in a convincing 5-0 victory, which included fellow Alberta resident Kristen Sugiyama recording her second tournament shutout. Worth noting, Elite teammate Kurio would score the last goal of the tournament, adding sheen to a sensational storybook ending in Pardubice, simultaneously accentuating a quintessential ball hockey odyssey for a joyous Marsz,
“I am extremely proud of our podium finish. We did fall short of our gold medal aspiration, but that will fuel the fire for an even stronger finish in 2019!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Daniel Soucek