Among the elite competitors that grace the court in the ultra competitive Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), very few can compare to the likes of goaltender Nathalie Girouard and forward Elysia Desmier. In a career that has seen them compete on the world’s biggest stage in ball hockey, subsequently bringing back gold, their legacies add a touch of class to the highly competitive Vanier Mooseheads.
With the 2015 CBHA Nationals being hosted in Ottawa, it was a welcome opportunity for both to display their world-class skills on home soil. Taking into account that both were also part of the Canadian contingent that captured the gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland, it has been nothing short of an eventful year,
“With the nationals this year on home soil, it means that I could attend. Both of us came back from the Worlds. Had the event been elsewhere, we would have needed to take vacations to attend. It was great to represent the city and get the podium finish for sure,” stated Girouard.
Having also sandwiched in an appearance at the NWHL’s Ottawa evaluation camp, along with participating in the Beantown Classic, Desmier has been equally busy on the ice. With the chance to compete on home soil, it was a combination of an opportunity to help promote the sport while getting the rare chance to compete in front of friends, family and colleagues,
“It was great to have familiar and friends come and watch us play. The co-workers that I know also came to see me play and see what it is about. They have known for years that I play, yet they were not familiar with the sport. It is nice exposure for people to come and see the game that we play.”
Girouard added, “It is always special when family can come and see you play. For them to actually see the atmosphere and get the whole experience is meaningful.”
An added bonus for Desmier was the chance to see the growing impact of the CWHL in the event. Having once played for the Brampton Thunder player, one of Desmier’s greatest accomplishments was capturing the inaugural CWHL league championships. With CWHL players also suiting up for the rival Ottawa Rebels and the eventual CBHA champion Toronto Shamrocks, Desmier was pleased to see other CWHL players involved in the growth of ball hockey,
“It is definitely nice. We are now getting a lot of CIS players too. A lot of girls from Toronto were here too, some that I have played with and against over the years. Their skills on the ice are similar to their ball hockey style. It is just sad that we do not have a (CWHL) team anymore.”
Although Girouard’s experience stems towards ball hockey and not on the ice, she acknowledges the league’s impact in the sport, “Adding the experience of the CWHL to our league meant we had to adjust, but it brings this level up.”
As the CBHA Nationals represents some of the finest best ball hockey talent in the world, it is not uncommon that Team Canada alum are among the participating players. This year was no exception as every competing club featured at least one member of Team Canada 2015. Desmier reflected on the opportunity to play against her Team Canada mates,
“It is fun to play against them. Even when we are battling for the ball, there is still the camaraderie, even though we are competitive. When it is all said and done, we are still friends.”
Upon her reflections, Girouard revealed a youthful looking smile, jokingly discussing the experience of guarding the Mooseheads crease against her fellow golden girls from Team Canada 2015, “A lot of the goals scored against me were by my teammates from the worlds.”
In the preliminary round, Girouard ranked third in GAA (0.98), tied with Natasha Plourde of the Rebels for minutes play with 205, while tied for second in shutouts. During elimination round play, Girouard ranked in the top four with a sparkling 1.50 goals against average, while she also earned a top four finish in minutes played.
Despite the pressure that comes with standing between the pipes, Girouard acknowledged that she does not engage in some of the rituals that some goalies undertake when preparing for a game. Instead, Girouard is eager to stand between the pipes, never forgetting the love of the game,
“I am outside of the goalie norm. I do not really have any rituals during the warm-up. I get into the game and enjoy being around people.”
Desmier added, “She is always ready to play. I would not want any other goalie on my team.”
Considering that the Mooseheads captured the 2014 CBHA Nationals, Girouard and Desmier were hoping to repeat the accomplishment this year on home soil. The event represented some of the finest goaltending in Girouard’s stellar career.
During the preliminary round in 2014, she had tied for second in GAA (1.00), while tying for first in minutes played. Girouard would elevate her game in the elimination round as she paced all goalies with a superlative 0.46 GAA. In addition, she ranked second overall in minutes played to Katie Sigurdson of Saskatoon, while tying for the lead in shutouts, respectively.
Although the Mooseheads ended up playing for the bronze medal in 2015, it was still a proud moment in the careers of Girouard and Desmier. Taking into account that they had competed against their OVWBHL rival Ottawa Rebels in the bronze medal game, it showed that the quality of ball hockey in Ottawa is among Canada’s finest,
“I think the Vanier legaue is a very, very competitive league, even in all of Canada. Where we have come from is quite far. We rebuilt the league with Shelly Callaghan. It went from 4 teams to 12, and even to 16 at one point.”
While there is no disputing that Girouard and Desmier would have preferred to play for the gold on home soil, the chance to be part of the medal round was highly meaningful. Desmier acknowledged that the high level of play only added to the excitement of qualifying for elimination play,
“Definitely, it means a lot. It is an always an honor be able to play in the final rounds. There are so many Team Canada girls; every game is a big battle. To have been able to win the gold in Ottawa would have been awesome. If we could have had an all-Ottawa gold medal game, it would have been great just to show how competitive the league is.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: CBHA Nationals, Mark Staffieri,
Team Canada head shots obtained from: http://zug2015.com/en/teams/women/group-5/can-canada/