Adding a glorious chapter to Calgary’s sporting legacy, while strengthening its status as a women’s hockey power, the newest addition involves a Canadian national ball hockey championships. Gracing the playing court as Calgary United, the roster proved to be a collective gathering of women’s hockey icons.
Highlighted by world-class goaltender Delayne Brian and Jenna Cunningham, the all-time leading scorer in Calgary Infenro history, their national championship would serve to complement their efforts in helping the Inferno also capture the 2016 Clarkson Cup.
“Winning a second championship was pretty exciting and fun. Especially with the group we had. It’s always fun to come home and win at a tournament like ball hockey nationals,” remarked Cunningham.
Joining Brian and Cunningham featured the likes of Mandi Duhamel, also a coach with the Calgary Dinos. Prior to the nationals, Duhamel led Team Canada to gold at the 2016 World Ball Hockey Masters as head coach. Former Cornell Big Red star Chelsea Karpenko, who emerged from nationals with the MVP Award, along with Inferno alums such as Emily Bernzins, Reagan Fischer and Bianca Zuber, among others.
With hockey roots in Calgary that stretch back to when the Inferno were known by the sobriquet Team Alberta, decked out in navy blue jerseys with yellow trim, Berzins was among the pioneers for CWHL hockey in Alberta. Getting the opportunity to reunited with several alums from her Team Alberta days only added to the jubilation of capturing a national championship,
“I love playing with my former Inferno and Team Alberta teammates throughout the summer. Ball hockey is a great way for us to spend time together in and have a few laughs while we are at it. It gives us a more relaxed outlet to stay active and have some fun during the offseason.”
Competing in the Red Division against 2015 silver medalist Newfoundland United, the Ottawa Mooseheads (who captured the gold in 2014) along with the British Columbia Selects, the level of competition consisted of teams all capable of a podium finish.
The result was a true display of teamwork as all members of the roster provided significant contributions. Reagan Fischer led the way as Calgary’s leading scorer in the round robin, while three players tied for the team lead in assists, Kendra Dunlop, Margaux Sharp and Michelle Marsz.
Fischer would be rewarded for her heroic efforts at nationals with recognition as the event’s Top Forward. As a side note, Marsz would also join Fischer among the hardware heroes at the nationals, earning Top Defender honors. Adding to the prestige of a national title was the fact that Fischer gained the opportunity to do so with a pair of players that she also called teammates at the Ivy League level with the Dartmouth Big Green; Jenna Cunningham and Margaux Sharp.
“Even though we all live in Calgary, being back in a competitive environment reminded us of our days with the Big Green. Certainly nostalgic, but also lots of fun to be competing together again and relying on each other in key moments of the game.
Besides the title, it was really awesome to be a part of a team that continued to build chemistry and comradery throughout the week. Our team was put together with players from different teams in our ball hockey league in Calgary so we didn’t have much floor time together – only a couple practices. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that bonded so quickly and maintained a positive, determined attitude throughout the entire week. We all had one goal and it was awesome to see us come together and accomplish it.”
As Cunningham reveals, being able to reunite with her former Dartmouth teammates was an important factor in making the decision to don the colors of Calgary United and compete at nationals, adding another accomplishment to one of the most distinguished careers in Alberta women’s hockey,
“Having a chance to play with my Dartmouth buddies was one of the main reasons I decided to play. It was a lot of fun to compete with them again. Always brings back some good memories and stories.”
During the elimination round, Calgary United remained strong, defeating the Manitoba Rage in a convincing 4-1 final. As Amy Coates led all United players with assists, making a significant contribution on the road towards gold, another hero emerged, only strengthening a formidable legacy.
Following up on the career pinnacle of a Clarkson Cup championship, along with CWHL Playoff MVP honors, Delayne Brian was invaluable between the pipes for Calgary United. Having also starred for the Canadian national team in the gold medal game of the 2015 CSBHA Women’s Worlds in Zug, Brian is not only one of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation on the ice and on the court, she is also among a rare of sorority of goaltenders to have achieved championship glory in both versions of the game.
As a side note, fellow goaltender Nathalie Girouard, who served as Brian’s teammate with Team Canada 2015 also competed at Nationals. Standing between the pipes for Ottawa United in the White Division, Girouard captured the CBHA gold medal in 2014. Named to the Tournament All-Star Team this year, she was also honored with the 2016 Sarah Butterworth Memorial Award.
Playing every minute in the elimination round, Brian assembled a sparkling goals against average of 1.33, while providing her club with solid play in a 7-2 trouncing of rival Edmonton in the gold medal game. Complementing Brian’s performance in the victory was Fischer, who would score twice in the first period against Edmonton, including what would stand as the game winning goal, assisted by Michelle Marsz. Inferno alum Zuber would also score in the first, as Cunningham gained the assist.
Second period goals by Duhamel and Karpenko added to an already insurmountable lead while Fischer scored on the power play, gaining the hat trick. Kendra Dunlop would also score as Marsz earned her second assist of the game. As a scoreless third period preserved Calgary’s lead, it resulted in the first time that a team from Calgary had captured the national championship. For Berzins, whose sister Heather also suited up for Calgary United, it was a cherished victory.
“We had faced some adversity in previous years, so it meant a lot for us to win the the National Championship this year. We put together a very strong team and went into the tournament well prepared. We also had a really great team dynamic off the floor; so I believe that made a difference as well. It is the first time a Calgary team has brought home the National title so it was a big accomplishment for us to bring home the gold.”
Adding to such an amazing feeling of achievement is the fact that Calgary also captured the Clarkson Cup for the first time ever. Such a legacy is only enhanced by the fact that there were two amazing women part of both historic victories. Also the starting goaltender for Calgary in the Clarkson Cup finals, Brian was joined by Jenna Cunningham, as both have not only earned a special place in Calgary sporting history, oth have added an accomplished chapter in their shared hockey journey as teammates,
“I definitely felt a great sense of pride being part of the teams who won both the Clarkson Cup and the National Championship for ball hockey this year. Along with the World Championship for ball hockey last June, it’s been quite the year or so! I’ve gotten a lot of second place finishes in my life so I am definitely proud to add those wins to my resume.
It most definitely is nice having the familiar faces from the Inferno on my ball hockey team. With Jenna (Cunningham) retiring from the Inferno, it was nice to be a part of both team championships to finish off her amazing career.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook