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Newfoundland United the Feel-Good Story of 2015 CBHA Nationals

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As the only team from Atlantic Canada competing at the 2015 edition of the CBHA Nationals, Newfoundland United provided a valiant performance.

Despite being the only team with a losing record entering the elimination round, the proud team quickly made believers out of fans and players alike.

Prevailing in overtime by a 2-1 tally against the Ottawa Rebels (one of two teams from the host city); Newfoundland United proceeded to the gold medal game against the Toronto Shamrocks. With the team assured of no worse than a silver medal, the result was that both women’s and men’s teams from the province would enjoy a podium finish, representing an historic first.

Among the heroes for Newfoundland United at the CBHA Nationals were four remarkable talents that also suited up for Canada at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland.

Blueliner Kristen Cooze was joined by forwards April Drake, Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk. While Drake was experienced at the provincial and national levels with Newfoundland, she was making her international debut for Canada, a great milestone in her hockey career,

“That was a pretty great experience. It is something I wanted to try to get to, especially with the girls around me.” Amanda Kean who scored two goals for Newfoundland United in the elimination round added, “It was a great honor.”

Considering that all six teams at the CBHA Nationals featured at least one player from Team Canada 2015, every game consisted of playing against a former teammate who donned the prestigious Maple Leaf on their sweater. Drake, who tied with Cooze for the team lead in scoring during the preliminary round with four points reflected on the chance to play alongside her former Team Canada mates,

“It is fun. It is nice to be able to play them and smile as we raced for the ball,” said Drake

Not only did it add to the enjoyment of competing at the event, but Drake noted how the experience of being with Team Canada enhanced her leadership,

“The experience alone was something special, being able to bring our background (from Team Canada) to the whole group. You feel that they want to play with us.”

Although the aftermath of the championship game culminated with a sullen silver medal, there were some greater victories for Newfoundland United. Not only did the squad show tremendous resolve against a Rebels team that featured numerous Team Canada alumnae, it held its own against a very tough Toronto Shamrocks team that featured significant CWHL talent, forcing overtime.

Based on goaltender Ayla Frank’s remarkable performance in the elimination round, she may have landed on Team Canada’s radar for the next edition of the Worlds in 2017. During elimination round play, she led in minutes played and ranked third with a 1.35 GAA. Tulk, who logged a pair of assists in the elimination round, discussed how the Nationals represented an opportunity for Newfoundland’s best (traditionally rivals in league play) to unite and strengthen the bonds of friendship and subsequently, its love of the game,

“This is the only time that we get to all play together as a group. It is a little different (compared to the Worlds) but there is a lot of pride here. We get to represent our province and it only adds to the pride.”

Kristen Cooze, who played women’s ice hockey at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level with Mount Allison was equally proud of the chance to play alongside her Newfoundland United teammates. Having earned an All-Star nod on defense in the aftermath of the 2014 CBHA Tournament, the chance to play alongside competitors that she grew up with only added to the enjoyment,

“Definitely it is fun. Dawn, Amanda and I have played together for a long time, starting back in 2009. It is nice being able to play together (with Newfoundland United) now.”

Of note, Cooze, Kean and Tulk were part of a memorable time in Canadian ball hockey history as St. John’s, Newfoundland hosted the ISBHF World Championships in 2013. Not only did they contribute to the Canadian contingent capturing the gold medal, avenging the gold medal loss to Slovakia in 2011, the chance to compete on home soil resulted in a lifetime of memories. Reflecting on the event, Tulk discusses its impact not just locally, but on her career,

“The sport is growing (in Newfoundland) and it is more popular than it was. Being able to host the Worlds (in 2013) was great for our community. Myself and Amanda, we were rookies with Team Canada. Getting the chance to play our first Worlds at home made it easier.”

Kean added, “It was a good experience having it here, especially with our parents and family in the stands. While we played, it was great to look up and see them (in the stands).”

While the event represented a remarkable chapter in Newfoundland sporting history, it would also provide inspiration to some of its most promising players. Among them was Drake, who acknowledges how the trio of Cooze, Kean and Tulk provided a positive impact, influencing aspirations of emulating their success,

“At the time, I was playing in the provincials and the nationals with them. For the 2013 Worlds, I volunteered for the whole event. Seeing the girls play made we want to be there.”

There is no question that these four fantastic competitors are role models for the sport’s growth in Newfoundland. Taking into account that former Montreal Canadiens player Terry Ryan is a member of United men’s team (he recently penned a book on his hockey career), one could argue that the province is experiencing a ball hockey renaissance.

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Mark Staffieri 

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