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Northeastern Huskies hold lasting link to inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds

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As November 2023 represented a magical month for Northeastern women’s ice hockey, highlighted by the induction of the undefeated 1987-88 team plus Kendall Coyne in the Huskies Hall of Fame, reflections on such greatness includes another key milestone. With three members of the 87-88 team, Tina Cardinale, Kelly Dyer and Don MacLeod, part of history via the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds, contested in 1990, the remarkable brush with history represents another layer in a lasting legacy for Northeastern hockey.

Serving as Huskies team captain during the 1987-88 season, Tina Cardinale also holds the unique distinction of having served in the same role for Team USA in 1990. As the first-ever women’s ice hockey captain for the US in the event’s history, she was the starting point for an exceptional lineage of leadership including Cammi Granato, Natalie Darwitz and Meghan Duggan, among others. Undeniably, with the C adorning her jersey, wearing the Stars and Stripes took on even greater meaning.

Finishing the tournament as the second leading scorer in the tournament, trailing only US forward Cindy Curley, Cardinale delivered on all accounts. Joined on the team by prominent Huskies, including goaltender Kelly Dyer, plus head coach Don MacLeod, the opportunity to play in the gold medal game at Ottawa’s Civic Centre marked a milestone that remains treasured.

“It was amazing. I was 24 or 25 back then, and when you were in it, you do not realize how major it was. There were 10,000 fans in the stands. It was great to share it with Kelly (Dyer) and Coach MacLeod. What an exceptional showcase for women’s hockey. Just an unbelievable experience. To see all the young players in the stands, it meant so much. Growing up, we did not have female role models. Today, the girls have Olympic players to look up to.”

Having been invited to Canada’s training camp, Donna Lynn Rosa, who scored a hat trick for the Huskies in the 1988 ECAC championship game, held a unique place in this historic tournament. Although not on the final roster for Canada, Rosa enjoyed the opportunity to serve on the broadcast team for The Sports Network.

Revealing how an opportunity existed to wear the US jersey, Rosa remained true to her Canadian roots. Discussing how four Huskies were part of the Canadian camp, including long-time friend Fiona Rice, there was definitely a strong feeling of school spirit seeing both teams in the gold medal game representing Northeastern.

“In women’s ice hockey, for so long, you just played in front of a lot of empty seats. Only a handful of people knew that we were playing. Everything changed after 1990.

I had the chance to work with Michael Landsberg and Howie Meeker. After I was the last player cut from Canada, I remember Coach McLeod said to me ‘Come play for Team USA and get your American citizenship.’ For me, I was Canadian, I just could not do that. Yet, I knew just as many, or more, players on the US roster as the Canadian team.

Fiona Rice and I helped recruit Laura Schuler and Vicky Sunohara to Boston. All four of us tried out for Canada. Not making the team was a little soul crushing. It was a bittersweet pill to be there and not play. Working for TSN was a lot of fun but I preferred to be on the ice.

I could not have been more proud of a group. Not only did I knew the Northeastern players on the Canadian team. I knew Cathy Phillips, Heather Ginzel. Heaney and I had played against each other. It was such a proud moment as women’s ice hockey was being showcased.”

Rosa also remembers the tournament which served as the starting point. Three years prior, the North York Centennial Centre (now known as the Herb Carnegie Centennial Centre), located north of Toronto, served as host venue for the Women’s World Hockey Tournament. With six nations participating, each match consisted of three 15-minute periods.

Of note, the gold medal final featured an All-Canadian matchup as Team Ontario, whose roster featured Geraldine Heaney and Angela James, faced off versus Team Canada. With goals by Janet Stone, Colleen Cohen, Kelly Weaver and Shirley Cameron, Canada defeated Ontario by a 4-0 mark.

Worth noting, the United States defeated Sweden by a 5-0 mark for the bronze medal. Having attended several of the matches, the event made a significant impression on Rosa. As Ontario’s team was coached by Lee Trempe, who also served as bench boss for the Mississauga Warriors, Rosa’s hometown team, she found inspiration in the participants and organizers alike.

“Back in 1987, there was a Women’s World Hockey Tournament. I was away at school (during tryouts). When the games were played, it was at a big barn in North York, one of my favorite arenas. I remember thinking, the game is going places. Fran Rider and Pat Nicholson showed such an amount of commitment.”

Serving in the role of head coach for Team USA, Don McLeod finished the decade of the 1980s with six straight Beanpot titles. Gaining the opportunity to add international hockey to a sterling resume, the event also brought with it a degree of full circle. Renowned as one of the first NCAA coaches to recruit players from Canada, the unique connection extended beyond two of his Huskies players, Vicky Sunohara and Laura Schuler with the Maple Leaf on their sweater.

As the 80s saw the Huskies face off versus teams in Central Canada, most notably, the University of Toronto and Montreal’s Concordia University, a unique tinge of coincidence occurred. From the outset, Dave McMaster, the celebrated Toronto coach, served in the same role with Team Canada.

In addition, a tournament at the University of Toronto resulted in a unique encounter. Hockey Hall of Famer and Team Canada 1972 alum Ken Dryden had transitioned into an illustrious career as a writer. Interested in composing a feature about the female game, Dryden interviewed a handful of Canadians skating for the Huskies. With a tinge of serendipity, he was also in attendance for the gold medal game. A pregame encounter marked a show of class, one that left a highly memorable impression on a grateful MacLeod.

“In 1990, before the gold medal game, I remember there was not a seat to be had. I was nervous as I had never coached at this level before. Two Huskies players were on the Canadian team. Ken Dryden was in attendance, and he said hi to me and we shook hands. He also stopped by the bench and said hello to the players on Team USA. It was really nice and I appreciated it very much.”

Following the outcome of the clash for the gold medal, although there was a shared sense of accomplishment in raising the profile of the female game, there were also varying degrees of emotion. With the responsibility of head coach, an understandable sense of fatigue was among such feelings for a valiant McLeod. Reflecting on the game’s aftermath, the presence of his son provided a degree of comfort and perspective.

“I remember being burnt out after the gold medal game. We had a 2-0 lead (goals by Cindy Curley and Shawna Davidson) but we just could not hang on. Canada was a lot deeper and they went ahead 4-2. They also scored in the open net, and the final was 5-2. My son was up there for the game. He is my oldest boy and coached at McGill. With his background as player, referee and coach, he had a lot of knowledge of the game. I remember he said, ‘Dad, don’t feel bad. You got two goals off them.'”

Of all the memories made during such an historic event, the aftermath of the gold medal game remains most significant for Cardinale. Regardless of the final score, there was a shared sense of victory for the Huskies, as both sides featured Northeastern representation. While reflections on the event bring a tinge of irony as the era did not have social media, nor smart phones capable of instantly taking high quality photos or videos. Although many moments from the event were never preserved through the lens, the mind’s eye remains a potent source of powerful impressions. The opportunity for Cardinale and Sunohara to shake hands afterwards allowed for two luminaries, and newly minted pioneers, to bring greater relevance to Huskies hockey.

“After the game, my mom, with her 35 mm camera took a picture of me with Vicky Sunohara on the ice, arm in arm. Today, the kids have pictures, video and social media, all the moments are captured. Back then, we had to use our memories, but I think it helped to remember the important things.”

Having never enjoyed the opportunity to be teammates at Northeastern, as Cardinale graduated in spring of 1988, while Sunohara joined the program in autumn of the same year, their legacies remain intertwined. Coincidentally, Cardinale’s final season with the Huskies saw her lead the team in scoring, a feat duplicated one season later by the fantastic freshman. Although the bigger picture finds both bringing their exceptional skill sets to the international stage, the chance to be part of history remains a significant source of pride. With fellow Husky Laura Schuler as a member of Team Canada 1990, there was a unique feeling of serendipity as both logged the assist on a third period goal by Susie Yuen in the third period of the final. Adding to such serendipity was the fascinating fact that both belonged to the Canadian contingent that competed in women’s ice hockey at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Making history together twice was certainly unique, but the rewind to 1990 stands as a seminal moment for Sunohara.

“It was so much fun to compete against my Northeastern teammates and Coach in the 1990 Worlds. I was happy to share with them the incredible honour of competing for our countries, such a dream come true. I knew Team USA would be very strong, having played with and against many of the players. It was physical and super competitive! This was where the Canada/US rivalry started, so awesome to be a part of it!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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