Employing a team-first approach and a maturity beyond her years, Cassandra Calabrese may emerge as one of the most underrated recruits in OUA women’s ice hockey. A stay-at-home blueliner with a fundamentally sound game, Calabrese anchored a defensive unit that helped the Aurora Panthers qualify for the PWHL playoffs.
As the Panthers team has produced alumnae such as Vicki Bendus, Amber Bowman and Rebecca Bouwhuis, Calabrese follows in their footsteps by committing to university hockey. This autumn, she shall suit up for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, based in Waterloo, Ontario.
“It is exciting as I am going to get to meet new people. The girls there seem really nice and it exciting to be playing at the next level. I have seen a couple of games. It is really faster and more physical. The program seems really good and I have heard some great things.”
Prior to joining the Aurora Panthers in the autumn of 2014, Calabrese competed for the Whitby Wolves, winning multiple tournament gold medals. During her time with the successful club, she was also teammates with elite goaltender Kassidy Sauve. That experience, coupled with a strong defensive acumen would certainly contribute to Panthers backstop Melissa Black enjoying a strong season with five shutouts and a 1.70 GAA.
Another element that defined Calabrese’s season with the Aurora Panthers was the fact that she was dedicated to seeing the team succeed. One strong lesson acquired from the past season is team building,
“What I have enjoyed most about playing for the Panthers is probably team bonding. I came to this team from the Whitby Wolves. There is a great atmosphere. It was very welcoming and I never felt behind. Everyone comes together and has fun and the coaches try to make it that way.”
Over the last five years, Calabrese has assembled a strong list of honors and accolades. Starting with gold at the OWHA and LLFHL levels in PeeWee hockey, she would duplicate the feat at the Bantam level. During the 2011-12 season, an opportunity to participate in the Ontario Winter Games represented a key milestone. Growing up around the game, Calabrese always admired the efforts of the older players who enjoyed the privilege of suiting up for Canada’s national team
“I looked up to the girls who played on the Canadian team (over the years). It motivated me to build my way up to something, as well as hockey. Seeing how hard they worked to get there was inspiring. It inspired me to work hard on and off the ice.”
The chance to serve on Whitby’s defensive corps was complemented by an impressive run of athletic excellence in high school. With Donald A. Wilson high school, she emulated the hard work of Canada’s national team members, not only enjoying an undefeated season (and provincial championship) on the varsity lacrosse team, but a pair of league title with the varsity team followed.
Also the recipient of the school’s Female Fitness Award, Calabrese never forgot her academic obligations. While juggling the commitments of athletics and academics can be a demanding part of life for student-athletes, Calabrese approaches it with the same discipline that has enabled her success on the ice,
“I have done it from a very young age. School comes first of course. You just make sure that things are done ahead of time.”
As the next chapter of her hockey career brings her to the prestigious Wilfrid Laurier University, there will be no shortage of excitement for the soon-to-be Golden Hawks blueliner. Of note, the region of Southwestern Ontario has quickly emerged as the hub for elite CIS women’s hockey in Ontario. From London’s Western Mustangs defeating the powerhouse McGill Martlets in the gold medal game of the 2015 CIS Nationals, the region also includes the likes of three other well coached programs, the Guelph Gryphons, the Waterloo Warriors (where Bouwhuis stands between the pipes) and the Windsor Lancers.
Rick Osborne shall be the next head coach for Calabrese once she arrives at Wilfrid Laurier. A five-time OUA Coach of the Year, he also boasts nine conference titles and a CIS national title, his skill will only sharpen Calabrese’s fundamentally sound game. Another member of the coaching staff at WLU also includes Laura McIntosh, entering her third season with the program’s coaching staff.
Raised in London, McIntosh is one of the greatest women’s ice hockey players to emerge from the region of Southwestern Ontario. She competed with the Canadian National Team at the U18 and U22 levels and graduated from Ohio State (where Sauve currently plays) as the all-time leading scorer in program history. She would also manage two seasons alongside the likes of Jayna Hefford and Gillian Apps with one of the CWHL’s signature franchises, the Brampton Thunder.
“I heard great things about her and the coaching staff in general. The program has had consecutive seasons of success and I really want to maintain it.”
The appreciation of the game and the respect for the Golden Hawks proud hockey legacy are essential tools for Calabrese. Those that should enable her to keep the squad in the picture of conference contention while helping her become a valued member of the roster’s blueline corps.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from: http://www.leaguelineup.com/teams.asp?url=aurorapanthersinteraa&sid=307241891