Graceful and articulate, stoic and dedicated, these are just some of the qualities that make Blake Bolden one of the NWHL’s premier blueliners. Joining six fellow members of the Boston Pride at the second NWHL All-Star Game, the former member of Team USA became the first visible minority to participate in successive All-Star Games.
Hosted in Pittsburgh, signifying the first professional women’s hockey game contested in the state of Pennsylvania, the chance for a world-class hockey competitor such as Bolden to showcase her superlative skills at this event only adds to a remarkable hockey resume. One that has seen her participate in some of the most important women’s hockey games of this decade.
Last season, the Cleveland-raised Bolden joined several of her Pride teammates by making history twice. Making the sojourn prior to the Holiday break to compete against the Minnesota Whitecaps, it was the first professional women’s hockey games contested in the State of Hockey. In addition, Bolden etched her name among the game’s immortals, as the first American-born woman to score a goal in an outdoor professional women’s hockey event, achieving this on December 31, 2015.
Having finished her first season with the Pride by competing in the inaugural Isobel Cup finals, Bolden also claims a Clarkson Cup to her credit, having achieved that feat in 2013. One year later, she would also compete in the first-ever CWHL All-Star Game, staged at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Competing with Team Steadman (named in honor of the first NWHL All-Star MVP, Buffalo’s Kelley Steadman), Bolden made a key contribution in the third professional All-Star Game of her career. Of note, she wowed the fans; recording the fastest time in the Hardest Shot contest, part of the All-Star Skills competition. As one of three members of the Pride blueline to have logged at least 25 shots on goal this season, her laser-like shot is one that has made an impression among the league’s backstops.
With skaters from both Team Steadman and Team Kessel (named after Riveters super rookie Amanda Kessel) participating, the stakes were raised as victory in each All-Star Skills contest resulted in points that would be factored into the Game’s final score. Bolden’s efforts enabled Team Steadman to emerge from All-Star Skills with two points.
As Team Kessel featured five members of the Pride among their roster, including goaltender Brittany Ott, blueliners Kacey Bellamy and Givi Marvin, plus forwards Zoe Hickel and Hilary Knight, it was a new experience for Bolden to call so many teammates new rivals during this weekend. As Bolden recounts, there was a Pride teammate whose performance definitely impacted this year’s event, breaking the 2-2 tie in the All-Star Skills competition,
“I definitely missed Gigi (Marvin) in the shootout contest! All in all, it was an extremely fun experience. I am glad the teams were very different in terms of last year’s All-Star game. I got to interact and get to know (some) new people, which was awesome.”
Statistically, Bolden has emerged as one of the top scorers from the Pride’s defensive unit. Starting the regular season with an assist in a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Beauts, she would follow it up with a power play goal against the New York Riveters the following day, contributing in a 6-3 triumph.
Bolden’s best performance this season was a two-assist effort in a 3-0 win against the Connecticut Whale on November 12. As a side note, a rematch on December 3, 2016 would have historic connotations for the league, and sporting equality in general, as it marked the first time in league history that each team featured an African-American competitor on their roster.
The Whale had first-year player Kaliya Johnson on their roster, whose brave battle with brain surgery saw her make a remarkable hockey comeback, which continues in Connecticut, where she is the first African-American player in franchise history. Coincidentally, both Bolden and Johnson competed at the NCAA level with Boston College, which resulted in each achieving hockey heroics.
With fellow hockey hero Brianna Decker as the only familiar face from the Pride that was part of Team Steadman’s roster, it allowed Bolden the opportunity to call several players teammates for the first time. Considering that five members of the second place Riveters were also part of Team Steadman meant that rivalries evaporated during that weekend, setting the tone for a much different dynamic.
Taking into account that so many players have known each other either from college or international play, the beauty of the All-Star Game allows for that rare opportunity to call an elusive competitor a teammate at last. Among the star players that Bolden called teammates for the first time included a pair whose hockey roots can be traced back to the province of Ontario, with one currently making her mark as the captain of the Riveters, plus an NWHL competitor who has suited up for both Connecticut and Buffalo.
“Team Steadman was awesome! I was happy I got to play with (Ashley) Johnston, (Kelly) Babstock, and Shiann (Darkangelo), all individuals I have never been able to call a teammate. Everyone was all smiles; it was much different than playing against one another for sure!”
Despite Team Steadman being bested in a hard-fought 11-10 loss, the real victory was for the fans of Pittsburgh. Gaining the opportunity to observe the world-class skills of the amazing women, such as Bolden, that grace NWHL ice, it was a remarkable weekend that adds to the Steel City’s sporting history.
For a market known for having some of the most loyal sports fans in America, it only added to the feeling of fun that the players enjoyed. Considering that Bolden is among a rare sorority of star players to have competed in the first two editions of the NWHL All-Star Game, it provides more than just a proud accomplishment, but a chance to have helped shape the league’s growing legacy. Should the NWHL decide to go out of market for a future All-Star event, there is no question that the city of Cleveland (where both Bolden and Kelli Stack were raised) would provide her with a feeling of immense pride,
“I am super fortunate to have attended both All-Star games. Both were tremendously fun! This year, there was such amazing support by Dunkin Donuts and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who really revved up the wow factor!
The clinic, skills competition, and All-Star Game was so electric and exciting. Pittsburgh is an amazing city and I will definitely remember sharing this moment with my friends, family, and teammates for the rest of my life. I would absolutely love to see an All-Star Game in Cleveland one day!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Al Saniuk