With the arrival of the Millennium, key moments in sporting equality brought about optimism for greater summits. Having experienced numerous milestones, including the launch of the WNBA in 1997, the introduction of women’s ice hockey as a medal sport at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, plus the unprecedented popularity of Team USA at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada’s Pacific Coast gained a proud place on this expanding landscape.
Becoming the first-ever professional women’s ice hockey team in British Columbia, the Vancouver Griffins heralded a new era in the provincial sporting narrative. Among the member teams of the original NWHL, formed in the aftermath of the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the configuration of the nascent league saw teams primarily based in Ontario and Quebec.
Undeniably, the formation of the Griffins in 2000 truly signified a national league. Calling Queen’s Park in New Westminster their home rink, one of the club’s greatest hallmarks was strong leadership. Helping to set the tone of empowerment was owner Diane Nelson, whose vision for professional women’s ice hockey in Vancouver heralded such an exciting new era.
Equally important was the profound impact the franchise held on talent from the province. Rather than seek opportunities with club teams in the Prairies, or venture eastward to Central Canada, the feeling of homecoming encompassed the opportunity to grace the ice in the Griffins gear.
For Victoria’s Jennifer Price, who established herself as the Griffins number one goaltender, the experience of playing in her home province brought a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. A highly competitive goaltender two decades later, Price competes in national ball hockey tournaments, having also competed at 40 years young in the South Coast Women’s Hockey League, admirably juggling life as a mom.
Statistically, Price enjoyed her best season in 2002-03. Recording a respectable 9-11-0 mark, such numbers included a pair of shutouts plus a 3.83 Goals against Average. Worth noting, she would also stand between the pipes for Team BC at the Esso Women’s Nationals.
“All I can say is it meant a lot being on that team and being in BC. Getting a chance to play against the best and train with the best all while helping to grow the game at home. Before that the best players always had to leave to get better.”
Equally, the Griffins stand as a proud highlight for charter member Sherrie Pitre. Another highly skilled player raised in British Columbia, growing up in North Vancouver, the chance to remain in her home province went beyond convenience. Helping contribute towards carving a special chapter in Canadian women’s hockey history remains one of the touch points in her career.
Later skating for the BC Breakers, also gaining a place in the CBHA Hall of Fame, Pitre proudly established legacy as a pioneer, heralding an exciting generation of on-ice talent from the Pacific province. Reflecting on the inaugural season, from the friendships made, to the opportunity of introducing the female professional game in BC, all the components represent a proud configuration she helped construct. Certainly, the sense of achievement takes on new meaning today, as a proud hockey mom to young sons following in her empowering footsteps,
“To play for the Vancouver Griffins, the first women’s pro team in British Columbia was something to be very proud of. I was extremely excited when I found out there was going to be a team here in BC. Women’s hockey has worked very hard to prove they belong. To be a part of that foundation for the girls just starting out is amazing.
I have special memories and friendships during those years as we navigated together this new adventure. Seeing all the young girls at the games, meeting them afterwards, and the excitement they had in their eyes to play for the Griffins one day was the best part for me, hands down.”
Remaining a pillar of the hockey community on the Pacific coast, Danielle Grundy, whose solid skill set took her across the continent to New Hampshire, skating for the Ivy League’s Dartmouth Big Green, one of the most significant highlights in her competitive journey involves standing as a Griffins charter member. Akin to Pitre, the gregarious Grundy also called the BC Breakers her club team.
Finding role models in the likes of Winter Games heroes such as Quebec’s Nancy Drolet, and Cammi Granato, the face of USA Hockey during the Millennium, it proved more than special during Grundy’s tremendous time garbed in the Griffins paraphernalia.
Helping to shape her values for the game and her outlook towards the commitment required towards achieving future goals, it served Grundy well. Making 126 with the Big Green, she later enjoyed a stint playing professionally with DHC Langerthal in Switzerland.
Through it all, Grundy’s home province remained a focal point, determined to keep women’s ice hockey flourishing. As a founder of the Grindstone Award Foundation, part of an amazing initiative to make the game more accessible for female young players, such a body of work can be traced back to the initial experience of gracing the ice with her fellow Griffins, all admirable pioneers.
“What I remember most from playing with the Griffins was some of the amazing players I was able to play along side. I was still in high school and being able to play on the same team as Nancy Drolet and on the same line as Cammi Granato gave me a snap shot into the calibre of some of the best players in the world – and also what to work towards.
Role models are critical factors in the growth of women’s hockey and this was true for me. Not only that, I was able to make friends with players who I still stay in contact with today. Overall, it was a great experience and I was glad to be a part of it.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”