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PWHL Superfan Debbie Harrison Great for the Game (Part Two)


Having captured the imagination of hockey enthusiasts, Debbie Harrison represents a fascinating, success story during the inaugural PWHL season. Renowned for her compelling creations, outfits expressing a lifelong love of the game, the outpouring of enthusiasm on social media has seen Harrison given the suitable moniker Superfan.

Akin to Nav Bhatia, long recognized in basketball circles as the Toronto Raptors Superfan, Debbie Harrison has quickly become a celebrated figure among PWHL supporters. Although Harrison, like Bhatia, remains gracious and humble, the show of support is spectacular. While the unveiling of every new outfit represents an event, one such outfit saw Harrison dying her hair purple, an important facet for Harrison is an homage to her youth. Always visible is a button featuring a teenaged Harrison adorned in a Boston Bruins jersey, pictured with her two brothers, Andy and Stephen.

“It is a thrill to have Superfan attached to me. It adds enjoyment to the games. After every game, I think ‘Can it get better than this?’ One of my joys throughout this season was meeting so many fans. Being an older person, to see the lineup of people wanting to say hello and thank me for my enthusiasm was heartwarming. Many wanted a picture taken and this lasted the whole season. It brought joy to the experience of going to the game.”

A proud season ticket holder for PWHL Toronto, the other Canadian clubs have also provided Harrison with memorable highlights. Having gone to Montreal’s Centre Bell to see her beloved Toronto team grace NHL ice, resulting in another attendance record for the groundbreaking league, the opportunity to visit the Canadian capital also provided plenty of emotion.

Visiting Ottawa’s TD Place Arena, the experience provided Harrison with the feeling of full circle. Gaining an element of hockey immortality as the host city for the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds in 1990, it was only fitting that Ottawa was among the six founding franchises of the new PWHL. Recounting how she attended the iconic 1990 Worlds, Harrison returned to the Capital for the inaugural season of PWHL play. Returning to the same venue (known in 1990 as the Ottawa Civic Centre), a heartwarming show of support proved powerful. With Montreal as the visiting team, a classy gesture was appreciated by one of Montreal’s star rookies, her journey to the pros defined by a courageous and indomitable spirit.

“Not only have I been to Ottawa this season but I was very lucky to be able to go into Montreal and be part of the attendance record at Centre Bell. In fact, a friend took me to one of the matches at the 1990 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa and that was how I fell in love with the female game.

When I went to Ottawa, the visiting team was Montreal. I had read an article about Madison Bizal. While in college (Ohio State), she battled cancer. To see how the college and teammates supported her, I was so moved by the story.

She had courage, determination and still had a love of the game. As she was drafted by Montreal, I made a sign for the game. It read, ‘Bizal, you are an inspiration. Thank You.’ My face lit up as she waved. She also came to the glass for a picture. It was a very special moment for me and I hope she can continue to play.”

Before season’s end, another unique connection to the Montreal franchise occurred. Attending another highly historic event, the Battle of Bay Street at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, the experience served as the inspiration for her next stylish masterpiece. With souvenir hand towels featuring the Toronto and Montreal crests distributed to fans upon arrival, the keepsake took on different purpose for the very resourceful Harrison.

“Having attended the Battle on Bay Street at Scotiabank Arena, I tried to incorporate the fan towels into my next outfit. At the game, I collected as many fan towels as I could. Thankfully, I had enough to make my next outfit.

When Montreal came back to play their next games (at Mattamy), I made a jacket. I was standing during the warmups. Erin Ambrose had talked to Laura Stacey, as both noticed my jacket. You are on Mic’d Up and we need a video. In line for autographs after the game, Stacey said ‘Hi Debbie, I’m Laura. I just wanted to tell you I love your jacket and all your outfits are neat.’ That was so meaningful.”

Fittingly, Harrison enjoys another linkage to the Montreal franchise as first year sensation Mariah Keopple also has an affinity for creating stylish ensembles. With a mode that incorporates a love of hockey, she has successfully expressed her love of hockey and fashion with flair. Aspiring for a career in fashion, the graduate from Princeton University launched Riah the Label, her body of work poised to expand. Like Harrison, the imaginative Keopple beautifuly crafted a ready-to-wear jacket adorned with the PWHL logo.

Considering that Keopple, along with Lexie Adzija and Emma Maltais, are among the league’s best dressed players, the concept of a collaboration between Harrison and one of the aforementioned would represent a source of fascination. With an inventive variety of outfits worn throughout the season, Harrison has certainly displayed an exceptional creativity.

The number of outfits throughout this past season wove a tremendous narrative. While every look was distinct, the aesthetics remained faithful to her admiration of the league. Reflecting on the creative process, several themes and inspirations stood out.

“My outfit with the buttons stands out. How do I decide which buttons to make for my favorite players? I like all of them so I did buttons for all 26 players. That was a special one for me. The keeper of the Walter Cup outfit was another one that stood out. The Team Canada outfit was popular as it had lights on it.

When the playoffs started, I made the biggest ticket I could. On the ticket, I wrote down “Cost – Priceless.” I also wrote down the jersey numbers of the starting lineup for Toronto in the opening playoff game.”

Before the regular season even started, Harrison displayed an exceptional dedication to the promising league, sowing the seeds for the Superfan personna. Venturing to New York State in December 2023, it marked the first of two hockey related trips in the season. Before the holiday season, the PWHL preseason evaluation camp took place in Utica, New York, also the host city for the 2024 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

The highlight of the camp involved a Fan Fest, allowing enthusiasts the opportunity for a meet and greet along with a popular autograph session. With free access to a scrimmage between Ottawa and New York, providing a sneak peek of the action to come in the season ahead, an uplifting act of kindness set the tone for Harrison’s season.

“I went to the Fan Fest in Utica and that was an awesome experience. I remember getting there at 2 pm and fans were not being let in until 6. Sitting in the entrance, I turned around and someone from the media asked if I was there for the game. I advised him that I drove five hours from Toronto. He kindly gave me his press pass.

As Toronto was about to start the second period of their exhibition, he said “You can take it. Go in and watch the game.’ We met up later and I gave him his pass back but it was such a kind gesture.”

As the league took a pause to allow several of its star players to represent their countries at the Women’s Worlds, the return to Utica proved just as poignant for a jubilant Harrison. On hand to watch every single game, Harrison was truly in a hockey nirvana. With seats near the Canadian bench, absorbing the action from a prime location, fandom and friendship went hand in hand. Recognized by players, Harrison is definitely considered a friend, her visage a welcome presence connecting generations.

“In Utica, I watched all 29 games of the World’s. I had a seat behind the Team Canada bench for all of their games. Several of the players walked up and greeted me with, ‘Hello Debbie, it is nice to see you. Glad you made it.'”

The foundation of friendship extended beyond the on-ice heroines. Every game allowed the opportunity to cross paths with other supporters, facilitating fellowship.

Acquaintances made included another group of talented individuals, bringing charisma and creativity to their craft. From broadcasters, writers and photographers, the welcoming sense of unity and mutual respect were the pillars for the overall fan experience, one made much greater by the presence of Harrison.

“There are several people that I would like to mention including Daniella Ponticelli. She was the announcer for the first PWHL game. I also like to record the games and when I listen to them, I find that she is so informative.

Mark Collie was the first person I met that did an interview. Lori Bolliger is a tremendous photographer. She is a nice person and I also talked to her at the Women’s Worlds.

My favorite player is Blayre Turnbull. She has been awesome this season and proved she’s team captain. Her jersey hangs on my wall. She is a tremendous leader who has done outreach for the fans. I also got to see her play at the Worlds in Utica.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

Images by Lori Bolliger Photography

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In this article: #ProfessionalWomensHockey, #ProHockey, #WomenInSport, #Womenshockey, #WomensWorlds, Debbie Harrison, grow the game, Hockey, Hockey Community, PWHL, PWHL Superfan, PWHL Toronto

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