Among the most admirable skaters whose empowering presence graced PWHPA ice in 2019-20, Anissa Gamble embodies the raison d’etre of the Association. With a collective goal of ensuring a better future lays ahead for the female game, Gamble’s career is emblematic of why it is an effort worth making. Defined by a solid work ethic and a strong sense of sacrifice, while possessing a genuine appreciation of the game’s enthusiasts and the expanding fan base, Gamble’s on-ice journey has also been one spent commendably coping with Type-1 Diabetes.
Demonstrating a tremendous character, Gamble, classified in the PWHPA as a competitor from Greater Toronto Area (GTA) West, assembled a career enhanced by the value of perseverance, refusing to let the disease become an obstacle in her hockey dream. Balancing her hockey endeavours at the collegiate and later, the professional ranks, with an emphasis on diabetes research, one of her most recent achievements includes collaborating on a paper about diabetics coping with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the final CWHL season seeing Gamble garbed in the blue and white of the Toronto Furies franchise, making a total of 19 appearances, it marked a homecoming of sorts, as the native of Fredericton, New Brunswick played in Ontario’s PWHL as a junior, skating for the Oakville Jr. Hornets and Burlington Jr. Barracudas. Becoming a fan favourite in Furies colours, the teammates and friends made during her season took on a different complexion at the PWHPA level.
Had a great morning learning @SMCC_CCC women in sports gender equity breakfast forum. @natspooner5 @katrinagalas #SMCC pic.twitter.com/gfOQEy2JTl
— Anissa Gamble (@anissa_gamble) March 11, 2020
From the outset, Toronto serendipitously served as the site for the inaugural PWHPA Showcase event, providing a local element that tugged at Gamble’s heartstrings. Appearing at the Unifor Showcase, hosted at Toronto’s Westwood Arena during September 2019, there was no shortage of familiar faces in Gamble’s return to the ice. Recruited to compete for Team Knox, named in recognition of captain Liz Knox, the roster was a melange of competitors from the former Markham Thunder and Toronto Furies.
Joining Gamble among the list of Furies alumnae on Team Knox included an extensive list of players, most former teammates. Such a group featured a who’s who of women’s hockey in Toronto. Skating alongside Gamble on this memorable day included Mellissa Channell, Jessica Platt, Renata Fast, Sarah Nurse, Shiann Darkangelo, Shannon Moulson, Natalie Spooner, Carolyne Prevost, Amanda Makela, Brittany Howard and Jenna Dingeldein, among others.
In Team Knox’s first game of the Showcase, facing off versus Team Poulin, Gamble was in the starting lineup, playing on a line with Nurse and Spooner, an honour that certainly served as a treasured highlight. Despite Team Knox suffering losses in both games, 2-1 against Team Poulin, followed by a highly entertaining contest versus Team Johnston in which a 5-5 score after regulation required a shootout to decide the winner, as captain Rebecca Johnston helped her own cause by scoring against Makela, the context of the games went far beyond numbers.
Signifying a highly emotional return to elite play, demonstrating that the status of the female game, far from decimated, could be described as resolute. Resuscitating a competitive nature, while preserving the strong sense of sportsmanship, a collective sense of achievement woven into this tapestry of hockey brilliance.
Thank you to the @OakvilleHornets for hosting us last night. I once was a hornet and @jrcudas myself, and seeing all the ladies in the crowd brought me so much joy. Let's close the #DreamGap together. #ForTheGame https://t.co/22Fn11beDM
— Anissa Gamble (@anissa_gamble) February 23, 2020
“My first PWHPA showcase was really special! It was held in the Toronto area, which is where I am located and I have a special history playing here. The support and attendance was inspiring, as a lot of young girls and passionate fans came out to support the game.
For me, a moment I will cherish forever was being on the starting lineup with iconic and admirable players. It was an emotional and honourable act I will never forget. As well, that weekend was a good reminder that the women’s hockey game is going in the right direction.”
Equally compelling about PWHPA play was the fact that rosters were constantly shuffled with each successive Showcase. Worth noting, each Showcase could find former teammates at the professional ranks opposing each other on the ice. This certainly was a factor for Gamble, as the Unifor Showcase found former Furies teammates Shannon Stewart and Shea Tiley skating on Team Jenner (named after captain Breanne Jenner), becoming newly minted rivals.
Early January 2020 resulted in a similar scenario for Gamble, back on PWHPA ice in Toronto. Participating in the Secret Showcase, the competitive landscape featured six teams, rather than the four found on the highly competitive ice of the Unifor Showcase. Part of the lineup for Team Spooner, Gamble now saw a pair of skaters from Unifor, Team Jenner’s Laura Fortino, and Team Johnston’s Taylor Woods as teammates.
“It was certainly different and fun. One of the biggest adjustments this year was the transitioning from a league to a showcase framework. Even though we played against friends, teammates, or enemies, we were all on the same team. It a tough transition, but it displayed the importance and investment the players were making to better the future of female hockey.”
Even in a season defined by Showcases, there were still opportunities for proud career milestones. Among such meaningful prospects entailed, the revelation that Gamble belonged to a group of players scheduled to participate in a Dream Gap Tour Showcase against the Japanese National Team. Originally scheduled to take place at Tokyo’s Shin-Yokohama Skate Center during March 2020, Gamble was among 18 players named, including fellow Canadians Genevieve Bannon, Katelyn Gosling and Ella Matteucci, plus five members of the United States roster, which captured a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Games.
Taking into account that Gamble’s only season with the Furies involved crossing the Pacific to participate in regular season contests against the league’s franchise based in China, the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, the opportunity to return to Asia held so much promise for Gamble.
Although the Japan event was cancelled as a preventative measure, due to highly understandable concerns over the global spread of the pandemic, any feelings of sadness and disappointment were supplanted by a sense of pride. Proud of the knowledge that Gamble was part of such a distinguished group, a crowing touch to a season spent as a member of the PWHPA, feelings of gratification and delight encompassed her reflections,
“It certainly was an honour to be selected to go internationally to play hockey. Although it was cancelled, which makes me thankful for the league’s interest for the health and safety of the players and staff, I hope the Japan series will carry through so I can carry forward the honour given to play.”
While the absence of a professional women’s hockey season for so many resulted in a visceral loss for fans and players alike, a feeling of interruption bringing an abrupt end to a decade-long flow of consistently high quality, in access to facets of the game once considered essential, there was never a sense of defeat.
Although the reality of the 2019-20 season resulted in a different landscape, its complexion altered, access to resources that seemed commonplace, suddenly becoming a luxury, it was part of a grander narrative. With the common theme one of appreciation, salvaging a season from the speculation of ruin a summer ago, the combination of perseverance and tenacity by strong women such as Gamble served as a sign of inspiration, assuring the young players and fans in attendance that the future shall be built not on bleakness, but brightness.
“This season was different, especially for people like me who are non-national players. We lost a lot of resources and opportunities like training facilities, consistent practices and games, and platforms.
However, we were able to be a part of something greater than ourselves and that’s humbling and exciting. My favorite parts would be the increase in corporate and industry partnerships and watching the women’s 3-on-3 at the NHL skills competition—it was monumental! My favorite moments were being able to connect with young players after the game and getting involved in the community.”
”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”