While the 2011-12 CWHL season would be the last for the Burlington Barracudas, it was a season that brought with it many positives. While a team that registers one win in 27 games during in its final season would not come to mind as one that brings with it many great stories, the Burlington Barracudas offered plenty. They were a unique group of remarkable women that played valiantly throughout the frozen surfaces of CWHL rinks.
Of all the franchises in the league, the off-season would provide Burlington with the opportunity to become part of a unique story in women’s hockey. The Epoch Times chronicled the hockey exploits of Melissa Boufounos, a competitor from the Greater Toronto Area who was aiming to take the next step in her career and participate in the CWHL.
Boufounos found herself selected by Burlington in the 2011 CWHL Draft. Her experiences with the blue and orange (from the draft through training camp) were incorporated into The Epoch Times coverage.
“Yes I was (in attendance), one of only two people who went to watch the draft, actually. I was totally excited when Ray Baumgartner (GM of the Burlington Barracudas at the time) announced my name. It was pretty funny because he said “Melissa” and then stumbled before trying to say the last name and I knew it was me. I probably had the silliest grin on my face.”
Finland’s Annina Rajahuhta would join the Barracudas as the only European member of the squad. A bronze medalist from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she was part of the Finnish League championship in 2011, while earning Playoff MVP honors. Despite her success, Rajahuhta was unable to duplicate her winning ways in Burlington.
While it may have been a unique season for the accomplished Rajahuhta, she maintained a strong dignity. “Of course there were lessons learned. The games were tight, even if we did not win. You always learn from your opposition. It was awesome to play against them and see how they play.”
“The experience was awesome. I played against some of the best players in the world. The games were some of the toughest I ever played, after being with the national team. It was a great experience and I liked Canada a lot.”
Burlington’s season began on October 28, and with it, came hockey history. In a 4-2 loss to expansion club Team Alberta, Laura Dostaler would score the first goal in Alberta’s history. Former CIS legend Brayden Ferguson would give Burlington the opening lead of the game (at 4:22 of the first) as she logged Burlington’s first goal of the season.
While Alberta outshot Burlington by a 45-41 margin, the opening minutes of the game were a harbinger of things to come during the season for Burlington. A legendary backstop with the Harvard Crimson, Christina Kessler was the most highly touted player to stand between the pipes for the blue and orange.
Early in the game, there was a scramble for the puck in front of her crease. In attempting to locate the puck, Kessler felt something sharp brush across her neck. Blood was dripping from the right side of her neck. While a trip to the hospital showed no serious damage, it was the type of event that would just signify the bad breaks for a proud but beleaguered franchise.
While Kessler would return the following day in a remarkable display of stoicism and perseverance, the end result was testament to her goalkeeping skills. Kessler would face 18 shots in the first, followed by 22 in the second stanza. A valiant effort of 28 shots would follow in the third for a total of 68 shots on goal (61 saves).
Samantha Shirley gave Burlington the first lead of the contest (at 2:28 in the second stanza), but it would also be their last. Although Boston prevailed by a 7-1 score, Kessler provided one of the bravest goaltending performances in league history. For her efforts, Kessler would be named Second Star of the Game.
The following day, Mandy Cronin would mirror Kessler’s performance as she made 58 saves for Burlington. Visiting Boston outshot the home team by an overwhelming 63-19 margin. In the 5-1 loss, Jana Harrigan would score the only goal for Burlington at the twelve minute mark of the second.
Despite the losses mounting, the Barracudas still managed to give back to the community. In November 2011, the Barracudas became part of a unique chapter in Canadian women’s hockey history. Nine players from the squad participated in the first women’s hockey tournament hosted by Hockey Helps the Homeless.
Held north of Toronto at the Magna Centre in Newmarket, Ontario, the tournament would leave a remarkable impact on the players involved. “That was nice as we don’t have many volunteer events. It was a great thing to be a part of, just awesome,” said Rajahuhta.
“I was very impressed and really inspired by the cause,” noted Amanda Shaw. A few months later, Shaw would compete at the Ottawa edition of HHtH playing alongside men. She was easy to spot on the ice as she donned her red helmet. It was the one she competed with from her time with the Boston University Terriers. Eventually, she would become part of the leadership team at HHtH, extending the great legacy from Burlington’s involvement.
Reaching out to the less fortunate in the community that season went beyond HHtH for the Barracudas. Shannon Moulson recounts how the team pulled together during the holiday season, “When I played for Burlington, we did Secret Santa. As well, I had suggested a charity donation.”
“So each person brought in a toy along with their gift and I took them all to Credit Valley Hospital where I was born and put them under the Christmas Tree there. We try to help people out rather than spending our money on each other. It’s nice when you have a close group of people who can come together to do something nice for someone else.”
During the holiday season, Burlington would manage its first win of the season. A dramatic December 18, 2011 victory came in the form of a shootout. The contest was a see-saw battle as the first frame resulted in a scoreless struggle. Brooke Beazer and Kelly Zamora would score in the second period to give Toronto a 2-0 advantage.
Heroics in the third period were supplied by Burlington. With Mallory Johnston in the penalty box, Joanne Eustace would score short-handed at 8:23. Just two minutes and 25 seconds later, Ashley Stephenson managed to beat Erika Vanderveer to tie the score.
The first round of the shootout saw Mallory Deluce (who would finish the season as the Furies leading scorer) shoot first. After she was denied by Kessler, Brayden Ferguson was unable to supply Burlington with the lead.
Furies first round pick Jesse Scanzano scored to make it 1-0 for Toronto in the shootout. Team captain Sommer West replied with her own goal to tie the score. After Jenny Brine (Toronto) and Amanda Parkins were denied in the third round, Kori Cheverie tried to breathe new life into the Furies.
Failing to score, Lindsay Vine took to the ice for Burlington. With the opportunity to defeat their provincial rivals, Vine graced down the frozen perimeter and buried the shot as the Barracudas exploded with roars of approval. Prevailing by a 3-2 triumph, the blue and orange snapped its eight game losing streak which their season began by.
Vine would be named the First Star of the Game, while Kessler’s 43 save effort gave her the Second Star. Toronto’s Kelly Zamora was the Third Star in what would stand as a historic game in CWHL history.
A difficult 16-game losing streak would follow for the Barracudas. Despite the heart breaking losing streak, the final game on March 11, 2012 was one that still had great meaning. In many ways, it had displayed the season coming full circle (with a touch of irony).
Competing against Meghan Agosta and the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Montreal Stars, there was something to prove. Although the blue and orange had the worst record in the CWHL during the 2010-11 season, they did not gain the first pick overall in the 2011 CWHL Draft.
That honor went to the Montreal Stars, who grabbed Meghan Agosta with the first pick overall. If Burlington would have earned the first pick, there is no question that Agosta would have become the centerpiece of their offense, along with their franchise player.
Emotions still ran high for the Barracudas as the contest brought with it the retirement of team captain Sommer West. Having played for over a dozen years, West was also a former member of the Canadian national women’s hockey team.
In addition, she competed for Canada in softball at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. Her playing experience dated back to the former NWHL, and West was recognized in a pre-game ceremony.
It was only fitting that West would log the final goal in franchise history. Appropriately, said goal was scored at 11:25 in the final frame. Earlier in the contest, West and Amanda Shaw would log an assist on Mallory Johnston’s goal, the first of the game for Burlington. Mandy Cronin would take the loss in a 7-2 final as Montreal went scoreless on six power play opportunities.
West would also finish the season as the team’s leading scorer with 17 points (her 11 assists were also tops among skaters). Samantha Shirley would emerge as Burlington’s leading goal scorer with 7 goals.
“Playing hockey has its ups and downs. Some years have highs, there were lows that season. There were coaching changes and it takes time to adjust to a new system. We could not piece everything together and it showed on the ice. We could not turn games into two-point games,” stated Shaw.
From Ray Baumgartner to Jessica Rattle to Berardino Quinto, the coaching carousel only added to the squad’s woes. While the Barracudas provided great heart on the ice, losing is never easy to process.
Amanda Parkins, the 2013 OUA Player of the Year Award winner with the Guelph Gryphons was among the long-time Barracudas whose final season with Burlington would be her last one in the CWHL. Parkins would finish the season ranked seventh on the squad in scoring.
“It was a tough year in Burlington in my final season and it was quite disappointing. We were a talented team, but we just weren’t able to make things click. I think the biggest lesson learned is to never give up and to keep playing your best every game and practice.”
”It’s easy to always stay motivated when you are winning and on top, but when you lose several games or in this case all but one game, you have to keep pushing yourself to be better every practice and game.”
“I feel like it made me strive to be a better player, making sure I am giving it my all every shift and every game. Considering the talent level in the CWHL is so high, if you take a shift or several shifts, players will make you pay,” added Parkins.
In reflecting on the season, Vine remarked, “Team captain Becky Kellar had retired and it was a new team. You learn a lot about yourself. I had never been through that situation. It makes you stronger as a player and keeps you on your toes. The team had trouble putting it together. There were a lot of problems gelling and as the year went on, we were struggling to win.”
Ironically, West would become the head coach of the Toronto Furies in autumn 2012 (the only team Burlington defeated during their final season). In the dispersal draft, Amber Bowman, Kristen Marson, Kessler, Moulson and Shaw were claimed by the Furies. With their former teammate as head coach, the former Barracudas would help their new team qualify for the 2013 Clarkson Cup playoffs.
Jenny Brine, who played with West for the Mississauga Chiefs, would play for her in the Furies 2012-13 campaign. She reflects on the experience as a success. “She was always a well-respected player in the league. The transition to coaching was smooth. She has a great knowledge of the game and I have faith in her coaching decisions. Her adapting behind the bench went very well.”
For West, the Burlington experience helped her to prepare to become a coach. “For two years in Burlington, I learned to become a player that had to deal with many struggles. It was very trying and tough. It taught me as a coach to be patient.”
While Boufounos was not named to the final roster for the season, she would go on to contribute that season in the CWHL. She would serve in the front office of the Brampton Thunder as part of their media team, and would contribute to Hockey Canada’s social media team at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. “I was happy that they got at least one win. No one likes to be on a team that has a losing record, just like no one wants to see a team have a losing record.”
Quotes for players obtained from: Bleacher Report (Parkins, Rajahuhta and Shaw), CWHL (Brine, Vine and West) and Outlook Hockey (Boufounos)
Photo credits: Melissa Boufounos by Kurt Kiser, Christina Kessler by Herb Garbutt, Becky Kellar and Jana Harrigan faceoff at first Team Alberta game by CWHL Images, Amanda Parkins by Hockey Media (Flickr), Lindsay Vine by CWHL Images, Sommer West by Brandon Taylor