As the 2015 Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) nationals were held in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, Ontario, there was a strong feeling of pride among the remarkable alumnae of the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey program. In addition to their heroics on the ice, spring and summer sees them extending their remarkable hockey skills in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL).
This year’s edition of the CBHA Nationals had no shortage of Gee-Gees stars gracing the floor. Comprising part of the Ottawa Rebels roster were the likes of former Gee-Gees captain Fannie Desforges, Dominique Lefebvre, Erika Pouliot and Carole-Ann Upshall. Competing with the defending national champion Vanier Mooseheads was Alicia Blomberg. As a side note, Desforges had also competed on the Mooseheads championship team in 2014.
Not to be forgotten are the Gee-Gees crosstown rivals, the Carleton Lady Ravens. For the third consecutive years, Lady Ravens alum Jessica O’Grady called Desforges a teammate. Having played with Desforges on Canada’s gold medal winning roster at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, they were also part of the Mooseheads in 2014.
This year, the two contributed to the Rebels earning a bronze medal at the CBHA Nationals. Ironically, O’Grady once scored three shootout goals in an epic CIS confrontation against the Gee-Gees. Other Lady Ravens on-hand included Claudia Bergeron and Audrey-Ann Botour, who both played for the Rebels.
Statistically, the Gee-Gees were key contributors for their teams. Carole Ann-Upshall tied with Toronto Shamrocks forward Jenny Brine for second overall in goals scored during preliminary round play. Also in the preliminiaries, Pouliot ranked second in assists while Desforges tied for third, respectively.
Named one of the 50 greatest Canadian female ball hockey players, Desforges is eventually destined for the CBHA Hall of Fame. A multi-sport star who was also the first women’s Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion, she is one of the OVWBHL’s premier players and ambassadors. Desforges, the MVP of the 2013 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, was very proud of the opportunity to compete at the CBHA nationals on home soil,
“It has been huge fun. To have it in Ottawa is a great opportunity to showcase the quality of ball hockey talent in the province. There are a lot of very talented players in ball hockey.
It helps to grow the sport even more. It is a great thing to host it and bring it home. To win the gold would have been very rewarding.”
Of note, Desforges is not the only Gee-Gees ice hockey player to have competed in the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition. Having also played with Desforges and Erika Pouliot on the ISBHF gold medal team in 2013, Alicia Blomberg played for Canada once again in 2015, capturing a second straight gold medal. As a side note, she scored Canada’s first goal of the event at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, along with the gold medal clinching goal against Czech Republic.
Blomberg’s strong leadership was highly prevalent at this year’s CBHA nationals. Although she was competing with the opposing Mooseheads, key common ground between Blomberg and her Gee-Gees sisters was the hometown pride,
“All the teams are pretty even. It is nice to see so many competitive players and to play against them as well. As we have two teams from Ottawa, it is great to showcase that level as well. To have two of our teams in the top four (nationally), it says a lot for Ottawa.”
In addition to a remarkable playing career on the ice and the floor, Erika Pouliot has also extended her career into coaching. Serving as a member of Yanick Evola’s coaching staff with the Gee-Gees for several seasons, she was a mentor for many of the Gee-Gees playing today at the nationals. In discussing whether she views herself as a leader, she was gracious in her assessment,
“In terms of leadership, I think we are all leaders. We all have exceptional players. It is great to see them play at such a high level of hockey and contribute.”
Pouliot also acknowledged how real world obligations played a factor for many players involved. Not only did many visiting players have to take vacations from their places of employment in order to participate, but some of the local players sandwiched in days of work while competing at an elite level. Despite such factors, Pouliot was proud of the opportunity to see a hockey hotbed such as Ottawa play host to the greatest competition in Canadian ball hockey.
“To play at the nationals on home soil, it is good. For some of the older girls, they have to work in between games, but they do not have to take a vacation.”
Pouliot also shares a unique connection with Desforges as both have played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Pouliot and Isabelle Aube (one of Blomberg’s teammates on the Mooseheads) competed with the now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators.
Desforges has spent the last two seasons with the Montreal Stars, appearing in the 2015 Clarkson Cup championship game. As a side note, Yanick Evola was a head coach of the Stars predecessor, the Montreal Axion (pronounced Action) where he coached players such as Gina Kingsbury, Angela Ruggiero and Kim St. Pierre.
One of the highlights in Desforges career with the Montreal Stars was the chance to grace the ice at Montreal’s Bell Centre, home of the world renowned NHL Canadiens. Joined by several other Stars players, including Dominique Thibault, another Red Bull world champion, for an open practice that the Canadiens were hosting,
“That was an awesome experience. To see the fan presence there was super fun. Just to be in front of that huge crowd was awesome. It was very cool and we were treated great. The showcase the Stars brought more awareness to the CWHL, which was huge.”
Throughout her CWHL career, and her years with the Gee-Gees, Desforges always played in the OVWBHL during her offseasons, also donning the Canadian jersey at multiple ISBHF world championships. She also recognized how the participation in both sports holds a reciprocal impact, raising awareness and improving overall fitness.
“I think ball hockey is great for summer training. It keeps you in touch with the game and a wonderful way to stay in shape.”
Dominique Lefebvre, who played alongside Blomberg and Desforges for several seasons in Gee-Gees burgundy, acknowledged the growing relationship between the two sports, “There are a group of core players that compete in both ice hockey and ball hockey. It is good for the other leagues.”
Getting the chance to play at the nationals was an invaluable experience for Lefebvre, whose star is rising in the OVWBHL. One factor that she recognized about the nationals was the remarkably high level of play, which only added to the excitement of competing on home soil.
“It is a bit different from our regular league, but the level of play went a bit higher. We know a lot of the people involved and all the hockey players, so it is something really fun. We are a small community but it is great to see that the level of play is really good.”
While both squads from the OVWBHL, the Rebels and the Mooseheads qualified for the medal round, both ended up playing each other for the bronze medal. Although the desired result would have been to compete for a gold medal, their high level of talent was on-hand, as the Mooseheads forced overtime in a hard-fought outcome.
“It would have been awesome to have both Ottawa teams play in the final game. Qualifying for the medal round shows how much strength and character we have,” replied Desforges.
Adding to such sentiment was Lefebvre, who added, “This is a highly active and dedicated group of people. The people in our league are very respectful. People with a bad attitude do not last very long.
With next year’s edition of the CBHA Nationals taking place in Vancouver, it is highly likely that only one team from the OVWBHL shall take place. Regardless of the eventual outcome, there is no question that there is a sense of family among all players and a support system which only adds to the experience of playing for the league. A source of motivation as to why Blomberg plays in the league, it is also testament to why the league has expanded over the last few seasons, welcoming new players,
“The league is like a community. We are all best friends. The people in this league are very loyal, and that is why we love the game.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”