With a combination of experienced veterans and determined rookies, eager to stake their claim, the presence of a distinguished competitor such as Tamara Pickford allowed for a strong leadership role. Originally part of Team Canada’s coaching staff, the charismatic Pickford was propelled into the lineup, appearing in four games.
Boasting a remarkable hockey resume, which was only enhanced by the chance to compete with Canada’s contingent at the 2017 ISBHF Women’s Worlds in Pardubice, Czech Republic, such an inspiring performance only added to her amazing hockey legend. From participating in the first women’s ice hockey tournament at the Canada Winter Games (with Team Saskatchewan in 1991) to gracing the ice at the Esso Women’s Nationals, she also gained a spot as a First-Team Canada West All-Star, emerging as a scoring sensation with the UBC Thunderbirds.
Perhaps the highlight was having once played with the original NWHL’s Vancouver Griffins for their final season in 2002-03. Pickford enjoyed the privilege of calling future Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato a teammate. Granato was not the only notable teammate on the Griffins roster. There was a gathering of IIHF talents and Witner Games participatants that featured Nancy Drolet, Courtney Kennedy and Shelley Looney.
During that season, Pickford logged 14 pts on strength of 12 assists. Spending the 2003-04 season in Canada’s capital region, suiting up for the Ottawa Raiders, she would return to the Pacific Coast the following season. From 2004-06, she would amass 17 points with the BC Breakers. Among her teammates were Danielle Grundy, the eventual co-founder of the Grindstone Hockey Foundation, goaltender Jennifer Price and Silvia Traversa, who would be her teammate on Team Canada’s roster at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds.
Pickford’s efforts were eagerly anticipated for a Canadian roster focused on remaining in the championship conversation. In spite of being 42 years young, her youthful exuberance elicited feelings of awe and confidence. Balancing coaching and playing duties was nothing short of exceptional. Of note, she refined her coaching skills with the very competitive Notre Dame Hounds women’s hockey program in Saskatchewan.
Brining a sure and skillful hand, Pickford was not only noticeable on the court as one of Canada’s most effective scorers. Her remarkable mane of hair brought that same notice off the court. Sporting a fascinating hairstyle that was highlighted by spiked blonde hair, it was an empowering expression of confidence, simultaneously reflecting a rebellious and yet free-spirited liveliness that represnted her joie de vivre.
Viewed through a sporting lens, Pickford sums up the ideals of professionalism and work ethic, crucial in keeping Canada consistently dangerous in such a highly competitive tournament.
With the 2017 ISBHF Women’s Worlds taking place within range of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations, there was a heightened sense of national pride among players, coaches and fans alike. The euphoric essence of what it meant to be Canadian was not lost on Pickford. While she was exceptionally proud to have been able to represent Canada during its sesquicentennial, making her sporting mark in such a notable year in Canadian lore, the sense of patriotism is one that has defined her career since the inaugural game of donning the Team Canada jersey.
“Being that we were in Czech (Republic) for Worlds in June, prior to Canada’s 150th July 1st, one would think that it would heighten the prestige but I feel like representing our country alone adds a sense of prestige & pride! If it would have been a year where we were hosting the Worlds in Canada, the emphasis on Canada 150 would clearly have increased on all levels.”
Statistically, Pickford was one of Canada’s most consistent producers. Despite appearing in only four games, she still managed to rank eighth in team scoring. She obtained an element of renown as one of Canada’s shining stars, keeping the team competitive in the hunt for a highly competitive podium finish.
There was also no shortage of emotion on the court. Among the most unique contests involved competing against Team Italia, whose roster is composed primarily of Canadian-born players who are classified as heritage players. Among said players was Alicia Blomberg, who was part of multiple Team Canada roster, most recently the gold medal winning team in 2015.
Having been part of Canada’s roster in 2015, it was a transition for Pickford to now call Blomberg a rival. Taking into account that part of this transformation in Pardubice also involved Pickford going from a member of the coaching staff to holding stick in hand, playing against such a distinguished competitor as Blomberg supplied significant motivation, one that saw her deliver on all accounts with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 triumph,
“Having the opportunity to experience the transition from Asst. Coach to player in the World Championships was a surreal experience, any team we faced from that transition period (game 3) onward, I had the same mentality and game plan; play with determination, heart and support any role our team needed me to step into.
Playing with Blomberg on Team Canada in 2015 just made it so that the game was more competitive based on how we as Canadians take pride in performing at our best.”
With transition continuing to be a theme in Pickford’s hockey odyssey in 2017, there was also another scenario that defined the experience in Pardubice. While the on-ice rivalry between Canada and the United States is legendary, such a rivalry took on a new meaning in Pardubice, as the rivalry only intensified on the court.
For an ambitious US roster, 2017 represented a paradigm shift, as they had defeated Canada for the first time ever. Although the loss was heartbreaking for a Canadian roster hoping to add another gold medal, it will serve as a source of motivation for the subsequent Worlds in 2019.
In addition, the loss showed how Canada refused to give up. Relegated to the bronze medal game against an always tough opponent in Slovakia, Canada bounced back, ensuring this was not the first time tournament that would see them absent from the podium. Although the bronze was not the desired result, Pickford approaches it with an admirable maturity, acknowledging that the quality of play in the game continues to increase and that finishing strong was an important hallmark of the character on this valiant team,
“It was definitely an adjustment from the last three gold medals we were able to fight for in the previous years; from a never settle for less than being the best perspective.
Yet, that also means when your handed a different scenario your must "Battle Thru Adversity" and come home, heads high with a medal.
Short Term competition is unique; it is not necessarily the best team that wins. Various factors play a role in a team’s ability to finish on top.”
Indubitably, Pickford’s finest hour was the bronze medal game against Slovakia. Gaining an assist on the bronze medal clinching goal by Jamie Lee Rattray, it was testament to her remarkable leadership, one that solidified her strong presence. For such a proud player, to see her team maintain such a strong sense of fight was one that motivated her to constantly bring her best game. Undoubtedly, if there was an award for Most Inspiring Player, it would have definitely belonged to Pickford, who embodied the sense of dedication and perseverance, while also exemplifying the values of team work and sportsmanship,
“What I enjoyed most is how intense/passionate, systematic, driven & committed we all were to one common goal. Supporting each and every piece of the puzzle brought together 27 people who are now all family. Our motto was ‘WE ARE’ & it fit the team dynamic.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Daniel Soucek, Selfies supplied by Tamara Pickford