For so many hockey fans, it should not have ended this way. The announcement that Tessa Bonhomme was retiring from international hockey was too soon. Her release from Canada’s Centralization Camp in 2013 was one of the most highly emotional moments in Canadian women’s hockey this decade.
With Kamloops, British Columbia hosting the 2014 Four Nations Cup, it would have seemed like the perfect stage for Bonhomme to begin her comeback. After being released from Centralization in 2006, she bounced back for a heroic showing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Perhaps history could have repeated itself with Kamloops as the springboard towards a storybook ending at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Instead, the chapter on international hockey closes. Although there was no teary-eyed press conference that could have been the lead on the sports page, her contributions to the Canadian team certainly went far beyond the ice.
She supplanted Cassie Campbell as hockey’s girl next door, an individual whose off-ice appeal came across as approachable, down-to-earth and highly likeable. She would grace the cover of The Hockey News, as part of an edition devoted to the women’s game (which should truly be an annual edition).
Her appearances in Toro magazine and SportsNet Magazine’s Beauty of Sport edition (becoming the first women’s hockey player to do so) provided her with a certain degree of “sex appeal”. Despite this, there is no question that even male fans acknowledged her as more than just eye candy, but as a great teammate who always gave her team a chance to win.
Her appearance on Battle of the Blades not only garnered her tremendous amount of new fans, but her efforts for breast cancer research (which has also involved working with financial institution CIBC), established her as a hockey humanitarian. Becoming a McDonald’s ambassador for their AtoMc hockey program was truly testament to her popularity with younger fans.
If Bonhomme’s career with Canada’s international team can de defined in pictures, there are two that will forever be engraved in the hearts and minds of fans. After an emotional gold medal win in Vancouver, some players took to the ice for a post-game celebration that was unfairly criticized.
Taking into account that players have been separated from friends and family for over six months, it was part of a pressure packed Centralization Camp that tested the emotional and mental limits of the players, as well as physical. Of note, the high expectations to win Winter Games gold on home soil may have been the most stressful and demanding experience of their careers.
Of note, the post-game celebration was a chance to decompress after such a long, arduous journey into Canadian hockey immortality. Part of said celebration included Bonhomme donning a pair of glasses adorned with the Hockey Canada logo. For many casual observers of the game, that image of a jubilant Bonhomme was probably their first introduction to the player.
It was definitely an introduction that showed a player whose on-ice skills were complemented by a remarkable sense of humor and an endearing charm that would captivate a new generation of fans. There is no question that those glasses deserve a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After Canada lost its first-ever gold medal game of the IIHF Women’s Worlds on home soil, it would produce a photo that appeared in all of the newspapers the day after. On the ice of the 2013 Worlds in Ottawa, the visceral emotion of such a painful but historic loss was evident.
Standing next to Sarah Vaillancourt (the two were beside each other due to their uniform numbers of 25 and 26), Bonhomme looks on in empathy attempting to console a distraught Vaillancourt who played in her final game for Canada. It captured a side of Bonhomme that showed maturity and leadership.
Although there is no question that Bonhomme deserved a much better ending to her international career, the legacy that she has crafted in the last four years is nothing short of spectacular. In many ways, the outcome of the 2014 Centralization Camp only endeared her to even more fans. In the middle of such heartbreak, she never stopped supporting the team and took time to thank her fans on social media.
As a member of TSN’s broadcast team during their coverage of the Sochi Winter Games, she worked alongside Cheryl Pounder, displaying the true essence of professionalism and dignity. The two were a broadcast dream team, keeping Canadians tuned in during a highly emotional time for the Canadian women’s team, facing all kinds of adversity en route to the gold medal.
With a winning smile and great disposition, Bonhomme was a natural on camera. It would come as no surprise that in the wake of her retirement from the national team that TSN would hire to become a member of the Sports Centre broadcast team.
In an era when so many female sportscasters throughout the world are perceived as eye candy, Bonhomme brings credibility to the position. Highly articulate and well-spoken, she is continuing her role as a pioneer. Traditionally, many female athletes faded away after retirement.
Her role on Sports Net may prove that viable careers are becoming reality for women after they hear the roar of the crowd for the final time. In recent years, other athletes took on broadcast jobs while juggling their athletic obligations. Football player Tiki Barber engaged in weekend sportscasts in New York City, while wrestler Kurt Angle held a similar position in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Still in the prime of her career, there is a feeling of excitement knowing that she shall remain with the CWHL’s Toronto Furies, heading into the 2014-15 campaign, also the fifth anniversary season for the franchise.
Before the previous season expired, there is no question that the hockey gods smiled on her. Part of the Clarkson Cup winning roster, it was a jubilant 1-0 overtime triumph for an underdog Furies team that battled the defending champion Boston Blades.
As the first-ever draft pick in Furies history (let alone the entire CWHL), it was only fitting that Bonhomme was part of the Furies first-ever Cup winner. Helping provide the city of Toronto with its first major hockey championship since the 1975 Memorial Cup, it also gained Bonhomme entry into the Triple Gold Club for Women (which include the Clarkson, IIHF World Gold and Winter Games Gold).
A remarkable woman who participated in an unprecedented period of growth in the women’s game, Bonhomme was more than just a hockey player. She was an icon, whose star shone brightly, when young girls were part of a generation finally able to find hockey role models of their own gender. Through it all, her demeanor represented innocence, friendship and idealism. Even other athletes were star struck by her, symbolic of her status as a bona-fide superstar.
At a time when Wickenheiser, Agosta, Hefford and Ouellette were among the pantheon of Canada’s women’s hockey idols, quite possibly representing the game’s greatest generation, Bonhomme rose to prominence as an important figure in the sport. Becoming a model of humility and graciousness, whose glamour and movie-starlet looks catapulted her into the spotlight, it has led to a decorated career that inspired many girls to pursue their own hockey dreams, Bonhomme was truly one-of-a-kind.
Photo credits: Jamie Hogge, Reuters, Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press