One of the great feel-good stories concerning women’s ice hockey in 2015 involves the tenth anniversary celebration of The Women of Winter. With founder Deirdre Norman proudly at the helm, friendship and respect are just as important as having fun on the ice.
With its roots in Toronto, TWOW began with the hope of supporting and promoting female hockey players of all ages and skill levels. From teaching skills to supporting youth, it is an amazing organization that has added an exciting new dimension to women’s ice hockey in Toronto.
Its signature event locally is its remarkable annual Shinny tournament at Dufferin Grove Rink. Having grown into a key event on the annual sporting calendar, it is a volunteer driven event where the most important aspect is the love of the game.
With this year signifying the tenth edition of the tournament, it is an event synonymous with TWOW’s commitment to grow the game. Adding to the sense of accomplishment was the fact that one of the game’s took place on March 3, which was the 140th anniversary of the first-ever indoor hockey game in Canada.
Also in the month of March, Norman and other friends of TWOW had the opportunity to bring their love of the game to an even more special venue. Gracing the ice of Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, it was a chance to celebrate the Marlies’ Women’s Hockey Day. Among the competitors was Nathalie Ouellet, part of the winning team at TWOW’s inaugural Shinny tournament back in 2006. Of note, the March 29 event also featured members of the Furies participating in the opening faceoff of the Marlies vs. Hamilton Bulldogs contest.
This year, it was one of only many unique events that Norman, who is also a member of the Board of Directors at George Bell Arena, would be involved with. She began the landmark anniversary year with an international hockey tournament titled TWOW X.
Among the events at the tournament included an intra-squad scrimmage with members of the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder. Of note, Lori Dupuis as the bench boss for the Brampton players wearing the home reds, while Kristi Alcorn was behind the bench for the squad with their road whites.
“It has been an overwhelming year for me and TWOW as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. We held our first TWOW X International Tournament in January as a way of bridging our new relationships with women hockey players around the world.
Our motto – Changing the world, one rink at a time, is what best represents our goals.”
Over the years, Norman has also volunteered her time with the CWHL, an extension of her dedication to the game. Having first started with the Toronto Furies, she was one of the club’s volunteers during their Clarkson Cup championship season in 2014. When the team gathered at centre ice for their championship photo, Norman was invited to share in the jubilation, a kind gesture of gratitude. As a side note, she is in the back row at the far left beside Michelle Bonello.
Since 2011, Norman has also organized an annual tournament in support of the Toronto Furies known as the Furious Hockey Tournament. Held at George Bell Arena during the spring, Furious V was hosted in 2015, and there was no shortage of Furies players in attendance as a show of appreciation.
With team names such as Bolton Broads, Dufferin Dames, Furious Floozies, Hockey Harlots, Ice Divas and Shinny Skirts, fun was definitely the objective. Considering that the Furies in attendance also suit up for the various tournament teams, it provides skaters with the chance to call elite CWHL talent as teammates.
As a side note, this year also saw the launch of The Thunderous Hockey Tournament, with Norman also donating her time. Akin to the Furious event, it is a spring-time all-women’s event that sees CWHL players compete on numerous teams. Brampton Thunder players such as Erica Howe, Jocelyne Larocque, Jennifer Kirk and Danielle Skirrow, to name a few, proudly participated.
Currently a volunteer with the Brampton Thunder, Norman’s compassionate efforts in 2015 also extended to a pair of worthy causes. Not only did Norman help raise awareness for the Shine Out! Shoot Out! Hockey Tournament, which supported Mental Health Programs for Youth, she also extended TWOW’s support of the game towards ice sledge hockey.
Not only did the Thunder hold a fundraiser for Claire Buchanan, a two-sport star who excels in both wheelchair basketball and ice sledge hockey with Canada’s national teams, they teamed up with Norman for a worthy cause. As Japan is looking to start its own national women’s ice sledge hockey team, not only did Norman support the cause on social media, testament to her efforts to grow women’s hockey internationally, the Thunder graciously donated gently used equipment in order to assist with them.
A significant legacy for Norman and TWOW involves spreading the love of the game internationally. Among the countries where Norman has graced the ice, Iceland has become like a second home.
In addition to helping establish a women’s division for Iceland’s International Hockey Cup, proud Canadian content there has included the involvement of former Montreal Axion player Sarah Smiley, who has played and coached with Iceland’s national team. As a side note, Sami Jo Small and Billy Bridges, a pair of Hockey Canada legends have also visited Iceland, conducting skills classes for young players.
During IIHF World Girls Hockey Day on October 13, Norman was once again in Iceland, competing in the Global Girls Game. With competitors ranging in ages from six to 57 years young, it was reminiscent of the early years of the Brampton Canadettes in the 1960s, when players (including a teenaged Fran Rider) of all ages gathered on the ice for play. Although Norman may have been the most mature player competing, at 57 years young, it was a chance for young players to share ice time with one of the most underrated builders in the game today.
As cherished as the experience in Iceland represented, Norman expanded her scope, bringing TWOW to the Czech Republic. Competing in an exhibition game against HC Dracice, it may have proven to be the highlight of the anniversary season.
Making their proud presence felt in Czech Republic, the October 3 match represented the great potential of women’s ice hockey in Europe. Among the rising nations in international play, the Czech Republic competed at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa, their debut in the event.
“What we did to finish off our year included going to the Czech Republic to play the brand new women’s team in ?eské Bud?jovice. This team had its beginnings in a conversation at the arena bar between Jan Mojzis and myself.
I asked him why there were no women playing in the entire area and he responded by creating a dedicated and determined team of women. It was a huge surprise to discover that our international ‘friendly’ was televised and we played in front of 300 enthusiastic Czech fans.
That was an experience I will never forget; partly because seeing the support for this new team can only mean women’s hockey in the area will grow.”
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the anniversary event was the fact that Norman and the other member of TWOW have proven that hockey knows no age. Norman has a youthful vigor and infectious enthusiasm for the game that positively impacts those who grace the ice with her. As the first ten years have seen a remarkable and unprecedented growth, providing recreational women’s ice hockey with a significant voice, the game is better for the efforts of TWOW and the next 10 years are only poised to build on such momentum.
“It is the conversations about our shared passion as much as the games themselves that encourage and support the growth of the game at a grassroots level.
For some, seeing us old folk playing with the same enthusiasm and love of the game that the 20-somethings do, brings new hope and understanding that hockey is a lifetime sport available to any and everyone.
TWOW hockey bridges generations, genders and borders. We are starting its second decade with the simple hope that hockey makes us better people and a stronger community. Our annual events continue and we are slowly including new countries.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook.
Photo credit for Furies championship photo: Brandon Taylor