As one of the signature clubs in Canadian ball hockey, the Toronto Shamrocks entered the 2015 edition of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) Nationals on a mission. Having captured the title in 2012, the title eluded them in consecutive years, including a visceral overtime loss in 2014’s gold medal game.
Winning a championship would certainly propel the Shamrocks into the conversation of a ball hockey dynasty. Taking into account that Ottawa was the host city for 2015, any chance at a championship would certainly be hard earned.
Of note, the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL) featured two teams in the event, the Ottawa Rebels and Vanier Mooseheads. Considering that both teams have included a remarkable amount of talent for the powerhouse Canadian national ball hockey team over the last decade, the Shamrocks seemed destined to be on a collision course with one of those Ottawa-based teams in the gold medal game.
Instead, Toronto found itself competing against a very determined Newfoundland United squad for the national title. The Shamrocks competed against the Vanier Mooseheads in the semis, whose squad featured Canadian national ball hockey team members such as Elysia Desmier and Nathalie Girouard, along with former Red Bull Crashed Ice competitor Alicia Blomberg.
Newfoundland United pulled off an overtime upset victory against the Rebels. As the Rebels had trounced Newfoundland by a 5-0 shutout in preliminary round play, the Shamrocks could not take such a squad lightly.
Carolyne Prevost, a multi-sport star in ice hockey and CrossFit making her debut at the CBHA nationals with the Shamrocks, scored the game’s opening goal with 17:49 remaining in the opening period. Despite the early lead, Newfoundland goaltender Ayla Frank frustrated the Shamrocks on an ensuring power play.
With Brittany Antle serving a four-minute penalty for slashing, a power play tally by Toronto would have placed the game out of reach. Instead, Frank raised the spirits of her teammates, providing them with the belief that an upset was possible. Although Newfoundland was unable to score in the first period, the players approached the court with breakout speed and strong playmaking, clearly showing confidence.
Although Shamrocks goaltender Kristy Zamora (who actually plays as a forward with the CWHL’s Toronto Furies) was equally solid between the pipes, nullifying a Newfoundland power play in the second, she was unable to hold on to her shutout.
April Drake, who also played in a gold medal effort with Team Canada at the 2015 Ball Hockey Worlds in Zug, managed to solve Zamora and tie the score. As a side note, fellow Newfoundland players Kristen Cooze, Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk (who was credited with the assist) were also on Team Canada in 2015, all key factors in Newfoundland’s impressive run to the gold medal game at the CBHA Nationals.
With only two seconds left, Shamrocks co-founder Meagan Aarts was called for high-sticking, only adding to the game’s intensity. Feelings of excitement and anticipation ran high among the devoted fans in attendance at Jim Peplinski Arena in the Jim Durrell Recreation Complex as whispers of an upset were discussed.
Despite such a setback, the Shamrocks showed no sign of panic heading into overtime. Merely 46 seconds into sudden death, three-time Canadian ball hockey national team member (and Harvard Crimson hockey alum) Jenny Brine added to her legend with the game winning goal.
Logging an unassisted tally against Frank, the Shamrocks bench roared in approval as Brine’s heroics provided the CBHA Nationals with a storybook ending that only added to the event’s growing prestige. During elimination round play, Brine led all players in goals and points. In the aftermath of such a monumental goal, Brine remained humble, testament to her respect for the game and her teammates,
“It felt really good. It was a long tournament and we were all getting tired at this point. I was definitely fired up but any of the girls could have scored that goal.”
Flora Pannunzio, a member of the Shamrocks coach, and the general manager of Team Italy at the 2015 Worlds, was exceptionally proud of the accomplishment. Also donating her time to help run the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League, there was a strong sense of pride in being able to see the Shamrocks capture the national title,
“It is nice to keep it in Ontario. Newfoundland has come a long way. It will only be a short matter of time before it is their turn. They played with heart and never gave up. The goalie stood on her head.”
As the head coach for Team Canada’s gold medal triumph at the 2015 Worlds, Diana Brown achieved a rare double by leading the Shamrocks to the 2015 national title. Such an accomplishment is one that deserves to give Brown a legendary place in Canadian women’s sport.
“I love being part of this event. I am fortunate to be here with the same group of girls that are part of the Furies. I was very confident that this group of girls could make it to the finals. There was definitely great competition and it is great to see the level of competition where it is today.”
As a co-founder of the Toronto Shamrocks, Meagan Aarts has proven to be an essential builder for ball hockey in the Greater Toronto Area. Taking into account her legacy in the CWHL, which includes proud standing as a member of the 100-point club, Aarts is an ambassador for women’s hockey in Toronto, helping to contribute to an unforgettable era. The chance to win a championship is more than just a great point of pride, but an opportunity to help increase awareness of ball hockey’s impact and relevance,
“It means a lot. I definitely love to play and it is a fun sport. For those who have been around it for a long time and compete and play at this level, people get to know who the Shamrocks are.”
Although the goaltending position is one that Zamora is not familiar with on the ice, she was nothing short of exceptional with the Shamrocks. From the outset, she led all goaltenders with three shutouts, tied for second in most minutes played, while pacing all goaltenders with a sterling 0.60 GAA. Complementing such a performance was the one shutout she recorded in elimination round play.
“These guys make it easy to play in the net. I grew up playing road hockey and there was always a goalie shortage. So I was always playing in the net.”
It has been a lot of fun to watch it all. Playing behind the Shamrocks players has been phenomenal. There are so many Furies and Brampton Thunder players, it is nice to see everyone here mesh together. It was really great to win the league championship.”
Along with Zamora, Lexie Hoffmeyer is one of five members of the Shamrocks roster that also captured the 2014 Clarkson Cup with the CWHL’s Toronto Furies. They were joined by Meagan Aarts, Julie Allen, Holly Carrie-Mattimoe and Prevost. The one distinguishing feature for Hoffmeyer, also a charter member of the Furies, was highlighted by the fact that she competed for Brown as a member of the Canadian contingent that captured gold at the 2015 Worlds in Zug.
“It is really exciting. The two are very different events. To win with Team Canada and on the national stage, especially with the best from across Canada, to win both together and wear the Maple Leaf, it is a huge honor.
A lot of us play together in both ball hockey and the CWHL. To come together and win this championship, there is a feeling of redemption, especially after trying to win last year.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Mark Staffieri