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Touch of Class by Calgary Flames in Recognizing Clarkson Champ Inferno

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Three days after the Calgary Inferno captured their first Clarkson Cup championship in franchise history, the whirlwind celebrations continued in an exemplary way. As the sister team of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, these sensational women of the Inferno, who made history by bringing the Cup back to Western Canada for the first time, were treated to a pregame celebration defined by gratitude and admiration.

It was the kind of gesture that was poignant and heartfelt as the Inferno were literally given the red carpet treatment. A pre-game ceremony saw all members of the Inferno, proudly adorned in their radiant red jerseys, complemented by bright, accomplished smiles, revel in the well-deserved spotlight as they stood unified in glory on the Saddledome ice.

Garbed in their team’s radiant red jerseys, the Inferno were literally given the red carpet treatment. As all members of the Inferno were recognized in a pregame ceremony, each was out on the Saddledome ice, a moment for the Flames faithful to see women’s ice hockey in its glory. Shining in a well-deserved spotlight, the Inferno remained on the ice during the singing of the national anthem,   For Jacqui Pierri, one of two American-born players on the roster, the chance to experience the first class treatment not only signified an acceptance of the women’s game, it was one of great pride,

“The Flames made us feel like all-stars this week. We heard a couple of times that they were giving us the same treatment that they gave the Stampeders after they won. Being on the ice with the cup was incredible. I hope we won over some new fans!”

Such celebrations took on more profound meaning for Jenna Cunningham. Having played with the franchise since its first season as Team Alberta, Cunningham had enjoyed the privilege of playing in the first CWHL game at Saddledome. Getting the opportunity to return to such a venue in recognition as a champion, definitely served as one of the highlights in her proud career,

“It was a pretty special moment heading back onto the Saddledome ice with the Clarkson Cup. It really felt like everything had come full circle. The Flames have been a great partner in the building of this team and we are appreciative of their recognition of us.”

Another player who shares similar sentiments is Kelsey Webster. Like Cunningham, she is also an inaugural member of the franchise. Having served as team captain from 2012-15, Webster was more than just an ambassador for the team. As the team transitioned to the Inferno, abandoning its old navy blue and gold colors, her leadership was essential for a franchise that underwent significant change.

Along with Cunningham, both held a consistent presence with the franchise year after year, their loyalty rewarded with a Clarkson Cup championship. Having also played in the first CWHL game at the Saddledome (along with the first CWHL game in Air Canada Centre), Webster was beaming with pride as the Flames welcomed the Inferno to their ice for the pregame ceremony.

With the support of the Flames ensuring a sustainable future for the franchise and the league, the Inferno will be able to allow other exceptional young women the opportunity to continue their playing careers.  Although Webster has decided to hang up her skates, the chance to return to the Saddledome represents a chance to return to a venue that has allowed the Inferno with a sense of acceptance and importance,

“It was a privilege to be recognized by the Flames on such a big stage. I would like to say thank you to them for their continuous support of the league and growing women’s hockey.

It is obviously amazing to be able to end my career as a champion but it is seeing that the devoted time and effort is paying off and witnessing how far the CWHL has come since the Inferno’s first season is what has brought my career around full circle. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to step out onto the Saddledome ice, since playing for the Inferno and it was a great way to end playing for them.”

Raised in Edmonton, Brittany Esposito’s initial hockey loyalties were tied to the Oilers. On this day, the iconic Battle of Alberta that featured her hometown Oilers and the Flames was not a topic of discussion. Instead, it was gratitude for the kind support of the Flames as the celebration was for women’s hockey in Alberta, as the women of the Inferno worked tirelessly all season towards the hope of such an exciting moment,

“Growing up in Alberta, it was amazing to be recognized by the Flames organization. Even as a diehard Edmonton Oilers fan, being recognized by an NHL organization in my home province and in front of so many passionate hockey fans was a special moment I will never forget. The Flames organization has been tremendous in providing us support this season, and inviting us to the game. Along with the pre-game recognition, (it) was just another example of how much they have stepped up and invested in us.

There was a unique element of coincidence as the Flames hosted the Winnipeg Jets on this night. Three members of the Inferno, Bailey Bram, Delayne Brian and Brigitte Lacquette added to the growing legacy of women from Manitoba to win the coveted Clarkson. Therefore, it was eminently appropriate that this memorable night featured a unique connection to their provincial roots. 

Along with fellow alternate captain Rebecca Johnston, Bram had the privilege of carrying the coveted Cup with her out to the ice for all the fans at the Saddledome to see. Such an event serves as a proud highlight for Bram, gracious towards the Flames generosity,

"It was really exciting to bring the Cup to the Saddledome and I know as a team we send our thank you’s to the Flames organization for making it such a special night. It is not very often you get the opportunity to experience something of that magnitude so we are extremely grateful!"

Such a celebration was a great example of the proud sense of community and friendship that defines Calgary’s sporting community. As noted on social media, the city of Calgary becomes the first to boast championships in the CIS (Dinos), CFL (Stampeders), CHL (Hitmen), CWHL (Inferno), NHL (Flames) and the NLL (Roughnecks). Taking into account that the city also features a women’s tackle football team in the WWCFL (Rage), a championship on their part would add to the city’s growing legacy of elite women’s sport.

Earlier in the season, the Flames had a pre-game ceremony to recognize the Calgary Stampeders capturing the 102nd Grey Cup. Coincidentally, the Stampeders also hold a proud connection to women’s sport. Not only are the Calgary Rage women’s tackle football team looked upon as an unofficial sister team by some, but Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell was in attendance when the Inferno hosted a fundraiser in honor of Do It for Daron. Spearheaded by Jessica Campbell, Mitchell was part of a proud show of support, praising her efforts to the media afterwards.

There was a similar sense of friendship and support following the Flames hosting the Jets. Members of the Inferno were invited to speak to players from the Flames roster. With Clarkson Cup proudly in tow, it was a special opportunity for the highly skilled members of Calgary’s hockey community to share in the jubilation of such an achievement.

Presenting their big brothers with the coveted Clarkson Cup, some held it over their head, simulating the experience of hoisting the Stanley Cup, the ultimate objective in their respective league. Many were in awe of the opportunity to view this exceptional artifact of modern sporting Canadiana, the most prestigious prize for women’s hockey in Canada.

As Pierri reflects on the post-game visit with the Cup, it was a great point of pride to be able to share in this achievement with their NHL counterparts. The sense of friendship and support were such that it embodied the true meaning of the Flames’ proud sponsorship over the seasons. 

“You know, I think some of the guys were more excited to see the cup then we were to see them! But no, that was really special. They really acknowledged how important of an achievement this is. It was awesome to see Gio hoist the Cup in celebration with us. All the guys were so supportive. I really appreciate them taking the time to come talk to us.

Delayne also got pulled into an interview with the Fan 960. We appreciate the airtime and support they have given us this season. The momentum of this championship is so exciting. I am looking forward to all the events we have planned this weekend and through the summer!”

Having emerged as the Most Valuable Player of the Clarkson Cup playoffs, Delayne Brian provided a legendary performance, going undefeated in the playoffs, while helping set the tone for an Inferno roster that was considered an underdog heading into the Finals against a Canadiennes de Montreal squad that featured the top four players in the scoring race, including league MVP, Marie-Philip Poulin.

While Brian has certainly been propelled into superstar status, she remains humble, keeping her legendary performance and historic Cup victory in perspective. Becoming only the second goaltender born in Manitoba to win the Cup (following in the trails of Sami Jo Small, who won in 2014 with the Toronto Furies), she was proud of the friendship shown towards the victorious Inferno by the classy Flames, ecstatic at their use of social media to express their joy,

“Matt Stajan also tweeted from his personal Twitter about us so that was also great to see. He and a few other players introduced themselves to us after the game and congratulated us personally so that was amazing.”

Sharing goaltending duties with Brian over the seasons, Kathy Desjardins has experienced her own share of glories with the franchise. Having also played in the first CWHL game at the Saddledome and the Air Canada Centre like Cunningham and Webster, she made the visceral decision to head back to Eastern Canada following the Cup win. The chance to be greeted by the Flames players and receive such first-class treatment comprised a series of treasured moments, highlighted by the chance to hoist the Cup in the Flames locker room, bringing a glorious conclusion to her proud time helping solidify the presence of professional women’s ice hockey in Alberta.  

“It was an amazing experience to see that the Flames are now aware that they have little sisters that can play hockey too. They were really nice and congratulated us. They stayed with us talking about our experience. We joked around and IT was fun to meet them.”

As a participant in the first two CWHL All-Star Games, along with the first Clarkson Cup contested on NHL ice (in Ottawa), Esposito was familiar with the feeling that comes with being in a big league venue. Having also played in an outdoor game at Fenway Park (where she would score the first outdoor goal in NCAA women’s ice hockey history), the chance to visit the Flames locker room adds to the list of iconic sports facilities that she has graced. 

“Again, as an Oilers fan it felt a little bit sacrilegious to be in the Flames dressing room, but the organization giving us the opportunity to check out the room and meet some of the players was a really classy touch. It was great meeting some of our male counterparts on the Flames including Giordano, Colborne, Gaudreau, Ortio, Stajan, Backlund, especially after their big win over the Jets (sorry Delayne Brian and Bailey Bram).

Not only were the players extremely welcoming, but we could sense the excitement they had for us bringing the Cup to Calgary. A special moment for me was seeing how a born and raised Calgarian, Joe Colborne, was excited to discuss our season and our Clarkson Cup win. He had a member of the Canadian Forces as his guest in the locker room, as he does for every home game, and it was delightful to see his pride when he showed off the Clarkson Cup to his guest and boasted about the Inferno and our league.”

While there was a shared feeling of victory among both the Flames and the Inferno, as new friendships were made and superstars on both sides of the game got to brush shoulders, there is no question that the bigger victory may be the increased awareness of the women’s game. Earlier in the season, the Flames were gracious in allowing members of the Inferno to visit the arena and help promote their admirable fundraiser for DIFD. The result was a record attendance for the Inferno.

Perhaps the result of the pregame celebration of the Inferno’s historic Clarkson Cup win, as they become the first Western Canadian based team to do so, may result in an increasing fan base. Among the Flames leadership group, there is a member who has been a vocal member of women’s ice hockey for several years. As Brian acknowledges this individual, there is no question that this night was a chance for Brian and her teammates to revel in their own acknowledgement, a coming-out party of sorts, as the Inferno have risen into the pantheon of champions, providing the women’s hockey community in Calgary with a new group of role models to emulate,

“Brian Burke and the Flames are such huge supporters of us and the league that any time we get some recognition by them that is so appreciated. The Flames tweeted and face booked out about our game wishing us luck and then congratulating us so that was also amazing for Calgary fans to learn a little more about us who had never heard of us before that. I hope to see some new fans out next season for sure!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Dave Holland

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