Establishing a legacy as the first professional women’s ice hockey club of the new millennium based in Vancouver, the Griffins brought a combination of enthusiasm, aspiration and mission to the province’s sporting conversation. Led by owner Diane Nelson, whose tireless efforts secured numerous sponsorships, plus a place in the original NWHL, establishing the ambitious league as one coast to coast.
Coincidentally, the arrival of the Griffins affected the traditional migration of BC players playing out of province, as a reverse in trend occurred. Equally essential saw the franchise benefit from the arrival of three titanic competitors, all Eastern based with experience in IIHF play.
American skaters, Shelley Looney and Cammi Granato, a later inductee in the Hockey Hall of Fame, brought their world-class skills to the Pacific Coast. Granato, a household name for women’s ice hockey, a role model for an entire generation of girls aspiring to play, quickly brought exposure to the franchise. Fast forward two decades, Granato remains part of Vancouver’s hockey scene, serving in the role of Assistant General Manager with the Canucks.
Prior to the Griffins and the epic on-ice rivalry in the IIHF, the Michigan-raised Looney already enjoyed a unique connection to Canada. Back in 1980, she wrote a letter to the Canadian government, acknowledging their efforts in the Iran hostage crisis. With the heartwarming words of the letter becoming lyrics for a highly emotional song, Looney gained a cherished place in popular culture.
Joined by Nancy Drolet, a highly skilled forward from Drummondville, Quebec, the Griffins quickly benefitted from significant star power, worthy of major league standing. Also renowned as the Sports Federation of Canada Junior Athlete of the Year in 1993, Drolet’s standing as a Canadian hockey hero brought instant credibility for the Griffins.
Having scored two of the greatest goals in the history of Canadian hockey history, recording the golden goals in overtime at the 1997 and 2000 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Drolet arrived to Vancouver as an instant fan favorite. Worth noting, her greatest performance as a Griffin involved a hat trick versus an Edmonton Chimos team which featured All-World talent Hayley Wickenheiser.
Worth noting, the collective legacies of Drolet, Granato and Looney reached a degree of immortality, their destinies intersecting at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the first ever women’s ice hockey tournament at the Games. Collaborating as teammates for a new chapter in the female game, their offensive synergy in the Griffins paraphernalia was quickly evident.
Such brilliance and offensive wizardry shone brightly during an exciting 2002-03 season, which saw Drolet lead all Canadian-born players with 29 points, attained on the strength of 19 goals. Looney’s play-making skills were evident throughout the season, providing a solid 25 assists to complement a 35-point year. Cammi Granato provided an all-around consistency, reaching totals of 23 goals and 23 assists, leading all skaters with an impressive 46 points.
Providing more than an offensive spark, the highly-articulate and gracious Drolet earned the well-deserved honor of the team captaincy. More than just testament to her strong leadership, she took on multiple roles. From team captain to mentor for the Griffins less-experienced players, the opportunity to play in Vancouver enriched Drolet’s standing as an ambassador for the game, representing one of the happiest chapters of her career.
“It was truly an honor to be team captain of the Griffins and welcoming players from the USA, Europe and Canada to already grow the game to a real PRO level as it should be way back than.
Everybody put their hearts and souls into it and it was one of the greatest experience of my life. Making true friends and the building of amazing souvenirs will stay with me forever! Thank you to all the people that made it possible! My family and I are forever grateful!”
In addition, the presence of elite talent on the Griffins resulted in another unique element. One of the team’s charter members, Julia Berg, arrived in Vancouver via Stavanger, Norway. At a time when few Europeans played in North America, the left shooting forward helped usher a new era, also making history as the Griffins first European player. Gracing the ice with an eagerness and enthusiasm, always looking to improve her game, Berg, a member of the Norwegian national team, debuted with the franchise as a teenager.
Bringing an international facet to the club’s complexion, Berg’s earliest linemates included Caroline Hall and Sherri Schmidt. Recording over 20 career goals in the Griffins jersey, wearing the number 10, Berg assembled a highly respectable career.
Quickly becoming a fixture in the province’s hockey picture as the decade progressed, Berg’s time spent with the Griffins proved to be prologue. Later attending the University of British Columbia, she suited up for the Thunderbirds varsity hockey team.
Certainly, Berg’s experiences with the Griffins resulted in a combination of maturity and confidence that yielded many benefits for the Thunderbirds. Serving as team captain, a fitting homage to Drolet, one of her role models, she brought strong leadership skills to the program, belonging to a highly competitive Canada West conference. Certainly, Berg’s competitive odyssey was much richer for her experiences on the Pacific Coast. The opportunity to be part of the Griffins, belonging to a special chapter in Canadian women’s ice hockey history, proved part of an exciting time.
“Vancouver was central to my hockey career. Before coming to Vancouver, playing in Norway, I was mostly playing with guys. Coming to Vancouver allowed me to play with some of the best women in the World.
It was amazing to experience the talent and professionally for players such as Nancy Drolet, Cammi Granato and Shelley Looney.
Playing for the Griffins, it was also exciting to be part of the building of a new professional league for Women. I truly enjoyed being part of a team with so many amazing individuals, that was so passionate about developing the female game.”
Newspaper image and team photo obtained from: https://bcwomeninsport.com/2015/07/01/diane-nelson/
Other images from Facebook
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”