Having assembled an incredible on-ice career, highlighted by participating in the inaugural NWHL season, along with adding her name to the long list of star players in Laurier Golden Hawks lore, Devon Skeats continues to experience new milestones. Of note, the first half of 2017 has already resulted in a pair of revered accomplishments.
Competing with the Buffalo Beauts, Skeats contributed towards an Isobel Cup title, defeating the defending champion Boston Pride. Following the jubilation of a Cup victory, the Queen City’s first professional hockey championship since the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons captured the 1970 Calder Cup, Skeats shocked the world of women’s hockey by announcing her retirement from the professional ranks.
One of Skeats’ linemates in her inaugural season with the Beauts, Harrison Browne, also retired following the Cup triumph. Worth noting, Kristina Lavoie, Amanda Leveille and Sarah Casorso joined Skeats and Browne as the first Canadian competitors to have their names etched on the Isobel Cup.
In addition to the Cup victory, January 7, 2017 would result in another season highlight for Skeats. Scoring twice against the Connecticut Whale, in what would prove to be the final multi-point performance of her NWHL career, she would register the game-winning goal on the power play. Scoring against Nicole Stock, the fans at Northford Ice Pavilion witnessed a high scoring affair that saw the Beauts emerge with a 6-5 win.
Despite the retirement that followed the chance to hoist the Isobel Cup, there was no opportunity for Skeats to slow down. Preparing for the 2017 International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) Women’s Worlds, Skeats became the first player in NWHL history to participate on Canada’s roster. Joined by several other ice hockey superstars, including Jamie Lee Rattray, to experience two major milestones in the same year represented a proud milestone for Skeats.
“It has been an honour to accomplish both. As you get older in sports, you really start to cherish the experiences you are blessed with as well as the company you experience it with.”
Wearing number 21 for Canada, the same number that adorned the back of her Buffalo Beauts jersey, Skeats became the first Canadian-born player in NWHL history to compete at the ISBHF Worlds. As a side note, this year’s edition of the US team featured former New York Riveters Cherie Stewart and Amber Moore.
The chance for a player as dedicated and assiduous as Skeats to be part of international hockey certainly provided her with imprimatur. To wear the jersey with the word “Canada” emblazoned on the front brought with it a sense of fulfillment and achievement that shall provide a lifetime of fond memories,
“It felt incredible, it has always been an ultimate goal of mine to represent my country and I am so honoured to be given the opportunity and hope to be able to do it again but with a gold medal around my neck in 2019.”
Skeats appeared in seven games with the Canadian contingent, recording two assists. Both assists came in a June 6 matchup against Team Italia. With the Canadian contingent scoring thrice in the third period, Skeats would be credited with the helpers on goals scored by Sarah Francis and Rhianna Kurio, a 2016 Clarkson Cup champion, as Canada emerged victorious in a 4-1 win that was closely contested in the first two periods of play.
As the match against Italia represented Canada’s last one in round robin play, there was tremendous emotion for players on both sides. Opposing a winless Italia squad, it was still one of the most unique matches of Pardubice, as Alicia Blomberg, a member of Canada’s golden squads in 2013 and 2015 was playing alongside her sister with Team Italia.
Considering that many of Team Italia’s players are classified as “Heritage players”, Canadian-born players whose parents and/or grandparents were born in Italy, playing against Canada represented the fusion of both heritage and present-day reality, continuing a proud lineage in their new homelands.
Skeats also held her own unique connection in this match. Italia’s team captain, Christina D’Ambrogio, called Skeats a teammate when they played for the 2016 Ontario provincial championship as members of the New Tecumseth XTreme. Although both have also previously experienced being opponents in elite ball hockey, it had never been in a tournament of such magnitude. In reflecting on what it was like to play against D’Ambrogio, Skeats was quick to praise her work ethic, an admiration that encompasses the culture of ball hockey,
“I knew going into the Italia game that it was going to be a fast paced and hard-working game, those are my favourites. It was a lot of fun playing against Christina. I have played against her before (and) she is a great player.”
Coincidentally, one of Skeats’ teammates with Canada held another unique connection to the Ontario provincials. Prior to the opening faceoff of the ISBHF Women’s Worlds, Skeats and Giuliana Pallotta were part of the New Tecumseth roster that defeated the Ottawa Nordiks by a score of 2-1 in the third and deciding game of the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation’s 2017 National Qualifier Championships.
Pallotta, who also played with the Laurier Golden Hawks, shared in the Canadian national team journey with her, each sharing in the pinnacle of competing with Canada for the first time. Coincidentally, both were scouted for consideration on the national team at the 2016 nationals. In the preliminary round at Nationals, Skeats recorded a team-best three goals and five points, while Pallotta’s playmaking skills shone with a team-best four assists, also recording five points as the team finished first in their division.
Emerging from Pardubice with the bronze medal, Skeats and Pallotta are motivated to build on their success with another podium finish. They shall join their New Tecumseth team with golden aspirations at the Nationals, having qualified through their provincial championship win.
Before the 2017 CBHA Nationals begin, Skeats brings a tremendous amount of newly acquired experience, and perhaps more importantly, a new collection of proud moments, representing an exciting time in her athletic endeavors. Reflecting on the experience of Pardubice with a sense of contentment and achievement, the most cherished element may be the opportunity to call several accomplished players as teammates for the first time. Making new friendships while sharing in the joy of representing Canada on such a grand stage, resulting in high motivation to return in 2019, the national team experience was one that provided Skeats with a strong sense of national pride, gaining a new appreciation for the essence of teamwork and the positive results.
“Looking back on the tournament, I would have to say my favourite moment was meeting all my teammates and building a relationship with each and every one of them. We had an amazing time together. Hands down one of the best teams I have been a part of.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
ISBHF Worlds photo credits: Daniel Soucek
Buffalo Beauts photo credit: Troy Parla