Following a landmark season that saw the Calgary Inferno capture the Clarkson Cup, this remarkable collection of elite women’s ice hockey talent became the toast of the town, providing sports fans with a new group of heroes to admire. With numerous celebrations, highlighted by the chance to be guests at a home game of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, the Inferno are now ready to reciprocate the feelings of kindness and acceptance that have defined a highly memorable offseason.
As one of three clubs in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) that shall serve as a host for the league’s inaugural Pave the Way ball hockey fundraiser on May 15, it is an extension of the league’s proud legacy that sees its players dedicated towards being hockey humanitarians. The Calgary edition of Pave the Way shall be take place at the Silver Springs Community Centre with a start time of 11 am. All donations of $10 or more will receive a tax receipt.
The fundraiser involves a ball hockey tournament in which teams and individual players can register in advance online. The series of tournament contests are 20 minutes in length and the teams that raise the most funds will have the opportunity to draft an actual CWHL player to their roster. As a side note, the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder shall co-host their version of Pave the Way at Ontario Place while Les Canadiennes de Montreal plans on hosting an event in June.
Among the women of the Inferno, one player has undoubtedly left a strong legacy on the ice and on the ball hockey court. In a postseason that served as a coming-out party for goaltender Delayne Brian, honored as the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 Clarkson Cup, it actually marked the second consecutive year that she won a major hockey championship.
In 2015, Brian shared goaltending duties with Nathalie Girouard on Canada’s national women’s ball hockey team. Competing at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships, Brian earned the start in the gold medal game; as Canada went on to prevail by a 5-1 tally against the Czech Republic. For her efforts, Brian was recognized as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Goaltender.
Considering that many women in the CWHL have utilized their offseason to participate in competitive ball hockey, Pave the Way is a unique amalgam. Not only does it bring together an opportunity for devoted fans to meet the stars of the CWHL, it incorporates an opportunity to raise awareness about ball hockey, simultaneously adding the fun in fund raising, truly a win-win situation,
“I am excited to see that the sport is gaining some interest. Most importantly though, I think kids need to know that it’s good for them to play multiple sports and not necessarily play hockey all year round. That’s an easy way to burn out and potentially lose some passion for the game.
With ball hockey, you get a great mix of still being able to work on some hockey specific skills, but also working on your cardio and ball handling skills while getting in a good sweat!”
One could definitely state that ball hockey (also known as street hockey) was a key element in helping to increase the acceptance of women in the game, gradually bringing about equality. For many Canadian ice hockey players, the springs and summers of their youth were spent on side roads and driveways playing hockey outdoors with a tennis ball or the traditional soft orange ball utilized in sanctioned ball hockey games.
These outdoor games were more than just an extension of the love of ice hockey, but it was a rite of passage for many as it represented some of the earliest experiences of boys and girls playing together, sometimes brothers and sisters. For long-time Inferno member Erica Kromm, whose father Richard, played in the National Hockey League with the Calgary Flames and the New York Islanders, ball hockey represented such an experience. With such fond memories of the game and the way it simultaneously helped improve her skills, Kromm is happy to see the CWHL show their support and recognition of ball hockey’s impact with the Pave the Way fundraiser.
“I think ball hockey is a sport any kid can play, any time of year. It hardly costs a dime and is easily accessible to anyone. It only makes sense that we give it the recognition it deserves. I played it growing up in our neighborhood. It was a great way to develop stick handling and vision skills applicable to the game of ice hockey. When the rinks did not have ice, we inevitably played street hockey in the summers.”
Of note, Kromm is among many Inferno players, past and present, spending her springs and summers on the ball hockey courts throughout Southern Alberta. Not only does the game allow for exceptional off-season conditioning, but it is an extension of the friendships and camaraderie that developed while donning the Inferno colors.
Among the women of the Inferno that is also a teammate of Kromm at the competitive ball hockey level is Kristen Hagg, a former recipient of the Top 8 Academic All-Canadian commendation. Having played together (alongside current Inferno players such as Rhianna Kurio, Jacquie Pierri and Jessica Wong) on the Raging Buffaloes in the Calgary Women’s Ball Hockey League, Hagg has seen the positive impact of the game and its ability to foster new friendships and strengthen existing ones.
“Playing ball hockey or other sports in the summer is a great way to stay in touch with teammates while at the same time being able to step away from ice hockey for a bit and take a break. Lots of great friendships develop from being part of a team, and it is great to be able to continue to see one another once the season ends. It is also nice to participate in a sport with one another in a more recreational setting.”
Such sentiments are shared by Brittany Esposito. Raised in Edmonton, where the city has traditionally been a sporting rival to Calgary, she has become one of the Inferno’s rising stars. In addition to competing in the first two CWHL All-Star Games, Esposito would log 45 points in her first two CWHL seasons.
Although Esposito is not part of the celebrity draft that involves Brian, Jenna Cunningham, Hagg, Kromm, Jacquie Pierri and Gina Kingsbury, she will proudly be on hand with Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid to provide encouragement and support. Acknowledging that an important element of the event also involves the fan experience, Esposito is looking forward to an opportunity to celebrate the game while providing hometown fans a memorable day filled with hockey, enjoyment and friendship.
“It is important to keep in touch with my teammates during the offseason and Pave the Way is going to be a great way to do that. It will be a fun way to promote our league and will give us a chance to interact with the fans. This will be an exciting way for the fans to get a glimpse of what we are like as a team, and as individuals, off the ice and we will be able to get to know some of them too.”
A charter member of the Calgary Inferno, dating back to its earliest days as Team Alberta, Jenna Cunningham is among a growing sorority of elite hockey talents that have played in both the Clarkson Cup and the Canadian national ball hockey championships. The all-time leading scorer in Inferno history, ball hockey has complemented her sterling career.
In addition to playing with the Honey Badgers in the Calgary women’s ball hockey league (with the likes of fellow Inferno charter member Kelsey Webster, Brian plus Inferno alums Emily Berzins and Bianca Zuber), Cunningham’s exceptional skills translated into an opportunity to don the jersey of the Alberta Rockies. Making her debut at the Canadian nationals in 2014 with the Rockies, Cunningham showed tremendous proficiency on the ball hockey court, helping the club to a bronze medal. In reflecting on the event, it was certainly one that she shall treasure,
“Playing in nationals was by far the best ball hockey experience I have had. I was pretty new to the sport and was impressed by how popular it is.”
Of note, the 2016 Clarkson Cup finals involved another unique connection to ball hockey. The day before the finals, an exhibition was held by the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation in the parking lot at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre (host venue for the Cup) which featured five players from each the Inferno and Les Canadiennes play with 30 girls who registered for the event. Building on this momentum with Pave the Way is an element that Cunningham is proud of,
“Having the CWHL support Pave the Way is fantastic. If you ask any hockey player they will tell you they grew up playing street hockey. So it makes sense to pair up with Pave the Way.”
As anticipation builds towards the first face-off at Pave the Way, the event embodies the empowering spirit of the CWHL and the Inferno, working towards building a bright future for women’s hockey, bringing direction and significance to the growing game. With the Inferno’s profile rapidly increasing in the Calgary sporting landscape, Brian shares the feeling of optimism that the event shall prove to be a success,
“Hopefully the best part of Pave the Way will be all the people that will come out. Now that we are a little more recognized in Calgary as a professional sports team, I hope to see lots of people out to the event. It should be a ton of fun getting out and interacting with fans.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
To learn more about Pave the Way, please visit: http://pavetheway.cwhl.ca/Powered by Sidelines