As one of the premier cities for women’s ball hockey in Canada, it was only fitting that the city of Ottawa served as the host for the 2015 edition of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) nationals. Held at the Jim Durrell Recreating Complex in August, six teams from four provinces competed. The defining theme from the first day forward was the high quality of play, testament to the growing talent in the sport.
Of all the teams competing, each one featured at least one player from the Canadian national team that captured the gold medal at the 2015 ISBHF World Championships in Zug, Switzerland, adding to the event’s excitement. In addition, Diana Brown, Team Canada’s head coach served in the same capacity with the eventual CBHA champion Toronto Shamrocks. As a side note, Team Canada forward (and 2014 Clarkson Cup champion) Lexie Hoffmeyer was one of the members of the Shamrocks roster.
“This year, there is a high level of competition. It is higher than I have ever seen. It was very tight to see who wins,” noted Brown.
Another member of the Shamrocks that made an impression was Carolyne Prevost. A former member of the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team, Prevost has won a pair of NCAA Frozen Four titles with the Wisconsin Badgers, along with the coveted Clarkson Cup with the Toronto Furies in 2014.
Also juggling her hockey obligations with regional Cross Fit competitions, the 2015 CBHA Nationals represented Prevost’s first sojourn into ball hockey. While Prevost adds a CBHA championship crown to her remarkable career accomplishments, her first exposure to elite women’s ball hockey was one in which she acknowledged the high quality of those who play,
“Many of these teams played very strong. These have been very good games. Many of these players have a lot of experience from playing hockey in Canadian Interuniversity Sport or in the United States. The goaltending has been very good too. Some are very hard to score on. There have been a couple of good scoring opportunities, but overall, it is a very high quality of play.”
Competing against the Shamrocks in the gold medal game was Newfoundland United. Despite being the only team with a losing record to qualify for the elimination round, the squad was led by four young star players that were part of Team Canada’s golden effort in Zug. With Kristen Cooze on the blueline (she was also an All-Star selection at the 2014 CBHA Nationals), she was joined by Amanda Kean, Dawn Tulk and rising star April Drake. Helping to grow the game in Newfoundland, Cooze is proud to see the game continue to make strides,
“The women’s game is definitely growing. I have played at four provincials and the game is definitely picking up.”
Selected by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 edition of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft, Jessica O’Grady is equally accomplished on the ball hockey court. Although she was initially named to Team Canada’s roster in 2015, she was unable to play. Having contributed to a gold medal win for Canada at the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, she was not the only Team Canada star competing with the Ottawa Rebels at the 2015 CBHA Nationals.
Along with fellow ball hockey and ice hockey superstar Fannie Desforges (who also won the first-ever Red Bull Crashed Ice Women’s World Championship), both players have proud hockey roots in the city of Ottawa. Getting the chance to compete in the CBHA Nationals was highly rewarding for O’Grady. Enhancing the experience for her was the exceptional caliber of play,
“It is amazing. The competition is extremely tough this year. Every team is very good. I am super happy to see the competition is so good. It is awesome to see this much talent. Each game has been so much fun, no doubt about it.”
Although the BC Benders did not move past the preliminary round, their squad featured a pair of ball hockey stars that suited up for Canada. Melanie Jue, who competed in both field and ice hockey at Cornell University was joined by legendary competitor Silvia Traversa in Zug. As a side note, the 2015 CBHA Nationals represented the tenth time that Traversa competed.
Fellow Vancouver Ball Hockey League competitor Cindy Frieberger was also part of the Benders squad, representing the best that the league had to offer. Despite being sidelined with an injury, she took great pride in being part of the event.
“It is pretty awesome. This is my second time here and it is good quality hockey. It brings a great experience to the team. There is great competition here and to come here and be challenged.”
Akin to the BC Benders, Team Manitoba was another All-Star team that competed at the Nationals. Chantal Larocque and Jessie McCann were the Team Canada 2015 members that helped provide strong leadership for the squad. Although veteran player Brandy Williams suffered an injury as well, she was quick to point out that the quality of play had improved in comparison to her first nationals,
“Definitely it has improved. The Ontario teams were pretty strong and in the end, it was anybody’s tournament. I was from New Brunswick, but I grew up in Manitoba and I was asked if I wanted to play. I had played in the nationals seven years before.
The level of play is so much better. Anytime you come to the nats, you see that the level is better. The caliber of the athletes is very impressive. It is just a matter of getting the players together.”
Shelley Callaghan, the Canadian Ball Hockey President, is also a native of Ottawa. Having also served in a presidential capacity for eight years with the nationally prominent Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL), she has seen first-hand the remarkable growth of the sport.
In addition to the Rebels, the OVWBHL were also represented by the Vanier Mooseheads. Having placed in fourth after the medal round, the Mooseheads were led by former CWHL player Elysia Desmiers and accomplished goaltender Nathalie Girouard, also members of Canada’s contingent in Zug. Although the Rebels and Mooseheads played for the bronze (rather than gold) on home soil, Callaghan was very proud of the great strides the game and the nationals have experienced,
“I think that all the provinces have really sent their best. The host city (Ottawa) sent the best teams they have. Specifically, I am excited to have two teams from Ottawa participating. I have been the Vanier League president for eight years, and I am pretty happy with where it has gone and what these girls have been able to accomplish.
It shows the depth of the league and that we are competing among the best in Canada.
Many of the provinces created All-Star teams. The Newfoundland team really picked up the quality of their game. BC sent a new team, seeing the Benders play. Usually, it was a team called the Hawks. All the games are really close and it is very good.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”ockey