Part of a group of talented new recruits hailing from Alberta, Tara Swanson experienced the privilege of wearing the Maple Leaf at the 2017 IFAF Worlds. Hosted in Pardubice, Czech Republic, Swanson, the pride of Wetaskiwin, was part of a gathering of fantastic forwards that featured a combination of youth and veteran talent alike, complementing the diverse roster of talent from both Eastern and Western Canada.
Raised in the hockey hotbed of Edmonton, Alberta, Swanson has experienced a number of hockey milestones on both the ice and the court. Among the highlights of an exciting ice hockey career, Swanson competed in the Esso Cup, one of the nations longest running women’s ice hockey tournaments.
Suiting up for the Edmonton Thunder in her teens, the opportunity to be part of such a prestigious event would provide an invaluable experience, preparing her for an eventual run internationally. Having also returned to the Thunder as a coach in later years, along with a recent stint in St. Albert, it allowed her to be a smarter player, better prepared for the kind of competition to expect in Pardubice.
“I did coach the Edmonton Thunder at the Esso Cup, but more recently I took the St. Albert Slash to the Esso Cup where they won it all. It did prepare me in so many ways. It got my mind into that competitive setting again and the girls really showed me that if you put your mind to it and trust in your teammates, you can accomplish anything.”
Worth noting, Swanson also competed professionally on the ice as a member of the Team Alberta franchise in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Swanson was among a compelling gathering of wondrous women on Team Alberta (later rechristened as the Calgary Inferno) that also possessed great ball hockey backgrounds.
Rhianna Kurio, who was part of the Inferno’s Clarkson Cup championship team joined Swanson on Team Canada in 2017. In addition, Chelsea Purcell, the first captain in Team Alberta history, joined Karolina Urban, an Inferno alum, as members of Team Canada 2015. Inferno goaltending legend Delayne Brian would also start for Canada in the gold medal game of the 2015 ISBHF Worlds. Jenna Cunningham, the first player in Team Alberta history to reach 100 career points, captured a national championship at the CBHA level, while Emily Berzins and Reagan Fischer have also enriched their hockey legacies with glories on the ball hockey court.
In gaining the opportunity to compete for Canada in Pardubice, the euphoric sense of attainment was enriched by the presence of a prodigious goaltender that Swanson already enjoyed calling a teammate. Both members of the Edmonton Ducks (where Swanson has played since 2012), Sugiyama and Swanson have enjoyed the chance to play together on four unique levels; locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, respectively. Undoubtedly, the presence of Sugiyama as a teammate on Canadas contingent inspired her to be a better player,
“Kristen is one of my great friends and I was lucky enough to be her teammate at worlds. She always pushes me to be a better player and person. Shes always positive and wanting to bring the best out of people.”
As teammates, the two were essential in helping the Edmonton Red Light, reach the finals of the 2016 CBHA Nationals in Richmond, British Columbia. Challenging Calgary United, it transported hockey fans back to a time when the Battle of Alberta was one of the premier rivalries in the NHL, adding an exciting new dimension to the rivalry between these two Prairie powers. In spite of the Red Light emerging with a silver medal, the event was a springboard, elevating this pair to the promise of greater heights.
Taking into account that a handful of Calgary United players, including Heather Berzins and Mandi Duhamel, were part of Team Canada, it allowed Swanson a unique opportunity to get to know rivals as more than just teammates, but as people, all united in the goal of maintaining Canada’s status as the premier program in women’s ball hockey. Together, there were definitely strong feelings of national pride, wherever they went in Pardubice.
“Being able to represent your country is an experience that not many get so just being able to do that was an honor. My favorite moment was getting to know all the girls and the experience of walking into the rink wearing Team Canada apparel.”
Appearing in all seven games for Canada, with the number 17 adorned on her jersey, Swanson’s international debut took place on June 3, 2017 against archrival Slovakia, a visceral but hard-fought 2-1 loss.
Fittingly, Swanson’s first point of the tournament would take place in her biggest game. With Canada qualifying for the bronze medal game against Slovakia, it presented Swanson and her teammates with a chance at redemption. As neither country had finished out of the medal round before, stakes were high to not be part of such an outcome.
With Canada’s Jamie Lee Rattray having already scored the first goal of the game (which would prove to be the game-winning tally), Swanson and Sarah Francis would contribute the assists on Rattray’s second goal. As Kurio, a fellow CWHL alum, plus fellow Albertan Michelle Marsz also logged points in the game, there was another element of luster in such a monumental game. Sugiyama would gain the start, logging a shutout in one of the greatest performances of her career. Undoubtedly, the proud Alberta presence in Pardubice, especially in the bronze medal win, was one that brought Swanson’s career full circle, supplying a lifetime of cherished memories,
“It was an emotional experience. Heading into the bronze medal game we were determined to beat Slovakia as they were the team that handed us our first loss plus beating them meant a medal and the rights to say we beat every time once in the tournament. We definitely would have loved to have a gold medal but it was an honour to gain any medal at all! I was so proud of our team and what we accomplished.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Daniel Soucek