Currently serving in a consulting capacity for Team Alberta in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Samantha Holmes has worked tirelessly to build women’s hockey. She has also assumed a role for the CWHL in Operations and Sponsorships. A former member of the Canadian National Team, Holmes also helped to form teams in two different women’s hockey leagues, respectively.
Her first effort in helping to grow the game came from visiting the 1988 Calgary Winter Games as a child. Holmes noticed that there was no women’s hockey tournament. This served as the catalyst to begin a letter-writing campaign to the Prime Minister of Canada and the Mayor of Mississauga.
“I got a lot of attention for it but numerous people worked tirelessly. I was just a kid that wanted to play hockey.” When Holmes had the opportunity to play hockey, she ran with it. At the 1995 Canada Winter Games, she played for Team Ontario alongside current CWHL personnel Jayna Hefford and Sommer West.
Holmes would also play for the Canadian National Team at various Four Nations Cup tournaments in the early 2000’s. “To wear the Canada jersey is something indescribable. Just being invited to camp was great. Back then, there was no pro league. We just aspired to play for the national team. I feel there is now a place where people can say ‘I want my daughter to play in the CWHL.’”
“When I saw Angela James at the CWHL Awards Gala (in 2013), I thought back to when I was a kid. I would see her on Friday nights at the James Valley Arena. People had talked about us being pioneers, but people like Angela; they were pioneers who drove us to where we are now.”
“This year seeing the CWHL going forward is great. With sponsors like MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) and the Calgary Flames, it gets better and better. With the leadership that we have, it helps.”
Another great builder of women’s hockey, Andria Hunter (who developed one of the first websites devoted to women’s hockey), played for the New Hampshire Wildcats, a school where Holmes would eventually compete for. “I knew her as I was a Team Canada super fan. When I went to New Hampshire as a freshman, I believe there was only one other Canadian on the roster.”
“Everyone knew of Andria Hunter. People talked about her at the university. Players like Hunter, Laura Schuler and Vicky Sunohara; they were some of the first Canadians to go to the United States. Since then the opportunities are endless.”
“I went to prep school in New Hampshire. I left home when I was 15 and I was out of everything happening here in Ontario. I was very fortunate to go to a good private school for three years. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
Another highlight of Holmes career was winning the Abby Hoffman Cup, awarded to the squad that won the Esso Women's Nationals. Competing with the contingent from Alberta, she contributed two goals in a 6-3 victory over Ontario.
In later years, Holmes would serve as the founder of the Strathmore Rockies, which competed in the Western Women’s Hockey League. Employing purple and black as the team colors, the Rockies opened the door for many women in Southern Alberta to have the opportunity to play. “I remember someone telling me that I could not do it. That came to mind.”
“When the National Team had handed me my walking papers, I wasn’t ready for recreational hockey. I could not play for the Calgary Oval X-Treme as I had to play full-time. I had to get a job. I could not help but think of how many girls moved to Calgary to play for the national team. Once they couldn’t pursue their dream anymore, I started from there. I knew some buddies that had no place to play either and I thought, let’s just see how this works.”
In 2011, she would also lay the foundation for Team Alberta, the most recent addition to the CWHL sorority. The squad has been home to many notable players, including Canadian national team members such as Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson, Bobbi-Jo Slusar and Tara Watchorn. The leadership includes Chantal Champagne (who worked for Team Canada with the national sledge hockey team), and Tim Bothwell (a member of the coaching staff that won gold in women’s hockey at Torino 2006).
While she is still looking to lead the squad to its first-ever postseason appearance, Holmes has carved a remarkable legacy in the game. Her work in providing Southern Alberta with competitive women’s hockey is similar to when the Patrick Family built up men’s hockey in British Columbia.
Hard-working and humble, Holmes balances career, motherhood and hockey. While she would be the first to deny that she is a living legend, she laid a foundation for women in hockey similar to the efforts of women like Fran Rider and Sami Jo Small. One day, her efforts deserve to culminate as a member of the Builders Category in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”