As Canada looks to avenge its silver medal from the 2011 World Women’s Ball Hockey Championships, a strong contingent of women’s ice hockey players will attempt to make that dream a reality. This year, the 2013 Women’s World Ball Hockey Championships will be hosted in Canada for the first time. The maritime city of St. John’s, Newfoundland will serve as the backdrop for what hopes to be a golden performance.
With an objective of claiming the gold on home soil for the Canadian squad, such an outcome would provide a storybook ending. Canadian national head coach Chris Pellerin is retiring from the national team after the 2013 Worlds and a gold medal would be the ultimate parting gift.
Four members of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League have been named to the Canadian roster. Mallory Johnston of the Brampton Thunder, Chelsey Purcell of Team Alberta, along with Toronto Furies skaters Britni Smith and Jenny Brine comprise the four fantastic selections.
Having logged a goal in the final CWHL game for the Burlington Barracudas (a 7-2 loss on March 11, 2012 to the Montreal Stars), Johnston spent the 2012-13 season competing for the Brampton Thunder. Her initial background with ball hockey came when she was growing up in Chatham, Ontario.
As a member of the Chatham Coyotes, she was named the Ontario Ball Hcokey Association Female Player of the Year in 2002. Her debut with the Canadian national team came in a silver-medal effort in 2011. Suiting up with Canada for the second time, Johnston is grateful for another opportunity at gold.
When not serving as captain of Alberta’s entry in the CWHL, Purcell spends her spring and summer seasons competing in the Wild Rose Ball Hockey Association. She competed with the Alberta Rockies at the 2012 Canadian Ball Hockey Nationals in Edmonton, Alberta. Of note, she was named to the tournament All-Star team.
A former member of the CWHL’s now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators, Danika Smith has established herself as one of Canada’s finest ball hockey players.
Jenny Brine and Britni Smith both bring impressive pedigrees to the Canadian contingent. In 2010, Brine was the Ontario Female Ball Hockey Player of the Year in 2010, while Smith earned the honor in 2011.
Both would help the Toronto Shamrocks win the gold medal at the 2012 Nationals. In addition, both garnered tournament honors, as Smith grabbed the Most Valuable Defender Award and Brine (a former captain with the Harvard Crimson women’s ice hockey team) grabbed the tournament MVP award.
Prior to competing with the Shamrocks, Smith (a native of Port Perry, Ontario) was a member of the Oshawa Stampede. With the Stampede, Smith would carve a remarkable legacy. Gold medals at the Ontario Provincials in 2007 and 2008 were two of the highlights with the squad. Smith (along with men’s player Andrew Shaw) were named Athlete Ambassadors for Ball Hockey during the 2012 Ontario Summer Games hosted in Toronto.
Past CWHL players Elysia Desmier, Jessica O'Grady and Danika Smith were also named to the roster. O'Grady and Smith both competed with the now defunct CWHL franchise, the Ottawa Lady Senators, while Desmier played with the Brampton Thunder. Since then, the trio have emerged as remarkable superstars in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League.
The OVWBHL made its presence felt at the 2011 Canadian Ball Hockey Association Nationals. Four players from OVWBHL clubs were named to the Canadian All-Star Team. Smith and Fannie Desforges represented the Ottawa Rebels. Jessica O’Grady (who once scored three shootout goals in one game for the Carleton Ravens) and Elysia Desmier, competitors from the Vanier White Lightning, also were named.
Desmiers remarked on the dream of winning gold on home soil. "Hearing 'O Canada' after getting a gold medal around your neck on home soil. Something every kid has dreamt about, whether on your driveway playing hockey or before you go to bed at night. It is all I ever dreamt about growing up."
As Smith was part of the 2011 national team that lost to host nation Slovakia by a 1-0 tally in the gold-medal game, she is entering the 2013 edition with strong determination.
“I think that in 2011 we were extremely disappointed by how it all ended. I think more than anything, we want to redeem ourselves from that. It is very important to have a strong tournament. I think all the teams will be stronger this time. The U.S. will be stronger, and Czech Republic and Slovakia both have strong rosters.
“Having the Worlds in Newfoundland will give us an edge. We will have a lot of support and we hope to have a gold medal on our sweaters.”
Of note, the two were part of seven members of the OVWBHL named to the national team. With so many familiar faces, the experience should be one to cherish for Danika Smith.
“It is going to be a lot of fun. Our league is really strong. It is a lot different from 2009 [the second ever Women’s Ball Hockey Worlds] when I was the only Ottawa girl who ended up going [for Canada].
“[At the third Women’s Worlds] in 2011, there were a couple more from Ottawa. This year, there is lots of Ottawa representation. It is great because these girls are so talented. From preparation, as well as everyone playing hard, in the back of our minds, we know we are playing for Canada, and that elevates our competition.”
With Canada looking to erase the old ghosts from that painful gold-medal loss in 2011, there are many signs of encouragement. Perhaps the best sign comes from a December 2012 piece published by the National Ball Hockey Association.
Said piece named current national team members Brine, Britni Smith and Fannie Desforges (a 2012 Red Bull Crashed Ice world champion) as three of the top 30 greatest players in Canadian women’s ball hockey (a list which also included IIHF Hall of Famers Geraldine Heaney and Angela James).
With the support of the home crowd behind them, the Canadian contingent is playing for more than just golden redemption. Subplots including Pellerin’s retirement, the emergence of the OVWBHL and the impact of the CWHL indicate that they are playing for national pride.
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated.