Category: North America (page 1 of 6)

Jill Saulnier hopes to make leap from cwhl all star to Olympian

By Dhiren Mahiban – Toronto Star

Jill Saulnier is hoping her hat trick in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game on Saturday will put her on Hockey Canada’s radar for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Saulnier and Jess Jones had three goals each, helping Team White to a 9-5 victory over Team Blue at the third CWHL all-star game at the Air Canada Centre.

“The thought of making that team is always in our mind, for sure, especially in events like this when you’re playing with all your best friends who you’re also competing with for that team,” Saulnier said. “Obviously everything counts towards getting better and working towards that final goal.”

Rebecca Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin and Meghan Grieves had the other goals for Team White. Johnston and Poulin each had three assists.

Poulin, who scored the winner in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold-medal games, has seen growth in Saulnier’s game since the two played together on the under-18 team.

“She’s got more confidence, she’s got more poise with the puck and you can see that,” Poulin said. “She gets better as the years go, so I’m excited for her.”

Jenelle Kohanchuk scored twice for Team Blue while Kelly Terry, Brianne Jenner, and Haley Irwin also found the back of the net.

Emerance Maschmeyer started for Team Blue and made 14 saves before being relieved by Erica Howe. Christina Kessler stopped all 18 shots she faced before Charline Labonte took over midway through the second period.

“I think (Kessler) knows all my moves from practice,” joked Team Blue captain Natalie Spooner, a teammate of Kessler’s on the Toronto Furies. “She stood on her head, she was amazing for them that first period and a half.”

With Team White leading 4-2 after 40 minutes, the two teams combined for seven third-period goals.

Mexico! Are you ready for some … hockey?

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By Eric Gomez – ESPN.com

In a sports bar tucked between the Roma Sur and Narvarte neighborhoods on a recent weekday night, a dry erase board lists the top three events available on its multiple screens.

Save for a very small minority, every patron is there to watch the main event, a World Cup qualifier between Mexico and Panama. Also listed is an NBA contest, with the Chicago Bulls battling the Portland Trail Blazers. And the third event on the board is the NHL clash between the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It’s a small, perhaps even throwaway gesture, but the mere acknowledgment of hockey in Mexico is still notable at this point, as the sport slowly continues to build in popularity and relevance for a country that has provided leagues and sports north of the border with an apt opportunity for expansion in recent years.

In the past 12 months, Mexico City has hosted Major League Baseball, auto racing’s Formula 1, UFC’s mixed martial arts, the NFL’s Monday Night Football, two regular-season NBA games, even wrestling’s WWE. For the NHL, a league also looking to expand its brand beyond its usual sphere of influence, Mexico could provide an interesting destination and a chance to gauge future outings beyond North America in an effort to popularize the game.

The hosting boom for the country and its capital could have it poised to land hockey sooner rather than later. Aside from newer facilities like the Arena Ciudad de Mexico, (the $300 million, 22,300-seater hosted the WWE last December and the NBA in January), the Mexican Hockey Federation says there is a commitment to winter sports venues that could play a role in landing a pro game.

“We have the IceDome (a public venue built in Mexico City specifically to foment winter sports), we have a rink in San Jerónimo and there’s talk of another hockey rink being built soon,” said Mexican Hockey Federation president, Joaquin de la Garma, an architect by trade who fell in love with the sport decades ago. De la Garma is bullish on the progress his country has made of late, and dreams of watching his nation one day field a hockey team at the Winter Olympics.

If the time seems too perfect to attract greater interest in the sport, this would be a good time to mention that Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs center and the NHL’s No. 1 draft pick in 2016, has Mexican heritage by way of his mother. Though his heritage and draft position were covered lightly by news outlets south of the border, the Mexican-American forward doesn’t get too much play in the media despite a strong rookie season and an All-Star berth.

De la Garma makes it clear that growth for the game in Mexico should come internally, from a grassroots level. Matthews and Claudia Téllez, who at 32 became the first Mexican national to sign for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, offer unique opportunities to create marketable stars. Other up-and-comers like Jorge Perez, who became the first Mexican-born player at the Junior A level in Canada for Rayside-Balfour, offer a promising future.

“He’s going to reach great heights,” De la Garma said about Perez.

Indeed Perez, a lanky 19-year-old forward that already captains his national team, could very well become the country’s first breakout star. Though experts within the Mexican hockey fold are reluctant to say whether he’ll reach the highest level, his success in Canada has certainly validated the program’s growth in recent years.

“I don’t think much about the future, I take it day by day, season by season,” Perez said about someday playing in the NHL, though he agrees that it would be massive for the sport to take off in Mexico. “It would be an amazing piece of news, if it’s not me, then someone else isn’t far behind.”

In Canada, Perez has acted as at times as a promoter for his countrymen, encouraging scouts to give his Mexican teammates a look. “There’s definitely talent here, and players want to make the jump, too,” he explained.

As for Téllez, she offers a face for the country’s surprising growth on the women’s side. The national team, which has only existed for four years, has been making serious strides in the world of hockey for a country attempting its first solid steps at making noise at the highest levels.

“A crazy dream some of us believed in,” De la Garma recalled.

At the Olympic Preliminary Qualifiers in Kazakhstan last year, Team Mexico pulled off an impressive run, though the women fell short in the end on the road to the 2018 Winter Games. Téllez’s success has been spurred on by an active women’s league in the country’s capital, and by making hockey a full-time activity for as many as possible. At the IceDome, children as young as 4 take classes from instructors who double as national team players.

“Now you see girls 20 and up, out on the ice at the rinks,” Téllez told Excelle Sports in July. “And little girls, three and four years old. If there [is] going to be growth, there needed to be interest.”

The federation president notes that Mexico will have future opportunities for glory in the near future, including events that will hopefully be hosted on home soil. It is his hope that the women, not the men, will make the Olympics sooner rather than later. Recent results seem to confirm that hope.

“We’re focusing greatly on [the women’s team]. I think I won’t be alive when the men make it to the tournament,” he jokes.

Other initiatives to grow the game include amateur leagues organized mainly in the Mexican capital and other metropolitan areas with winter sports facilities, a cable TV deal to show nightly pro games and open tryouts to attempt and attract new talents into the national team fold. Those are good initiatives but might not be enough. Hockey is still ignored by national media and most highlight shows on TV.

“We need more exposure, we need people to watch it,” Perez said.

But the white whale for hockey in Mexico remains to attract the world’s top league to the country and attempt to accelerate growth in the short term.

“We need to bring the NHL here for people to truly experience what hockey is at the highest level,” De la Garma said.

That objective still seems far off.

“We are not aware of any such contact being made,” said NHL deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, via email.

De la Garma told a story about contacting the league in 2001 to play an exhibition game. According to the Federation, talks were promising enough for them to book an arena in advance, anticipating an eventual deal. Then, Sept. 11 happened, and the NHL was less than willing to hold a game at an arena located within Mexico City’s World Trade Center complex, De la Garma said.

More than a decade and a half later, there is still hope the league will play a regular-season game in Mexico, the first time it would do so in a Latin American nation. In 2006, the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers played a preseason game in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Back at the sports bar, the hostess is asked whether patrons come to watch hockey. The answer is evident, as the bar emptied following Mexico’s victory against Panama.

From sand beach to frozen lake, meet the guys of the Cayman Islands pond hockey team

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The Cayman Breakaway team practices in Tampa, Fla., for its 13th straight
appearance at the World Pond Hockey Championship starting later this
week in Plaster Rock, N.B. 

By Curtis Rush – Toronto Star

GEORGE TOWN, CAYMAN ISLANDS—After trading long Canadian winters for the perpetual summer of this luxurious Caribbean tax haven, Bill Messer was content to enjoy the soft sands and warm waters of island living. The only thing he really missed was hockey.

So in 2003, when he saw a television report about the nascent World Pond Hockey Championship, he began plotting a strategy to get a team from his adopted home ready to play in his native country, Canada.

The initial response to his inquiry, however, felt like a cold slap in the face.

The tournament organizer, Danny Braun, warned Messer in an email that it was frigid up in Canada and that hockey was a very fast, very rough game.

As he read the email, Messer said, he realized that he had not made it clear to Braun that he was Canadian.

“He thinks I’m Caymanian,” Messer said, laughing as he relived the moment inside a restaurant across from Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach.

Braun remembers his initial reaction well.

“I had a bit of a chuckle thinking this was going to be like the movie Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team,” he said in a telephone interview.

 Once Messer clarified that he had once played Senior A hockey in Saskatchewan, Braun opened the door for the Cayman Islands to become the first team from the Caribbean to enter the pond hockey tournament, held annually in Plaster Rock, N.B., a village of a little more than 1,000 residents about 40 kilometres east of the border with Maine.

What began in 2002 as a way for Braun to raise money for a new recreation centre in his community has grown into a sprawling international event. Twenty games will go on at once on Roulston Lake, with the scaled-down teams playing on scaled-down rinks.

More than 100 teams will take part this year, and although Puerto Rico and Bermuda have sent teams in the past, the Cayman Breakaway are the region’s experienced hands at on-ice international relations.

When the puck drops Thursday, it will be the team’s 13th straight appearance in the event. The seemingly unlikely hockey outfit has been among the top 32 playoff teams on three occasions and has a winning record overall. Throughout the years, the Breakaway have become media darlings, and the gifts they bring from home — chiefly rum and rum cake — have made them popular with the other teams that venture to Plaster Rock.

In 2003, Messer faced long odds. The founder of an asset-management firm, Messer, now 55, had to find teammates. And ice. There was — and still is — no ice rink on Grand Cayman.

Over rum and cokes, Messer first recruited his friend Norm Klein, 53, a lawyer who had played peewee hockey with the NHL Hall of Famer Ron Francis in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The two then created a short list to fill out the roster.

“When we first put this together, one of the criteria we had was that we had to be Cayman based,” Messer said. “Otherwise, it would be bogus.”

Some potential players were too old; some were too fat. Another was ruled out because his wife would not let him go.

“It’s not about ability, it’s about commitment,” Klein said. “Got a wife? Kids? That might be a problem. You’re 2,000 miles away. Are you prepared to commit to this?”

Commitment was necessary from the very beginning. Hurricane Ivan struck Grand Cayman in September 2004, flooding the island, submerging homes and knocking out power.

“Both Bill and I were unable to live in our houses while they were rebuilt for the next six to 12 months,” Klein said.

Klein tried in-line skating to keep his legs in shape, but it was not the same. The team needed to find ice, and needed it fast.

Among the original recruits was Joe Stasiuk, 57, from Toronto, a consultant to the energy and aluminum industries who played some Junior B hockey with Wayne Gretzky. He was put in charge of finding the ice, an undertaking that meant looking 1,000 kilometres to the north in Florida.

The stars suddenly aligned. A lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season left behind a thirst for hockey.

“We came in at the right time for a novelty story,” Messer said.

Soon, the team got Cayman Airways on board as a sponsor. The airline promised to fly the players, at no cost, to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s practice site to train for six weekends leading up to the tournament.

The first time they showed up at the practice site, they were met with laughter. They were given unfavourable practice times — 11 p.m. or 6 a.m. — but that was just another obstacle to overcome.

There were more hardships ahead. Throughout the years, two players who are no longer with the team went through divorces. Messer’s wife, Eleanor, died of cancer in 2015.

And then there is the march of time and the pull of gravity. Overweight and showing their age, team members have instituted yearly weigh-ins to hold one another to account. Their preparation is based on the fear of embarrassing themselves on the ice, though that is rare.

Indeed, it is the opposition that is sometimes embarrassed, as a young squad from the Netherlands found out firsthand one year in a loss to the Cayman Breakaway.

“They were just beside themselves,” Klein recalled. “How do you play the Cayman Islands and lose? And we had years on these guys. Only later did they find out that we were from Ontario, Manitoba or Saskatchewan. That made them feel better.”

By 2006, the Breakaway were a feel-good story in a sport still recovering from the NHL lockout. The team donated a jersey for display in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and players attended the ceremony in Toronto.

They see their quasi-celebrity status as a chance to build up the sport in the Cayman Islands, where NHL games are regularly shown in sports bars and roller-hockey and ball-hockey programs have been in place since the 1980s.

“We’re trying to promote the game,” Klein said. “This is not just a bunch of old guys living their dream.”

Christine Maltman, Klein’s wife, successfully pitched a fundraising idea, incorporating a weekend hockey camp, to the Lightning. Three dozen youngsters from the Cayman Islands took the ice in 2011 with former NHL players Dave Andreychuk and Brian Bradley. They were also treated to a postgame meet-and-greet with the Lightning’s captain at the time, Vinny Lecavalier.

While hockey has been making inroads in warmer climes — Auston Matthews, picked first overall in the 2016 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, grew up in Arizona — no one is expecting a star to come directly out of the Cayman Islands anytime soon.

But that does not mean that potential NHL talent cannot start out in the islands.

One current team member, Darren Lawrence, a partner at an accounting firm chartered in New Brunswick and a former Junior B player who spent time on a line with Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, moved his family back to Canada so his son Josh, then 6, could trade roller hockey for the real thing after showing professional potential.

“We wanted to move back before he would start to miss out on the key development ages for hockey,” Lawrence said.

Josh, 15, is now attracting the attention of coaches and scouts while playing at a hockey academy at South Kent School in Connecticut. He is considering how best to further his career and is projected to be a future NHL draft pick.

“He is trying to decide if the Quebec Major Junior League or the NCAA is the right way to go for him,” Lawrence said.

Though Lawrence still plays with the Breakaway despite his return to Canada, the rest of the team has stayed put with members having spent more than 20 years in the Cayman Islands.

“This is home,” said Klein, who has a teenage daughter and son.

But for one week a year, home is a sheet of Canadian ice under their feet. With a splash of rum.

For more info click here: World Pond Hockey Championships

The New Key to Success for Puerto Rico

By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

Blacklisted from the sport for over a decade, Puerto Rico is set to return to the ice, but in the form of sledge hockey.

“Hockey is indeed for everyone.”

Philip Painter is a passionate fan. With sports like football (soccer), boxing and baseball stealing most of the sporting headlines in Puerto Rico, the first vice-president of hockey in the nation wants a sport that isn’t familiar to everyone there to thrive.

The Puerto Rican hockey group has been a major part of local culture in recent years. Their annual Christmas Toy and Food drive was voted as one of PR’s best Charities in 2016 for their support of local youth thanks to donating hundreds of toys every year.

But for over ten years, hockey has been left in the dark. The previous government banned the sport from local rinks and players were forced to sneak into them just to play some form of hockey in the midnight hours. Painter knew how much of a struggle it was to get on the ice in the first place, and with lots of people wanting to take part, it was an unwelcome decision to have it essentially outlawed.

That all changed recently.

Painter said years ago that he had a belief that a new government in Puerto Rico could help get hockey back on the right track. On November 8, 2016, the same night that Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, Ricardo Rossello was elected himself to be the next Governor of Puerto Rico, a step in the right direction for those looking to get ice hockey back on the map.

Rossello went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Michigan, with the latter being home of the nine-time champions, the Michigan Wolverines. Both schools are centered in massive hockey areas, and Rossello became a fan as a result. According to Painter, Rossello promised that if he was elected, that “hockey is a go”.

And almost immediately, the fun began.

very short time, Rossello erased what Painter called “the dark days”. After years of having to break into rinks, without the use of proper hockey equipment, just to get a fix of the sport, Rossello has opened up the opportunity for players to get ice time for the first time in many years. The team no longer had to be “outlaws”, but could truly begin to rebuild a foundation for a strong hockey program down the road.

Neighboring countries Cuba and Haiti have opened temporary ice rinks in recent years. Jamaica is currently an associate member of the IIHF and while they do have a rink, they participate in annual Under-20 tournaments in Toronto, Ontario instead.

So if anything, getting hockey back on it’s legs in Puerto Rico, an area where the sport had already began early development, has to happen, right?

Well, it’s not exactly proper ice hockey, but they’re returning to the rink anyways.

For the first time, Puerto Rico will work towards building a sledge hockey team, a rising sport that has allowed people with disabilities a chance to participate in the game they love. Sledge hockey has grown to be a very popular Paralympic sport, allowing athletes with a permanent disability the chance to play at a high level with slightly different rules.

You don’t need to have a disability to play sledge hockey, but it’s no walk in the park. The special event on ice requires athletes to have incredible upper body strength and scoring is far from an easy task. Players use double-blade sleds that allow the puck to pass beneath it, while moving around and shooting with a pair of small sticks in both ends with spikes to help propel players to different portions of the ice.

“We were contacted by Ron Robichaud from the Florida sled hockey league about the possibility of visiting here, as he had heard about us via Jen Lee, the goaltender of the gold medal winning sled Team at the Sochi Games in 2014,” said Painter. “Jen visited PR as part of the SUDS (Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba) program that Taino Divers and John Thompson initiated 10 years ago.”

The list of names that have pledged their support for hockey in Puerto Rico is astounding. Some of those people include singer Ricky Martin, actor Denis Leary, women’s hockey star Angela Ruggerio, NHL legend Jeremy Roenick, Hockey Night’s in Canada host Don Cherry and Mike Smith from the Trailer Park Boys.

Paralympic participation for sledge hockey is growing every single year as countries begin to pour resources into the emerging practice. Some of the biggest countries in ice hockey are starting to begin the fun, with Russia participating in their first Olympic tournament in 2014. So far, the United States have the most gold medals in the history of the tournament with three, but Norway leads the overall medal hunt with five over six tournaments.

And now, it’s Puerto Rico to join the party.

The whole plan has come together very quickly and they’ll need some time to regain the participation level they had ten years ago. At that time, they had around 30 players, with 20 of them being youth, an impressive number for a small hockey nation. Former Los Angeles Kings draft pick Dean Hulett was born in San Juan and former Swedish World Junior forward Carl Gustafsson is from the country, too.

Painter also said to keep an eye on goaltender Andres Pinto, who currently plays in Boston. He believes he has a chance of going far in hockey, including grabbing a Division I NCAA deal in the future.

But on the sledge side, it will surely take some time. For players who have played ice hockey before, switching to the sled will be much more difficult than strapping on roller blades and joining an inline team. Instead, you have to change your entire style of play and re-learn the game in a completely different format that requires your upper body to replicate the strength of the hulk. 

Again, the world of sledge hockey is much smaller than it’s stand-up counterparts, but it’s a growing sport that countries around the world want to be a part of. With Puerto Rico joining the bandwagon, it shows that they want to be involved in a growing discipline and will help use it as a basis for growth in the future.

When it comes to the future of their ice hockey program, the team is working to put a team together for the 2017 Pan-American Ice Hockey Games, a six-team tournament featuring Brazil, Colombia, two teams from Argentina and another two from the hosts from Mexico. The tournament served as the hockey debuts for Colombia and Brazil in recent years and always gave Argentina their first official hockey platform as well.

So it would seem fitting that Puerto Rico wants to join the party.

Painter is excited that Puerto Rico’s smaller rink, the Aguadilla Ice Skating Arena, will finally have it’s first organized hockey action and is glad it will begin with a sport that’s brand new to the country. The team hopes to eventually move back up to the full-sized rink, the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in San Juan. In 2006, the arena hosted a pre-season game between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers, but after the game failed to sell out the 17,000 seat megaplex, hockey was never played again in the building.

While ice hockey may be on the mind of everyone involved, Painter knows that sledge hockey will be a major addition to the overall growth of the sport in the country. And, of course, it has one major draw.

Hockey truly is for everyone.

Hischier outshines Patrick at prospects game, takes top player honors

By

Nolan Patrick got his hands on the trophy in the end, but it was No. 2 ranked North American skater Nico Hischier who had scouts, pundits, and fans alike buzzing after the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City.

Hischier scored a gorgeous breakaway goal off a Patrick turnover with a silky backhand move and also added two assists to take top player honors in a losing effort for Team Orr.

Related: Hischier scores beautiful goal at prospects showcase

He outshone the presumptive No. 1 NHL draft choice with a dynamic offensive showcase, though Patrick, the captain for Team Cherry, did have a productive outing, collecting two assists and impressing physically.

Hischier, a Halifax Mooseheads center, has picked up momentum throughout his draft season. He scored four goals and seven points in five games at the World Junior Championship, and U.S. coach Bob Motzko labeled Hischier the best player his gold medal-winning side faced in the tournament after he nearly willed Switzerland past the Americans in the quarterfinal.

Gabe Valiardi and Owen Tippett, the third- and fourth-ranked North American skaters, also scored for Team Cherry.

Calgary Inferno New Year Travel Plans Include Games in Japan

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Retiring star Hayley Wickenheiser paved the way for female hockey players

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By Donna Spencer – The Canadian Press

CALGARY — When Hayley Wickenheiser sees girls dragging hockey bags into arenas, she feels a sense of accomplishment.

 The normalcy of girls playing hockey is what she sweated for, fought for, and shed tears for.

When Wickenheiser started playing 33 years ago, there were no girls’ teams. She played with boys and wasn’t always welcomed by players or their parents.

“The greatest stride’s been made in the acceptance of girls playing the game,” says Wickenheiser. “Any little girl in this country can walk into a hockey rink and no one is going to think twice or look twice. There’s female hockey change rooms in a lot of rinks now.

“I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl. I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

The fact that female hockey has arrived at this stage puts some soothing balm on the difficult decision to end her playing career.

The country’s all-time leading scorer announced her retirement Friday after 23 years on the Canadian women’s team and almost a dozen Olympic and world championship gold medals.

“Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang em up!! Thank you!” Wickenheiser posted on her Twitter account.

Not only was Wickenheiser a star in women’s hockey when the game desperately needed one, she changed perceptions of what women are capable of in sport.

The 38-year-old from Shaunavon, Sask., told The Canadian Press in a sometimes tearful interview she didn’t want to postpone her entrance into medical school any longer.

“It has been the greatest honour of my life to play for Canada,” Wickenheiser said. “I’ll miss it.”

The number of registered female players in Canada went from 16,000 in her first year on the national team to almost 87,000 today.

Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer during most of Wickenheiser’s career, said she played a big role in giving “girls the dreams that boys had.”

“Her record speaks for itself winning so many gold medals, but in years to come, the biggest memory will be how she inspired so many girls to play the game,” said Nicholson, now CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group. “She always was harder on herself than any of her teammates and pushed herself to excellence.”

Her forays into men’s professional hockey in Finland and Sweden set new standards on how much a woman can be pushed physically. She played a combined 65 men’s pro games in Europe.

Her decision to play with and against men wasn’t unanimously supported at home. Some female teammates believed she should stay in Canada and help grow women’s leagues here.

But Wickenheiser made choices she felt would make her a better player, which meant leaving her comfort zones.

She trained in her off-seasons with NHL players, making headlines skating in Philadelphia Flyers rookie camps when she was in her early 20s.

“I’m comfortable being uncomfortable,” Wickenheiser said.

Danielle Goyette said Wickenheiser was a driven woman when they were linemates on the national team and when Goyette coached her at the University of Calgary.

“She’s the kind of athlete that never took ‘no’ for an answer,” Goyette said. “What I mean by that is she wants to push the limits of women’s hockey.

“She didn’t have to (train) with guys, but she always tried to train with somebody stronger than her to make sure that she’s pushing herself to the max.

“She went to Europe and played hockey with the men, full-body contact. I don’t know a lot of girls who would put themselves through that.”

Hockey isn’t done with Wickenheiser. There will be opportunities for her to work in the game. She said she’s had discussions with people in the NHL, but there are no concrete plans yet.

“I have to see how that all fits in with where I’m going in medicine and the rest of my life,” Wickenheiser said.

She was an Oilers fan idolizing Mark Messier as a young girl. Wickenheiser, who has lived in Calgary since she was 12, will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony Saturday in Edmonton before the Oilers host the Calgary Flames.

“It’s a celebration and of course it’s really emotional,” she said. “It’s sad in some ways because you’re leaving a part of your life behind, but it’s also exciting in other ways.

“There are other things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I have other opportunities within the game and in medicine to pursue. I just didn’t want to wait to do that.”

But there have been sleepless nights coming to that conclusion.

Just six months ago, Wickenheiser said she wanted to wear the Maple Leaf at a sixth Winter Games in 2018 and pursue a fifth gold medal. It would have been Wickenheiser’s seventh Olympic Games as she also played softball for Canada in 2000.

“It would have been great to play in one more,” she said. “The more I thought about it, it would have been too long to wait.

“It’s a tough decision, but it’s going to be the right one.”

Wickenheiser underwent surgery in 2015 to have a plate and eight screws inserted in her left foot.

Her playing minutes reduced in her 13th world championship last year in Kamloops, B.C., she still drew the loudest cheers during player introductions.

Her body of work in hockey is broad, deep and unique.

A five-foot-10, 171-pound forward with a heavy shot and creative hands, No. 22 was the dominant female player in the world in this century’s first decade.

Named MVP of the 2002 and 2006 Olympic women’s hockey tournaments, Wickenheiser’s 379 career points for Canada — 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games — will be difficult to match.

The active player with most points is Meghan Agosta at 155 in 155 games.

Wickenheiser is one of just five athletes in the world — joined by retired teammates Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette — to win gold at four consecutive Winter Games.

Wickenheiser intends to continue getting girls into hockey. She’s now committing through her annual international female hockey festival Wickfest to fund 22 girls who otherwise couldn’t afford to play.

Wickenheiser is confident there will be a women’s pro hockey league some day, with the NHL’s help.

She’s been a mom since 2001 when she adopted the infant son of her then-partner Tomas Pacina. Wickenheiser continued to co-parent Noah, now in high school, after the relationship ended.

Hockey is precious in Canada so Wickenheiser’s message to the next generation is to take care of it.

“Don’t ask ‘What can I get out of the game?’ Ask ‘What can I give to the game?'” she said. “Take everything you can from the game and give everything you can back to it and it will reward you well.”

Women’s hockey pushes forward but a familiar question remains: What happens next?

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By Eric Duhatschek – The Globe and Mail

The most dramatic and uplifting hockey game played at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi didn’t feature Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane. It occurred in the gold-medal match between the Canadian and U.S. women, a game that went down to the wire. Canada tied it in the dying seconds and then won in overtime, after a U.S. shot at the empty net in regulation came gently to rest at the goal post.

It was high drama. It had a pleasing heroine – Marie-Philip Poulin, who has scored the golden goal for Canada’s women in back-to-back Olympics – and it had an opportunity once again to jump-start interest in the sport of women’s hockey.

So here we are, just over a year out from another Olympics, and while the landscape for women’s hockey has changed and improved on some levels, it still hasn’t caught on with the viewing public in any meaningful or long-lasting way.

Many of the best young female players can earn scholarships and play at a reasonably high level in the U.S. college system.

The problem is what happens next, after their eligibility runs out.

Right now, there are two competing professional leagues to choose from – the five-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the four-team National Women’s Hockey League. The CWHL doesn’t pay its players. It covers costs, and some equipment, but not sticks and skates. The NWHL, founded in 2015, does pay salaries, though they are modest and, recently, introduced a 50-per-cent across-the-board pay cut to its players on the grounds that it was the only way to get to season’s end, without folding.

If that sounds eerily similar to the rivalry that once existed between the NHL and the World Hockey Association, there may indeed be a parallel.

Former Canadian Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall, a CWHL board member and a Hockey Night in Canada commentator, believes the league’s relationship with the NHL is its best hope of one day morphing into a for-profit operation that pays its players a living wage.

“The NHL is watching us, they’re interested in us and they want it to work,” Campbell-Pascall said. “To be honest, what kills women’s hockey is people who don’t understand the big picture. It’s about eventually having a relationship with the NHL, where we have a professional league, and all of our teams fall under the umbrella of NHL teams.

“We have two leagues right now and I think we need the powers-that-be – the people who lead our leagues – to come together and make it one to make it successful.”

The CWHL has seen some heartening moments this year. On the second Saturday of December, a crowd of 5,938 attended a game at the Bell Centre when Les Canadiennes de Montreal defeated the defending champion Calgary Inferno 1-0 in a battle for first place. In February, the annual CWHL all-star game will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. For the second year in a row, Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre will hold the Clarkson Cup.

Playing in an NHL building boosts the credibility of the CWHL, which counts among its 13 major sponsors, four NHL teams – the Canadiens, the Senators, the Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames. Caroline Ouellette, the CWHL’s career scoring leader and a four-time Olympic gold medalist, believes the association with the Canadiens has helped immeasurably in spreading the gospel of women’s hockey in her market.

“When we used to be the Montreal Stars, we would meet people and they didn’t even know we played hockey in Montreal,” Ouellette said. “When we rebranded with the Montreal Canadiens, it was a bit of a feeling that we were now part of their organization. Hopefully, this is a start.”

Oullette, like Campbell-Pascall, sees the evolving relationship with the NHL as the most effective means of going forward, noting bluntly: “For me, it’s a question of gender equality – for young girls to have the same dream as young boys. Right now, that really doesn’t exist.

“I don’t think my teammates and I am delusional and think we can fill an NHL building at the moment. I don’t think anyone is aiming for million-dollar salaries. But if it was an amount that would allow players to make a living playing the game and not have to work full-time, imagine how great the product can get.”

Until that happens, the majority of the CWHL’s unpaid professionals play for love of the sport. In turn, that has obliged them to become skilled multitaskers in order to fit jobs, family and life around their hockey schedules. National team players have an advantage, because of Sport Canada funding, sponsorship deals and other perks associated with their positions.

But the rank-and-file players – the equivalent of the NHL journeymen – play mostly in anonymity, their primary reward the chance to keep playing into their 20s and beyond.

Jacquie Pierri, an assistant captain with the Inferno, is a mechanical engineer who works for Atco full-time doing natural gas pipeline design. On a day in early December, she was up at 6 in the morning to drive to Edmonton for a meeting. After it was over, she headed back to Calgary and arrived less than an hour before practice, where her meal was an egg-salad sandwich bought at the WinSport cafeteria before she took to the ice for a 90-minute workout.

“Today was a little unique,” Pierri said. “A normal day is a little less hectic. I usually work 8:30 to 5 – but it can be tough because I don’t have time to cook and prepare meals – and it’s really hard to get the compete-level up for practice after you’ve worked all day.”

Many times, the Inferno will travel on a game day – flying cross country and then playing that same night. One time a few years back, they took a red-eye flight east and arrived in Montreal, where only two of their hotel rooms were ready for occupancy. It forced them to improvise – and they crammed 10 women into each room, getting their pre-game sleeps sprawled on the beds, sofas and floors.

Jeff Stevenson, GM of the Inferno, says that when he started with the organization three years ago, the team played at Calgary’s Joan Snyder Arena, capacity 220, and often there were more empty seats than spectators. Recently, they’ve switched to the larger arena at WinSport and depending upon the promotions they’ve put on, can draw upward of 1,500 to a game.

“What I’ve noticed is that now we’ve got people who are buying season tickets, they’re buying hats and jerseys and T-shirts, and they’re walking into games, already geared up to cheer on the team,” Stevenson said. “So we’ve established a very small group of loyal fans, which is great. It’s a building block. But we have a rink here that holds 3,200 people. There’s a lot of work still to be done to fill that on a regular basis. That’s my goal – to see that happen in the next few years.”

Ouellette believes potential fans need to see women’s hockey as a distinct game and entertainment entity – and instead of comparing and contrasting it to the men’s game, celebrate the differences.

“One of our challenges today is that we get compared to the boys all the time,” she said. “In tennis, people would never say, ‘oh, Serena Williams should play Roger Federer and see who wins’ – and yet, we still hear that all the time. Our best player, Marie-Philip Poulin, doesn’t train any less than Sidney Crosby. She’ll never shoot as hard as he does, but their vision on the ice is incredible and exactly the same.

“We hope that we can get to a point where people recognize it is different hockey – and appreciate it the way they appreciate women’s tennis as its own sport.”

CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress makes a tour of the league once a year in the same way NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tours his league, in order to bring the players up to date on the growth of the game and the challenges that remain.

Recently, Andress was in Calgary, to address the Inferno players about the present and the future – and the challenges of operating in the black, with limited revenues coming in through ticket sales.

“I want them to know where the money’s coming from and where the money’s going to, so they have a complete knowledge of what’s going on,” Andress said. “They might say, ‘why aren’t we getting paid?’ Well, ‘this is why.’ The more information we can give them, the more knowledge they have of the league and the better they can support the league.”

According to Andress, the CWHL product has never been better. “Now it’s just about marketing. The four teams in Canada – the parity is here, the players are phenomenal, the coaches are great, the partnerships are great. The thing that’s lacking is the funding.

“They say hockey is for everyone in Canada. It isn’t. It’s for boys. If we get a $10,000 to $20,000 sponsor, we’re lucky. Then you look at some of the money companies are putting into male sports. It’s really about individuals standing up and supporting women’s sports by actually doing something – writing a cheque or buying a ticket. That’s how simple it is – and that’s what has to happen.”

Ideally, in the CWHL’s strategic plan, they would like to start paying their players soon. “But at the same time, we realize once we pay our players, we want to pay them forever,” Campbell-Pascall said.

“I think we can have a future women’s NHL. The players aren’t going to be paid very much to start, but I think players who are 10 to 12 years old now are going to have a professional league to play in – and it’s going to be solid and it’s going to make money. I really believe that.”

Lebanon vs Haiti in a Friendly

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By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Montreal  is a city that has made lots of hockey history but on April 23rd at 7pm at Raymond-Bourque Arena two countries will be making their international debut Lebanon will be taking on Haiti in a friendly ice hockey game. 

There is a strong chance that former NHL player Georges Laraque is going to be playing on the Haiti team. He is the director of the Haiti Association.

Haiti is no stranger to the game of hockey In 2015 Haiti’s national street hockey team defeated the Cayman Islands 4:2 to win the finals of the B-pool of the Street Hockey World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.

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Lebanon is new to the sport but they are trying to qualify for the 2017 World Ball Hockey Championships.

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For both countries this ice hockey game will be another way to promote the sport in their communities and their countries. We wish them all the best.

Poulin lifts Canada to overtime win over US

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By The Canadian Press

Captain Marie-Philip Poulin and the rest of Canada’s women’s national hockey team sent a message to the United States.

Poulin scored just 42 seconds into overtime as Canada rallied to a 3-2 win over the United States on Monday in the second half of a two-game exhibition series between the women’s hockey powers. The Canadians won both games, important victories over their arch-rivals ahead of the world championships in Plymouth, Mich., from March 31 to April 7.

“It’s always a big rivalry every time we play them, we know it can go either way and it’s always very emotional, passionate out there,” said Poulin. “It was really great to get wins back to back.”

Poulin scored the winner on a partial breakaway, carrying the puck up the right side of the ice before cutting to the slot and firing the puck on the net.

Head coach Laura Schuler was pleased with the win and what she saw from her team, but thinks they can be even better. In particular, Schuler wants to see her players be more disciplined.

“It’s great to see some success here,” said Schuler. “But at the same time, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy with our second period (when Canada took three penalties). I still think this team can be a lot better.”

Jennifer Wakefield blasted a one-timer from the hashmarks in to tie the game with 24 seconds left in the third, forcing the extra period for Canada. Rebecca Johnston had scored early in the first.

“It was a drawn-up play and they executed what we had drawn up perfectly,” said Schuler. “Jenny has one of the hardest shots on our team. She just put everything she had into it and fired it past the goalie.

“Kudos to our kids for being able to execute that. That’s something they had never even practised before.”

Shannon Szabados made 23 saves for the win.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Hilary Knight gave the United States a 2-1 lead by the second intermission. Nicole Hensley stopped 17 shots.

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