Two weeks ago, Nafio attended the Toronto stop of the Dream Gap Tour, the first of a series of women’s hockey tournaments hosted by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association as a way to showcase their talents and draw attention to their goal of forming one sustainable women’s hockey league in North America.
While I was not able to make the Toronto stop, a deep and true tragedy as there are few things I miss the way I miss watching Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse play together, the second Dream Gap Tour event—the Dunkin Showcase, held approximately an hour north of Boston in Hudson, New Hampshire—was more achievable. Hudson made no sense at all as a location until I learned that the rink is owned by US women’s national team player Kali Flanagan’s dad (the multiple banners congratulating her on Olympic gold were extremely charming). Between that and the entire USPHL team working as volunteers—shouts to the Northern Cyclones, who were very helpful in telling me where to park—the atmosphere was more on par with a CWHL or NWHL game than a slickly packaged event like the US-Canada pre-Olympic tour that swung through Boston in 2017. As far as crowd experience went, it did remind me a lot of the CWHL, down to the autograph sessions that were hosted after games.
But Annie, I’m sure you’re wondering, how was the hockey? The hockey, just like what we saw in Toronto, was fast, high-energy, and high-scoring. The first game, a matchup between Team Flanagan and Team Stecklein, was dominated by Team Stecklein. Hayley Scamurra especially showed exactly how she played her way onto the US national team as a member of the Buffalo Beauts—she was a blast to watch, and her first goal was a jaw-dropping move on Katie Burt worthy of highlight-reel status.
Game Two, though, was the one that had put me in the car and sent me across state lines to sit on metal bleachers for four hours watching hockey. Team Knight was essentially last year’s Montreal Canadiennes, and I was delighted to have a guilt-free opportunity to cheer for that roster. An unexpected surprise was the presence of Team Canada head coach Perry Pearn behind Team Knight’s bench; he served as an assistant to head coach Caroline Ouellette, his Team Canada assistant coach, and I’m pleased by the show of open support from a Team Canada official for the PWHPA. Team Lamoureux was extremely fun too, with not only the Lam twins, but Dani Cameranesi at forward and Alex Cavallini (formerly Rigsby) in goal. As is standard for the Lams, Monique got into it with Mélodie Daoust in the first period and set the chippy tone for the rest of the game. At one point, Jocelyne hammered a shot on Lacasse after the whistle, and half my section gasped like scandalized TV matriarchs.
Of course, there was plenty to stare at from national team players like Marie-Philip Poulin, who, immediately after Megan Myers scored for Team Lamoureux, stole the puck and created herself a breakaway as if to remind everyone watching that she is the best in the world. Jill Saulnier, who has rockets on her skates and always seems to make her way into my notes with little hearts around her name, had the first two goals for Team Knight, and Hannah Brandt’s setup on Team Stecklein’s opening goal was a stunner. Still, women’s hockey has a tremendous amount of depth beyond the few marquee names that make national news coverage, and this tournament showcased a lot of it. A couple examples:
- Erin Kickham, formerly of the Boston Blades, scored Team Flanagan’s first goal (it’s possible that the shot was tipped by her fellow former Blade, Kaitlin Spurling, but the rink announcer and the PWHPA twitter credited Kickham).
- Team Stecklein’s Bailey Larson, a recent graduate from Colgate, had a great breakaway and blasted a shot right from the slot and past Katie Burt.
- While Hannah Brandt had the setup on Team Stecklein’s first goal, it was finished off by a perfectly placed Paige Voight.
- Team Lamoureux defender Blake Bolden is a longtime favorite player of mine, and she didn’t disappoint—it was her slapshot that led to the rebound and scramble in Geneviève Lacasse’s crease that ended with Myers scoring.
- Melanie Desrochers gave Team Knight the two-goal lead they held until the end of the game by putting a shot from the half boards past Cavallini.
This is only some of what made it into my notes, too!
It was very crowded in the bleachers (belated apology to the lady I kept poking in the shoulder with my clipboard!) and while not the coldest women’s hockey game I’ve ever attended—that honor goes to the Blades game where the players’ water bottles froze on the bench, just in case anyone was wondering why the players are organizing in the first place—I did find myself wishing I’d worn long underwear and heavy socks. By far the most annoying element of game ops, though, was the repeating numbers. There were a lot—and I mean a lot—of doubled numbers on players’ jerseys, and three #13s on Team Stecklein (Ellie DeCaprio, Shea Labbe, and Annika Zalewski). To be fair, this would probably have bothered a casual fan far less than it bothered me, a person trying to take notes about gameplay, but I mixed up Alyssa Gagliardi and Lee Stecklein (both wearing #2) at one point, and Stecklein is a full eight inches taller.
Still, the point of the showcase wasn’t detailed scorekeeping, as much as I have terribly missed writing about the game of hockey; it was, as the players have said in so many interviews, to try and build something for the next generation. The stands were full of girls’ hockey teams from around New England. I saw Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont represented, and ages from young elementary school to teenagers with braces. Those kids were clearly thrilled to see their heroes—one of them brought a sign with Poulin and Knight on it, and got a tap on the glass and a wink from Pou in return—but these kids appreciated that this wasn’t just entertainment. One section over from me, a girl was holding up a handwritten sign: “We are here for you because you are here for us.”
I wasn’t able to make it up for the second day of games, but fortunately for us all, the CBC was streaming and has all four games archived on Youtube. If you’ve missed hockey the way I have over the chaos of this offseason, it’s the perfect remedy.
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