If you're looking for a look at the CWHL All-Star Game from a press point of view, check out Species' recap for SCOC. He had actual press credentials while I elected to take advantage of the ticket allotment I got as part of my season ticket package, so my experience of the day was quite different.
I arrived at the ACC about 11:40 am. With a 1:00 start time and a reported 5400 expected to attend, I was surprised to find the ACC gates still closed. Lines were only just beginning to form, mostly people were hanging about in small groups. There were lots of blue and white toques in evidence, CWHL jerseys, team Canada jerseys, NHL jerseys, and girls in their own team jerseys.
My first stop was to quickly duck into Real Sports to exchange my much-too-large Furies home jersey for a smaller size. It was nice to see the CWHL jerseys back on display, and all teams available. For those looking for jerseys, I'm a size 12-14 in women's clothing and a Small jersey fits me fine even over three layers.
Once appropriately attired, I met up with a friend and we got into line shortly after noon. There was a gentleman behind us who had come in from Buffalo. Doors opened about 12:20 and we were ushered in rapidly. We decided to explore the concourse first.
The usual food was available, although we noticed quite a few of the beer stations were closed. We saw people passing out flyers from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Concussion Centre that had "Concussion myths vs facts" on one side and "I think I have a concussion, how can I get better?" on the other. All-Star Game programs were available for $2, with the announcement of the dates and location of the Clarkson Cup on the back.
For Friday's draft they'd created both Team White and Team Black jerseys for everyone, including Spooner and Chu, and we found at least some of the unused jerseys had been signed and put up for silent auction. The minimum bid was $150 - sadly too rich for my blood.
My favourite stand, however, had signed mystery pucks set up in white bags. "For 10 bucks, you pick one at random, for $20 I'll spoil the surprise", we were told. I was willing to part with $20 for a Suzuki puck, but sadly I was told they hadn't seen any. So I tried my luck, and got a signed Julie Chu puck! With the amazing roster, any puck would have been a winner but yay Chuey.
Circuit of the concourse completed, it was time to take our seats. Here's the view we had, no zoom.
Ninth row behind the team benches right on the center line. This is the view those people who wander off to have sushi during Leafs games are giving up. Idiots. A reminder that tickets were ten dollars. You'll come next year, right?
Probably the only downside to the day was how much technology I was handling. Granted, it was all on one device, but trying to post to Instagram and the PPP twitter while also checking what others were tweeting out was definitely a distraction from actually watching the game. Apologies to anyone who was hoping for more detail on twitter or more pictures on Instagram (available here), but there was some awesome hockey going on and I didn't want to miss much.
We'd been told Friday that paid tickets thus far were 5,400. The league has recently updated final attendance numbers to 6,800. Whatever the number, the lower bowl was close to full and looking around to see that made me tear up. I knew attendance last year had been great, but price of admission had been a food donation. This year it was actual hard cash, and people showed up to prove that there really is an audience for women's hockey.
It was a nice touch to have all five GMs out there for the ceremonial puck drop, although they weren't actually named as such. The Blades' GM especially has had such a hard job this year, they all deserve some recognition.
The game was amazing. With Furies playing on both teams I could just cheer for great hockey, and that's what I got. It wasn't as physical as normal of course, and the refs certainly let plenty of minor things go, but the intensity was just what I was hoping for when I looked at the rosters. These women are the best of the best and whatever they said, they were playing for more than the fun of it, they were playing for pride.
Having actual in-arena replay on that huge ACC scoreboard was helpful anytime a goal was scored, and it looked amazing to boot! The kids loved seeing themselves up there. (I was not quite so enthusiastic myself) Also great, organ music.
The Team Black jerseys were Brampton Thunder home jerseys with the All-Star logo and the Team White jerseys were Toronto Furies away jerseys with the All-Star logo.
One group I never heard introduced was the on-ice officials. Maybe I missed it, but, if they were left, out that's too bad.
The unfamiliar combinations and lack of numbers on jersey sleeves made it hard to figure out who was who at times - it took me a good half shift at one point to clue in that 21 on Team White was Kelly Terry and I've been watching her wear that number on the Furies' top line for a few games now.
During TV timeouts the players alternated between watching whatever shenanigans were happening on the scoreboard, interacting with the crowd (including a great selfie with all the players that were on the ice at one point during the third) and huddled together plotting.
I was especially proud of Kessler, the only one of the four goalies to be perfect in her period and a half of play. In the program, she mentioned she'd never want to play against Spooner. Well, she handled a number of signature Spooner breakaways without giving up a thing!
Seeing Suzuki and Chu as defence partners embodied one of the great things about an all-star game - it's highly unlikely I'd ever be witness to that pairing in any other game. And for Sena, to pay defence with a legend like Julie Chu basically all game must have been quite something.
Overheard about Hayley Wickenheiser: "whenever she's got it it's like it's taped to her stick" So true!
Delaney Brian had a GoPro on her helmet. I'm not sure where the footage will show up, but I bet it'll look awesome. Team White might have lost the game by a wide margin but they certainly had a lot of chances.
Funniest play of the game: Katia Clement-Heydra was on a breakaway for Team White. Wickenheiser couldn't catch her so she threw her stick in the way, then just let herself glide all the way to the other side of the rink all "nothing to see here!". Clement-Heydra got a penalty shot, foiled with a great poke check by Kessler.
All in all, a good time was had by all. A+, will be going again next year if I can.
When I was at the You Can Play game earlier this month I was definitely curious as to how the game was being covered, so this time I arranged to have the broadcast recorded.
John Bartlett provided the play-by-play coverage, with Cassie Campbell-Pascal doing colour commentary and Jen Botterill between the benches. As much as I would have liked an all-female team, I have to give Bartlett kudos for his enthusiasm, his recognition of players (some of the commentators for the CWHLlive streams have trouble identifying the away team players, although they don't always have the best view) and most importantly, he gave Cassie plenty of time to talk.
Cassie Campbell's knowledge of female players is encyclopaedic. I got the sense she knew everybody personally, and she took care to highlight some of the lesser-known players like Jill Saulnier (Inferno), and Katia Clement-Heydra (Canadiennes). If she was commentating on a regular basis the way she should be it would probably get annoying to have so much information about players' college, junior and national team history thrown at us, but as a special event for an audience (including me) who are still learning about the women's game, it's very informative to have that context. She also gave important context about the importance of the All-Star Game and its broadcast to the players, the growth of the game and to the younger fans, all while avoiding being preachy about it.
Jen Botterill got stuck with the "are you having fun?" and "how does it feel?" type of questions, but she had fun with it and with the players. Team White (and Calgary Inferno) coach Scott Reid apparently even asked her for some tips before the third period! She grabbed players after interesting plays in the game and also gave them a chance to talk about some of their work growing the game such as Wickenheiser's annual Wickfest and Fulton's recent work with Right to Play.
The two interviews done by the commentary pair were great, if pretty softball. Sami-Jo Small, the Furies goalie currently on maternity leave who is also a co-founder of the CWHL, took over Botterill's mic during the second period. She told the story of the league's founding and joked with Cassie, confirming she still has no plans to retire and join the board. She pointed to other players like Meaghan Mikkelson who have come back after pregnancy. She talked about the responsibility of fans of women's hockey to promote the game and show up so that they can get to the point to be able to pay the players. She called the All-Star game a showcase not only of skill but of what women can do when they work together, putting a lot of emphasis on all those who work for the league off-ice.
CWHL Chair Brad Morris joined John and Cassie on camera during the second intermission. He called it a privilege to serve, noting that this is the CWHL's 8th season, making them the second-longest running professional female sports environment behind the WNBA. He highlighted the support of Scotiabank and the NHL teams, now including the Ottawa Senators and later called the list of people who have reached out to partner with the league recently "incredible and inspiring". He talked about the Furies' You Can Play game, the first regular season CWHL game to be broadcast on TV, saying that the reception was far beyond expectations. Interestingly he deflected the question about paying the players, instead talking about having a robust strategic model, keeping the league sustainable. Like Sami-Jo, he emphasized the need for people to not just talk about supporting the women's game but to come out and watch, and also talked about the importance of the off-ice staff.
The weakest part of Sportsnet's coverage was the camera angles. The sky-cam was overused, showing the whole ice and too far away to properly identify players. The ref cam was a welcome addition but should have been backed up by a whole lot more coverage at ice level. One of the points of this sort of event is to showcase the players themselves, and while that was accomplished nicely by the commentators, there weren't a lot of memorable visuals to back it up.
Overall though, I have to congratulate them on a job well done. We'll likely see the same team with the Clarkson Cup broadcast in March.