The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
Brianne Jenner scored a hat trick on Sunday as Team Gold, captained by Liz Knox, claimed an 8-4 win over Brigette Lacquette's Team Purple at the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game.
And she didn't even get a hat to show for it.
"You'd think maybe a toque or two! Maybe the crowd didn't like me," she joked after the match.
There were friendly bribes (midway through the first, "[Team Gold coach Glenn] Healy said 100 bucks for the first goal, and I think it took Brianna Decker about 11 seconds," Jenner recalled), magic goalscoring candy ("As soon as the skittles came out, we were just putting them in the back of the net. I felt bad, I had to take them down to the other team -- I wanted to even it out a little bit there," Knox teased), and even a first CWHL goal by rookie defender Lauren Williams.
After a pair of first-period tallies from Decker put Gold up 2-0, Jenner added two of her own to start the second. Then, as the clock ticked towards the halfway point of the game, Knox -- whose team had the long change in the period -- began tentatively skating towards the bench to change on the fly. After a couple balks, she committed, but her team turned the puck over and though Knox hustled back to cover, Blayre Turnbull tapped in a rebound to get Team Purple on the board.
"Gerry, he was giving me the signal, so I just started to go," Knox deadpanned, blaming the mishap on coach Gerry Dee. "It's really disappointing to see him let us down like that."
"They tried to do this fancy change and they got caught, and it blew a shut-out," Dee retorted. "I said it probably cost her player of the game. So was it worth it?"
The truth? Noora Räty wasn't quite ready on the first attempt, which left Knox hanging around the blue line. But when it finally worked, it was glorious.
Laura Stacey made it a two-goal game shortly after the goalie swap, but Hanna Bunton buried a breakaway chance to restore Gold's edge before Williams beat Räty from a sharp angle to round out the period, 5-3.
Jenner earned her hat(less) trick to start the third, teammate Ann-Sophie Bettez -- who'd set up two goals early -- scored one of her own, and Zoe Hickel got one back for Purple before Rebecca Johnston wrapped things up with the twelfth tally of the afternoon.
The score wasn't particularly surprising given that Team Gold featured seven of the league's eight current top scorers.
"I picked a good team," said Knox. "The starting line-up, first period... I'm not trying to take all the credit, but they scored a lot of goals."
"It's just that constant battle to get people out."
A crowd of roughly 5,000-6,000 fans were on hand as 34 of the top players in the world took to the ice at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Despite the energy in the rink, it was a somewhat disappointing turn-out, as the league had publicly expressed a goal of 10,000 and a desire to top the previous attendance record of 8,000.
"These girls deserve 10,000 people here -- that's simple to me and I believe that," said interim CWHL commissioner Jayna Hefford, adding that the extremely cold weather likely had some impact on walk-up ticket sales. "I think about what could we do differently, but we were pretty happy with the lead-up to the event and didn't think we could do much more."
Hefford highlighted promotion on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada, the integration of coaches from other fields, and player activity both online and through media appearances as initiatives used to market the game. I can't speak to the on-the-ground efforts in the GTA, but as with Hefford, no obvious solutions come to mind.
It's especially frustrating to see a relatively low turn-out for a game that was well-promoted, because it's not clear how to improve. What's encouraging, at least for now, is that the league missed its target and knows it. No one had anything bad to say about the crowd itself, which was loud and engaged, but hopefully we are moving past the point where we expect players to be grateful for whatever they can get. Refusing to settle for less than the athletes deserve is always refreshing in women's sports, where there's a tendency to celebrate attendance figures even when they leave something to be desired.
A Second Chance?
Cassie Campbell-Pascall mentioned on the broadcast that she felt Ann-Sophie Bettez has a real chance at making Team Canada for the upcoming Rivalry Series in February, which isn't the type of thing she'd generally throw out there without knowledge to back it up. Bettez, who has been top-5 in CWHL scoring in all her six seasons and sits second in this year's points race, hasn't been invited to a Hockey Canada camp since 2011. It's extremely rare for a player to be re-integrated into the program so late -- she's 31 years old -- but the lack of NCAA players on the February roster may mean she finally gets another look. Bettez didn't address it directly when asked if she'd been in touch with the program recently, but unlike past years, she also didn't shut down the possibility of making the national team, adding that it's still a goal of hers.
(Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL)
Filed under: 2019 CWHL All-Star Game; cwhl; brianne jenner; liz knox; gerry dee; jayna hefford; ann-sophie bettez
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