By Martin Cleary
Ever wonder what it’s like to be in the presence of the world’s best women’s hockey players?
Wouldn’t it be great to attend a Winter Olympics or world championship to see the premier female forwards, defenders and goalkeepers in action? Their speed, tenacity and spirit are non-stop during a game.
Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about the money it would cost to attend an Olympics or worlds and somehow just have these players appear in your backyard?
Wouldn’t it be … STOP.
You don’t have to dream any longer as the next best option to see the best women’s hockey players is at your doorstep right now and for two days.
The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association is staging its first-ever All-Star Weekend at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata.
The best players from Canada, the United States and one from Russia won’t be playing for their national teams and chasing gold, silver and bronze medals. Instead, they’ll be competing in four Secret Dream Gap Tour games, a four-part skills challenge and a wide-open, round-robin 3-on-3 tournament with a championship game.
The games and individual challenges will feature 35 players who represented Canada and the United States at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. There will be 20 players from Canada’s gold-medal roster and 15 Americans, who earned the silver medal.
Olympian Jamie Lee Rattray of Kanata will head the list of seven Ottawa and area players participating in the All-Star Weekend. The other players are defender Megan Eady of Renfrew, forwards Samantha Cogan of Ottawa, Natasza Tarnowski of Embrun and Rebecca Leslie of Ottawa and goalkeepers Erica Howe of Ottawa and Geneviève Lacasse of Limoges.
All-Star Weekend action is scheduled to begin Saturday afternoon at the home of the Ottawa Senators, who are one of 10 NHL club partners with the PWHPA. The focus of the opening day is a pair of regular-season Secret Dream Gap Tour games, featuring teams identified by corporate-sponsor names.
Team adidas (3-3-0-0) will look to strengthen its hold on second place in the standings against fourth-place Team Sonnet (2-4-0-1) at 3 p.m. The evening game between league-leading Team Harvey’s (4-1-2-0) and third-place Scotiabank (3-4-0-0) is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Dream Gap Tour also was scheduled to have two games on the outskirts of Ottawa on Friday as Team adidas met Team Scotiabank in the afternoon in Kemptville and Team Sonnet played Team Harvey’s in the evening in Gatineau.
The games on Saturday will be televised and shown on TSN, TSN.ca, the TSN app, RDS.ca and the RDS app. The TSN broadcasting crew will feature host Tessa Bonhomme and analyst Jayna Hefford. Kenzie Lalonde will be at the play-by-play microphone, while Cheryl Pounder will provide analysis and Julia Tocheri will report from ice level.
On Sunday, fans will have an opportunity to see the best players show their individual skills in four challenging events and then join their teams for tournament play.
The players will select their peers to compete in four challenges – fastest skater, accuracy shooting, a skills test and a breakaway/save streak contest.
Once the individual champions have been determined, four teams will play a total of six, 10-minute, 3-on-3 games under a round-robin format. The top two teams will go head-to-head in the championship final. The first game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
The four team captains – Marie-Philip Poulin of Team Harvey’s, who won the Northern Star Award this week as Canada’s top athlete in 2022, Hilary Knight of Team Sonnet, Sarah Nurse of Team adidas, and Megan Keller of Team Scotiabank – were selected in fan voting.
The captains will select their players from a pool of 40 additional PWHPA all-stars, who were named by the players, coaches and staff.
Tickets for the All-Star Weekend are available through Ticketmaster.
The PWHPA players also will conduct meet-and-greet and autograph sessions throughout the weekend at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Canadian Tire Corporation is the title partner of the inaugural PWHPA All-Star Weekend, which also has received corporate assistance from the Ottawa Senators, TSN, RDS and the Secret Dream Gap Tour.
OTTAWA AND AREA PLAYER LINEUP
· TEAM HARVEY’S: Jamie Lee Rattray, Kanata, forward, 30, Clarkson University, seven games played during the PWHPA season, five goals, two assists, seven points, tied for third in league goals, tied for 10th in points.
· TEAM HARVEY’S: Geneviève Lacasse, Limoges, goalkeeper, 33, Providence College, two games, two wins, 2.50 GAA, 56 shots, 51 saves.
· TEAM SONNET: Samantha Cogan, Ottawa, forward, 25, University of Wisconsin, seven games, one goal, one assist, two points.
· TEAM SONNET: Rebecca Leslie, Ottawa, forward, 26, Boston University, seven games, two assists, two points.
· TEAM SONNET: Natasza Tarnowski, Embrun, forward, 24, Boston University, five games, one goal, one assist, two points.
· TEAM ADIDAS: Megan Eady, Renfrew, defender, 29, Robert Morris University and University of Alberta, six games, no points.
· TEAM SONNET: Erica Howe, Ottawa, goalkeeper, 30, Clarkson University, one game, one loss, 5.17 GAA, 37 shots, 32 saves.
ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS
· The vast majority of the players on the four teams developed their games and studied at American universities. Ninety players attended university in the United States, five at Canadian universities and two players experienced university and hockey on both sides of the border.
· Two teams have female head coaches – Danièle Sauvageau and Kori Cheverie, co-associate head coaches with Team Harvey’s, and Laura McIntosh with Team Sonnet. Two teams have male head coaches – Matt Leitner with Team adidas, and Dean Seymour with Team Scotiabank.
· Marie-Philip Poulin, the captain of the Canadian national women’s team since 2015, scored the game-winning goal in the gold-medal game at the 2010, 2014 and 2022 Winter Olympic Games. It’s not surprising the Team Harvey’s forward from Beauceville, Que., is the leading scorer in the PWHPA league with eight goals, four assists for 12 points in eight games.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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