By Martin Cleary
The Isobel Cup is coming to Ottawa, but only for a brief visit.
You can thank Lindsay Eastwood for that special honour as she helped anchor the defensive corps for the Toronto Six, which won its first Premier Hockey Federation women’s professional championship last month in Tempe, Arizona.
The Six needed overtime to defeat the Minnesota Whitecaps 4-3 on March 26, which allowed them to lift and celebrate winning the Isobel Cup.
As one of seven players who has dressed all three years for the Six franchise, Eastwood, a graduate of All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, plans to bring the cup to Ottawa in early August.
Syracuse University senior Sarah Thompson, a graduate of the Nepean Jr. Wildcats’ program like Eastwood, is operating a girls’ hockey camp this summer. She asked Eastwood to be a guest speaker and spend some time on the ice.
Eastwood, 26, couldn’t refuse Thompson’s offer and plans to bring the Isobel Cup to the camp on Aug. 2. If all goes well, Eastwood also may still have the cup on Aug. 3.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Ottawa,” Eastwood said. “It will be a good time. I’m starting to make plans.”
If you mention the Stanley Cup to hockey fans, they recognize it as the big prize all NHL players chase every year. If you mention the Isobel Cup, it may lead to some serious head scratching. But there’s a definite link between hockey’s two crowning cups.
While the names of past team winners are inscribed on the Stanley Cup, the Isobel Cup has an inspiring message for all to read: “The Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Cup 1875-1963. This Cup shall be awarded annually to the greatest professional women’s hockey team in North America. All who pursue this Cup, pursue a dream; a dream born with Isobel, that shall never die. EST 2016.”
Isobel was the daughter of Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley of Preston, who listened to and agreed with his children’s urgings to buy a silver cup for the best amateur hockey team in Canada. Montreal A.A.A. won the first Stanley Cup in 1893.
In her youth, Isobel was a pioneer for women’s hockey. She regularly promoted the game, played hockey on the Rideau Hall ice rink when her dad served as Governor General and organized one of the first women’s games in 1890.
Hockey Canada also has the Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award, which is presented to the player whose values, leadership and personal traits are representative of all female athletes. Marie-Philip Poulin, the captain of the Canadian women’s team, won the award in 2021.
Winning the Isobel Cup is one of the highlights of Eastwood’s career, which includes four award-winning seasons at Syracuse University (139 games, 23 goals, 42 assists, 75 points), capturing the 2019 College Hockey America conference title as team captain and being a first-team tournament all-star, and earning a silver medal for Canada at the 2014 world women’s U18 championships.
“It was so exciting,” an exuberant Eastwood said in a phone interview this week about winning the Isobel Cup. “There has been lots of celebrating. It feels like it was yesterday, but it has almost been a month.”
After the second-place Six outlasted the third-place Connecticut Whale 2-1 in the best-of-three semifinals, the Toronto side was confident it could win the Isobel Cup. The Six had won all four of its regular-season games against the Minnesota Whitecaps, but three of the games were one-goal decisions.
“Going into our third season, we expected to be on top … get to the final and win the cup,” Eastwood added.
The Whitecaps tested the confidence of the Six, especially when they took a 3-2 lead early in the third period.
“The championship game definitely brought out a lot of nerves. It was one-and-done. We got to leave it all on the ice. There were good and bad anxious,” Eastwood explained.
The Six had scored one goal in each of the first three periods, forced overtime and counted the lone goal in the extra period.
“We were nervous. Everything was on the line. It was nerve-wracking. But I believed in our squad. Put anyone on the ice and good things would happen. I was confident.”
Tereza Vanisova, who played for the bronze-medal-winning Czech Republic at the 2023 women’s world hockey championship in Brampton, turned the nerves into celebration with the game-winning goal at 4:23 of the first overtime period.
Bringing the Isobel Cup to Canada for the first time has earned the Six plenty of recognition in Toronto.
The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs honoured the Six at a game with a suite and video time on the scoreboard. The Six players also attended a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game and Breanne Wilson-Bennett made the ceremonial first pitch.
The players also have been feted by the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads and Toronto city council.
The depth of talent and the team camaraderie were two important forces for the Six this season. Eastwood feels right at home playing professional women’s hockey and is looking forward to her fourth season in 2023-24.
“When I came out of university, it was in the middle of COVID,” Eastwood said. “I knew I wanted to play hockey. (Then Toronto Six president) Digit Murphy explained to me how they were trying to grow the game. She offered me enough money to pay for my gas.”
Eastwood signed a contract and made $5,000 for her first season. Her third season in the Premier Hockey Federation not only included winning the Isobel Cup and a chance to bring it to Ottawa, but also “now with a liveable wage” contract.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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