By Namish Modi
All-Star Games may not be the most exciting event on the calendar anymore, but for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), this one will be one to remember.
On Saturday at the Air Canada Centre, the first All-Star Game in the league’s short five-year history was played. The exhibition game, which had several Olympians playing in it, was played in front of a crowd of 6,850 people.
The two teams, Team White and Team Red, were selected by captains Jessica Campbell and Charline Labonte on Friday night, fantasy draft style. Each captain picked five players to their team while the rest of the squads were filled up by the “throwing the sticks” format. Team Red’s Rebecca Johnston scored the winning goal in a 3-2 come back victory, while Team White’s Natalie Spooner scored the first goal in CWHL All-Star Game history. Following the game, the 42 all-stars took part in a light-hearted skills showcase, which consisted of a breakaway challenge and fastest skater competition.
Where does playing in this game rank among your personal accomplishments?
Rebecca Johnston, Calgary Inferno, 2014 Olympic gold medalist
I think it’s pretty high up there. It was a ton of fun like I said, it’s the first ever. To be able to be involved in that, and hopefully many to come, it was pretty special.
Hillary Knight, Boston Blades, 2014 Olympic silver medalist
This is a new one. It was unexpected. I think whenever you can be on the ground level of something and you’re creating history, making history, it’s always a memorable achievement.
Natalie Spooner, Toronto Furies, 2014 Olympic gold medalist
I think this is huge, winning the Olympics and winning the Clarkson Cup was two crazy things that happened last year, [and] this is up there with it. Experiencing this, being able to play with Americans and not always having that rivalry. [That’s] kind of that camaraderie that comes along with our league, because its all of us right now that are trying to build the league and bring women’s hockey together.
What made this game more competitive than the common all-star game?
I think when you get all these high-level, high-skilled players on one ice, you don’t want to lose right? So you get that competitive instinct. So it was really good, it was fast-paced, it was exciting; and I’m glad we took it more seriously, and not just as a joke.
I think for all of us it was a chance, an opportunity to play with other, [players] that we’ve never played with before. I’ve never played with Natalie Spooner, or Haley Irwin, or Caroline Ouellette, or anyone. It was a fun opportunity to go out there and have these skills presentable.
What was it like playing with your American rivals?
That was my first time kind of playing with Stack, Knight, and Duggan. I thought it was pretty cool to kind of see how they play different or the same as us. I really enjoyed playing with them; they’re great players and make good plays out there on the ice.
I had so much fun today and enjoyed playing with them, and just kind of getting to know them a bit more. Obviously I think when we are going to play Canada-US you get on the ice, you hate each other, it just happens. But off the ice, everyone is nice people and we all get along pretty well.
How did it feel to score the first goal in ASG History?
I guess I never thought it about like that. But I guess it’s pretty exciting, the whole day has been pretty exciting for us just being able to play in the Air Canada Centre, and experience it here. So scoring a goal in this building, it was pretty exciting with all the cheering.
How important was the game for the CWHL?
I think it’s great that they were broadcasting it on TV also, that was huge. Just knowing that we took a next step to have an all-star game to promote the top 42 players. I think it is really good for our league moving forward.
It’s huge, I think we’re trying to progress the league and grow our game. You look at the viewership across the board, and its great. We’ve got these TV contracts now that are coming in, giving our viewers a way to watch us. [Also] to sort of replicate what the men do; they have an all-star game and rightfully so, we should, and I think it’s a huge step.
I think it’s really important for us. I think the big thing for us is to get it out there and get people aware of our league and where we are playing outside of Olympic years. So for this to happen is great and for Sportsnet to put it on TV and broadcast us is amazing.
Sommer West, Toronto Furies coach, Team White
I think when a lot of people hear about women’s hockey, they don’t think about the finesse of the game. They don’t think there’s body checking, they don’t think there is hitting, they don’t think there is hard shots, so when you see it, its better to see live.
We’ll never shoot as hard as the men, but that’s a given. But we shoot the puck hard, We make great plays, great goals, great saves. I hope people that watched it on TV today saw our product and will come out and watch the games now.