Furious Hockey May 5, 2014

Furious team photo


“So that’s how I ended up with 250 rolls of toilet paper and 250 boxes of Kleenex.”

I have no idea what the jock talk sounds like in the dressing room during men’s hockey tournaments, and maybe I don’t want to. But this weekend, that’s what I heard as I laced up my skates for the Furious Hockey Tournament, a fundraiser for the Toronto Furies women’s hockey team at George Bell Arena in the Junction.

Kristy Zamora, Sami Jo Small, Lexie Hoffmeyer and Kori Cheverie with the Clarkson Cup

Kristy Zamora, Sami Jo Small, Lexie Hoffmeyer and Kori Cheverie with the Clarkson Cup

The Furies are the 2014 winners of the Clarkson Cup, the Stanley Cup of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, having beaten the Boston Blades 1-0 in a thrilling upset overtime victory in Markham on March 24. It was a great privilege to team up with a pair of Furies on our pick-up team, the Bolton Broads. With Lexie Hoffmeyer on defense and Kristy Zamora playing forward, we lunged through a trio of games, having fun for a great cause.

The CWHL is home to many of the players on the Canadian women’s national hockey team, which took its fourth Olympic gold medal in a row this winter in Sochi, beating the US 3-2 in overtime. Fourteen players on the 29-woman Olympic roster play for CWHL teams, including three from the Toronto Furies: forwards Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield.

I have trouble watching National Hockey League games anymore, with the fights too often over-shadowing the play. There’s also the fact I live in Toronto, and the Leafs have broken my heart too many times. But women’s hockey is skilled, fast, in-your-face and clean, as anyone who watched the women’s games at the Olympics can tell you. So can fans who come out to CWHL games every winter, where they can see top-level talent zip past from seats right behind the glass.

Deirdre Norman before the shooting competition

Deirdre Norman before the shooting competition

Yet women’s hockey has a major problem: under-funding. That’s why Deirdre Norman of The Women of Winter runs this annual tournament. The five CWHL teams each have to fund a budget ranging from $200,000 – $250,000. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment kicked in $30,000 to the Furies this season, along with new lockers, and the Calgary team has a deep-pocketed private sponsor. But even when the teams meet their budgetary goals, not only are players unpaid, they have to personally pay for their meals on the road as well as for equipment. Lexie Hoffmeyer winced as she told us she’d broken three sticks this winter.

Of course, the Olympic players can get lucrative sponsorships, and most hockey equipment lasts for years. Kristy Zamora showed us her pair of shin pads, more or less held together by medical tape, that date to 1994. That’s personal preference; they’re lighter than the pads you get these days. Sticks and skates are the real problem, with top-quality sticks costing around $300. One of the Furies who was planning to play in the fundraiser had to drop out after she was scheduled for a weekend shift at her second job.

Meanwhile, baseball slugger Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers will earn $43,195 every time he steps to the plate this season after signing his record $292 million, 10-year deal on the day the Furies won the Clarkson Cup back in March. Considering that he’ll make about four plate appearances per game, it will take Miggy less than two games to earn as much as the Furies entire annual budget.

Of course, with Trina Crosby joining the CWHL board last fall, there’s a different super-star hovering. Trina is the mother of the nationally-ranked 18-year-old goalie Taylor Crosby, born in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, now playing for the US prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s and looking forward to a future in women’s hockey.

Also of a kid named Sidney Crosby, currently suffering an uncharacteristic 12-game goalless drought for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NHL playoffs, but named just hours ago as one of three finalists for the 2013-14 Ted Lindsay Award as Most Outstanding Player in the NHL this year.

Judging from dressing-room talk Crosby is already known among Furies players as a great supporter and classy, very shy guy. If the Crosby family can draw both attention and sponsorships to women’s hockey, so much the better.

The benches

The benches

But in the meantime, there we were at George Bell arena at 8:30 a.m. Saturday suiting up for our first game in the fundraiser. I knew some of the players from the women’s league at Bill Bolton arena, some from a trip last year to a women’s hockey tournament in northern Iceland and some from the Furies tournament two years ago. Others came in from different women’s leagues or, in one case, from the Canadian armed forces.

Having played in the fundraiser two years ago, I knew the drill. The Furies players would be on the ice, but they weren’t really going to play. They were so much better than the rest of us, it would have been ridiculous if they’d even tried. And of course, Furies goaltender Sami Jo Small—winner of two Olympic gold medals and of four world championships, MVP in two of the championship series for the Canadian national team—well, Sami Jo would be kind and play out.

As one of the founders of the CWHL and its current vice-chairman, Sami Jo is a major force behind women’s hockey, always organized and invariably smiling. She was accompanied this time by her husband Billy Bridges, who brought home a bronze medal from the Sochi Paralympics this winter as part of the Canadian men’s killer sledge hockey team. Billy scored two goals to defeat Norway 3-0 in the bronze medal win, and had an unobtrusive Sochi patch on his jacket as he cheered us on.

We were also cheered by the presence of the Clarkson Cup, donated by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, which was sitting in the foyer. We all took pictures and—even though the games were mainly for fun—touched it to rub off a little luck before we played.

Factoid: Lexie Hoffmeyer now has her name inscribed on the Clarkson Cup, while her father, former NHL defenseman and long-time New Jersey Devils scout Bob Hoffmeyer, has his on the Stanley Cup.

The games? Were great fun. Occasionally the Furies would break out to fly down the ice, laughing and finally passing to other players. Once, when we thought the ref had just perhaps maybe missed one of our goals, Lexie and Kristy glanced at one another and scored one for the team. Another time, I took it into my head to try to check Fury’s player Kori Cheverie as she carried the puck across our blue line. A breeze blew past me as Kori took the puck deeper before flipping it to one of her teammates.

Who scored.

In the end, the Bolton Broads booted our 9 a.m. start but won one and nearly tied another (5-4) to end up in third place, awarding ourselves an invisible bronze medal. After which home beckoned, or perhaps the bar.

Me and Lexi Hoffmeyer

Me and Lexie Hoffmeyer

And the 250 rolls of toilet paper and 250 boxes of Kleenex?

One of my fellow Bolton Broads said she didn’t read the fine print at a silent auction and bid on an item that was otherwise going un-bid-for, thinking she would help out the charity and get a small box of supplies.

Then they mentioned the delivery truck.

As we laughed over her story, one of our teammates cadged some of the goods for a women’s shelter she supports.

On top of which, we raised $3,000 for the Furies.

If you want to contribute, tax-deductible donations can be made through the CWHL website.