Donald Brashear enters CBC’s “Dragons’ Den,” exits with a $500,000 deal

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Tough guy forward Donald Brashear won a lot of fights during his 17-season National Hockey League career.

Wednesday night, Brashear struck another victorious blow – landing a $500,000 deal for his fledgling Brash87  low-cost hockey stick company with the denizens of CBC’s popular “Dragons’ Den,” Canada’s version of CNBC’s “Shark Tank.”

The former NHL enforcer who let his fists do the talking to the tune of 2,634 career penalty minutes persuaded three Dragons – Jim Treliving, Michael Wekerle, and Manjit Minhas – to do a deal in which they provide $500,000 to help him boost the inventory of his China-manufactured sticks in return for a 40 percent economic interest and 50 percent voting interest in Brash87.

“I’m still working on them trying to close that deal,” Brashear told me Wednesday night. “Bottom line, if you’re starting a business and you have people that know the most and have a lot of money and want to invest in your company, it’s a good sign. I hope it gives a push, marketing-wise.”

Treliving, chairman and owner of Boston Pizza International, Inc., has hockey connections. He’s director of the Hockey Canada Foundation. His son, Brad Treliving, is general manager of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

Brashear went on the show in search of funding and partners for the company he founded after he was appalled by the prospect of paying $300 for a twig after he retired from the NHL six years ago.

Ex-NHL enforcer Donald Brashear, left, with partner Jibin Joseph show off Brash87 hockey sticks to the cast of CBC's "Dragons' Den."

Ex-NHL enforcer Donald Brashear, left, with partner Jibin Joseph show off Brash87 hockey sticks to the cast of CBC’s “Dragons’ Den.”

He was a kept man hockey equipment-wise during his career with the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and New York Rangers and never realized how much money hockey parents and beer league players shelled out for sticks.

So he started Brash87, which sells Brashear-designed, professional-caliber, carbon fiber sticks at a price that won’t send hockey parents and recreational adult players into sticker shock.

The sticks range between $129 (CAN) and $179 (CAN), roughly between $94 and $130 in U.S. currency. Brashear says his mostly mail order business is booming, perhaps faster than he anticipated.

Donald Brashear, left, played for five NHL teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo/Bruce Bennett/Getty Images via Philadelphia Flyers).

Donald Brashear, left, played for five NHL teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo/Bruce Bennett/Getty Images via Philadelphia Flyers).

“At first when I started, I was going so fast that I didn’t have enough inventory,” he told me.  “With more inventory, I can get more sticks at a lower price, which will be even better for me. The problem was getting investment cash to get the larger inventory.”

He currently has an inventory of 3,000 sticks. He envisions growing that to 10,000 to 20,000 sticks so he can begin selling them in big stores. After surviving the “Dragons’ Den,” he may get his wish.

 

 

 

Mexico, king of the hockey world! – at least one division of it anyway

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Congratulations to Mexico for winning the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 Division III world championship this week at a tournament played in Mexico City.

Mexico crushed South Africa 9-2 to capture the crown in a round-robin tournament that featured teams from Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria and New Zealand.

The victory moves Mexico – currently ranked 32nd in the world by the IIHF -up the ladder to Division II competition. Mexico has a population of 121,736,809 that includes 2,020 hockey players – 243 men, 1,427 juniors, and 350 women, according to IIHF figures.

Winning on the international stage is becoming a habit for Mexico. The Under-20 men’s squad took home the Gold Medal in 2005 and 2011 – when both tournaments were played on Mexican soil. In 2014, Mexico’s women’s national team finished first in a IIHF Division II B qualification tournament.

Fort Dupont hockey club scores in Huffington Post story

The Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club of Washington, D.C., the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program, is back in the news in an interesting piece in The Huffington Post. Check it out.

Kamloops Blazers’ Jermaine Loewen dreams of being Jamaica-proud in the NHL

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Jermaine Loewen longs to be The Second One.

The left wing for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League dreams of becoming the second Jamaican-born player to skate in the National Hockey League, standing on the broad shoulders of Graeme Townshend.

Jermaine Loewen moved from Jamaica to Manitoba, Canada, when he was five (Photo/Kamloops Blazers).

Jermaine Loewen moved from Jamaica to Manitoba, Canada, when he was five (Photo/Kamloops Blazers).

Townshend was a rugged right wing who played 67 NHL games for the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. Loewen, who was born in Jamaica and raised in Manitoba, inched closer to his dream Monday when he turned 18 – the minimum age to be eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

“I think about that a lot , it’s like, ‘aw, man, I want to be the second guy,'” Loewen told Canada’s Sportsnet of joining Townshend in hockey history books “I just really want to make that happen.”

Loewen is also excited about the possibility of someday seeing Jamaica compete in the Winter Olympics in hockey. The Caribbean island nation, known for its Olympic track and field prowess and for having the world’s funkiest bobsled team, is an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

The Jamaica Ice Hockey Federation has been scouring Canada and the United States for Caribbean expatriate hockey talent in hopes of forming a touring team this summer to boost interest in the program and to attract sponsors for its Winter Olympics endeavor.

The national team effort will need deep pockets to field a team and to help build an ice skating rink in Jamaica, a requirement for full IIHF membership. In hockey’s six degrees of separation, Jamaica’s coaching staff is headed by none other than Graeme Townshend.

After being held scoreless in his rookie season, Jermaine Loewen has 5 goals so far in 2015-16 (Photo/Kamloops Blazers).

After being held scoreless in his rookie season, Jermaine Loewen has 5 goals so far in 2015-16 (Photo/Kamloops Blazers).

“To have an Olympic team is huge, especially the fact that we’re so small. I’m really happy that they’re making progress,” Loewen told NewsKamloops earlier this month. “Oh yeah…I definitely dream about it…maybe someday going and playing for that. There still is a lot of stuff to work out to get to that level. It’s a pretty big deal. I find it really cool.”

Townshend says he would love to see Loewen – all 6-foot-3, 205 pounds of him – don Jamaica’s flashy green, yellow, and black jersey. In time.

“You know what? I’m hoping that he’s Canadian hockey material first, to be honest,” Townshend told me recently. “Selfishly, of course, I’d love to have him on our team. But I’d like to see him be considered for Team Canada at some point. I know he’s Jamaican, but he grew up in Canada, I’m sure he has a soft spot in his heart for Canada.  Like every Canadian kid, he’d want to represent his country. At some point, I’m sure our paths will cross, but I’d like to see how far he can take this. If he could play for Canada in the World Juniors, that would be amazing.”

Everything about Loewen’s hockey journey has been amazing thus far. Adopted from an orphanage in Mandeville, Jamaica, and relocated to rural Arborg, Manitoba, when he was five, Loewen didn’t lace on a pair of skates until he was six – late by Canadian standards.

He didn’t play his first organized hockey game until he was 10. But that didn’t stop him from getting drafted by the Blazers, a Canadian major junior team, six years later.

Year One with the Blazers was a learning curve for Loewen. He was scoreless in 37 games and amassed 24 penalty minutes. In 39 games this season, he has 5 goals, 3 assists, and a robust 39 penalty minutes.

Loewen wasn’t among the players listed Tuesday in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings of players eligible for the June draft in Buffalo. Still, Townshend is impressed with what Loewen has accomplished so far and believes that he has the raw talent and determination to eventually be chosen by an NHL team.

“His is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard,” Townshend said.  “Obviously when you start playing organize hockey at 10 when other kids start at six or seven, you’re way behind. He’s made  up a lot of ground in a very short period of time. That says a lot about his character.”

 

 

 

“Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future” makes U.S. premiere in D.C.

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What a week in Washington!

President Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union address Tuesday and the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals hosted a screening Wednesday of a full-length documentary on the history and growing impact of blacks in ice hockey.

“Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future” had its U.S. premiere before a near-capacity audience at Washington’s Landmark E Street Cinema with plenty of hockey star power on hand. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill DalyWashington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis and Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz were in the house.

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, former NHL goaltender/turned NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, former NHL forward and current MSG Networks and NBCSN hockey analyst Anson Carter were there for a post-screening question and answer session that I had the honor to moderate.

Left to right, Anson Carter, Kevin Weekes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey legend Willie O'Ree, filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason, and Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis at U.S. screening of Mason's "Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future."

Left to right, Anson Carter, Kevin Weekes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey legend Willie O’Ree, filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason, and Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis at U.S. screening of Mason’s “Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future.”

“It’s a story that needed to be told, but not many people even imagined it could exist,” Bettman  said of the documentary. “If you told somebody about this movie without actually seeing it, they’d think it was a work of fiction, like ‘how could it be because I’ve never heard of such a thing’ is what you get from most people.”

Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason was on hand to gauge a U.S. audience’s response to a film that he poured his heart, soul, and wallet into for the last four years. Mason was so committed to the project that the former disc jockey sold his condo to help fund it.

Mason hasn’t seen a paycheck in about three years, but he basked in a wealth of applause and appreciative remarks from the D.C. audience Wednesday night.

“The biggest thing that this screening means to me is all that hard work,  all those midnights worrying, all that stressing out, all that wondering what’s going to happen the next day, it made me feel like it was all worth it,” he told me. “For a guy who dreamed about doing a film, and being in a position like this, is remarkable.”

The film tells the little-told story of blacks in hockey from the Coloured Hockey League in the Canadian Maritimes in the 1800s to the exploits of forward Herb Carnegie – regarded as the best Canadian hockey player never to skate in the NHL – to O’Ree breaking in with the Boston Bruins, despite being blind in one eye.

While paying homage to the past, “Soul on Ice” examines the present by focusing on current stars like Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley.

It gives a glimpse of the game’s future by following the path of Owen Sound Attack forward Jaden Lindo from his Ontario Hockey League junior team to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. He was chosen by the Penguins in the sixth round of the draft with the 173rd overall pick.

Bettman and other NHL officials had seen the movie earlier, but Ken Martin, the league’s senior vice president of community and diversity programming, didn’t let O’Ree, who is the NHL’s director of youth development, get an early peek at Mason’s product.

Color of Hockey Editor William Douglas with The Bearded One - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at "Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future" screening in Washington, D.C.

Color of Hockey Editor William Douglas with The Bearded One – NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at “Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future” screening in Washington, D.C.

When O’Ree watched his legacy on the big screen, the hockey pioneer who joined the Bruins in 1958, became emotional.

“Unbelievable,” he told NHL.com. “Now I know why he didn’t want me to see it. It was breathtaking, really. I was thrilled when I saw it.”

Trotz, who coached forward Joel Ward when he was with the Capitals and Nashville Predators, said the documentary was an eye-opener.

“What I liked about it is it was three stories for me – it was a history of the game, Kwame’s story, and it was young Jaden’s story,” Trotz told NHL.com. “There are some things that I feel ignorant on being someone in the game and not knowing all the story. It’s quite enlightening.”

Mason said the hard work of making the movie is over but the hard work of trying to get the documentary before the general public is still ahead of him.

He’s hoping to work with the NHL in getting it televised nationally by the NHL’s broadcast partners, NBC in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada.

For more information about the documentary, visit http://www.soulonicemovie.com.

 

 

 

The diverse defensive class of 2013 is working its way up professional hockey’s ladder

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The 2013 National Hockey League Draft was as deep in talented defensemen as it was steeped in diversity.

And some defensemen from diverse backgrounds selected in that draft at New Jersey’s Prudential Center are beginning to make their mark in the professional game.

The Columbus Blue Jackets expect big things from defenseman Seth Jones.

The Columbus Blue Jackets expect big things from defenseman Seth Jones.

NHL scouts viewed Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, Madison Bowey, Jordan Subban and Jonathan-Ismael Diaby as potential impact players in the pros.

Each player is chasing his dream for National Hockey League stardom, climbing professional hockey’s ladder at his own pace – or that dictated by the team that drafted him.

Jones, taken by the Nashville Predators with the fourth overall pick of the draft, hasn’t spent a day in the minor leagues. But after he spent more than two seasons in Music City, the Predators traded him last week to the Columbus Blue Jackets for talented but enigmatic center Ryan Johansen.

The swap from Nashville, currently sixth in the NHL’s Western Conference, to Columbus, dwelling in the NHL Eastern Conference cellar, wasn’t a knock on Jones’ play.

The Blue Jackets expect big things from the Texas-born son of former National Basketball Association forward Popeye Jones. In Nashville, Seth Jones was the student to defensive master Shea Weber.

In 40 games with the Predators, Jones tallied 1 goal and 10 assists and averaged 19:42 minutes on ice per game.

With Columbus, he’ll play more minutes and see more power play time and penalty-killing action under demanding Head Coach John Tortorella. He’ll go from being one of the guys on Nashville’s blue line to being The Man on the Blue Jackets back end.

“He’s going to get a lot bigger role with our team,”Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters last week. “He’s 21 years old and he’s got the future ahead of him and a lot of room for growth and development. We believe he’s a good two-way defenseman that can add some offense to our game.”

Ironically, one of the last things Jones saw in Nashville was the player he was traded for as he and Johansen passed each other at the airport. Jones  expressed excitement about the new opportunity in Columbus.

“They made it pretty clear that they’re going to throw a little bit more at me than I’ve been used to getting,” Jones told reporters in Columbus. “I’m excited and ready to take on the challenge.”

Nurse believed he was NHL-ready from the moment he slipped on an Oilers jersey on draft day.  But the team’s brain trust thought otherwise and sent him back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League, for the 2013-14 season. He went back to the Soo again in 2014-15.

He was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors, the Olilers’ AHL affiliate, after this season’s

After being promoted from the AHL, Darnell Nurse is averaging 21 minutes per game.

After being promoted from the AHL, Darnell Nurse is averaging 21 minutes per game.

training camp and was called up to the parent club after some of its defensemen suffered injuries.

Since then, Nurse has tallied 2 goals and 5 assists while averaging 21 minutes of ice time per game in 34 games. He’s also added a little toughness to an offensively-talented but grit-challenged Oilers lineup. He’s amassed 19 penalty minutes, five of them coming from a fight against Milan Lucic, the Los Angeles Kings’ physically-imposing and feared veteran forward.

Some thought the bout was too much too soon for the rookie Nurse. He didn’t.

“My mum was like, ‘What are you doing?’ My dad said he was proud of me,” Nurse told  The Edmonton Journal. “This (fighting) is something I’m going to have to do the way I play.”

Madison Bowey is only a two-hour drive from where he hopes to eventually be: With the Washington Capitals.  The team took Bowey in the second round with the 53rd pick of the 2013 draft.

After he captained his Western Hockey League Kelowna Rockets to the MasterCard Memorial Cup Final  last season and teamed up with Nurse on the blue line to help a diverse Team Canada win the Gold Medal at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, the Capitals sent Bowey to the AHL’s  Hershey Bears.

He has 2 goals, 11 assists, and 24 penalty minutes in 33 games with the Bears.

“I think it’s been going pretty well,” Bowey told PennLive last month. “It’s a learning process and I’m learning a lot every day.”

Madison Bowey hopes to be an impact player with the AHL Hershey Bears - and eventually with the Washington Capitals (Photo/Courtesy JustSports Photography).

Madison Bowey hopes to be an impact player with the AHL Hershey Bears – and eventually with the Washington Capitals (Photo/Courtesy JustSports Photography).

Bears Head Coach Troy Mann agrees.

“From the bench as you watch him play, when he’s moving the puck and limiting his turnovers, he’s having a good game,” Mann told PennLive. “Like any young defenseman, there are nights where his gap control might not be as good as we need it to be, or his defensive-zone coverage. But I think he’s progressing the way we all thought he would. He’s a second-round pick that’s going to need some nurturing in the AHL for a couple seasons.”

Jordan Subban was chosen in the fourth-round of the 2013 draft by the Vancouver Canucks with the 115th pick. His older brother, Montreal Canadiens superstar defenseman P.K. Subban, declared before the draft that Jordan was a better, more cerebral blueliner than he is.

Like his big brother, Jordan is about offense from the back end. The 5-foot-9 defenseman notched 25 goals and 27 assists for the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls last season.

Utica Comets defenseman Jordan Subban (left) doing what he does best - shooting (Photo/Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets).

Utica Comets defenseman Jordan Subban (left) doing what he does best – shooting (Photo/Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets).

He’s continuing his offensive ways in his first season with for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ AHL farm team, where he has 5 goals and 14 assists in 29 games.

“The (AHL) is a little more skilled than I thought it was going to be,” Subban told Utica’s Observer-Dispatch in November.  “It was a bit of an adjustment. There are a lot of good players…I think I’ve taken a big step in my zone, but I still have work to do.”

Jonathan-Ismael Diaby will be the first to admit that he’s still very much a work in progress. At 6-foot-5 and 223 pounds, he’s described himself as “bigger, taller and slower” compared to other hockey players.

Nashville Predators 2013 draft pick Jonathan Diaby (left) working on improving his game with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals (Photo/Milwaukee Admirals).

Nashville Predators 2013 draft pick Jonathan Diaby (left) working on improving his game with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals (Photo/Milwaukee Admirals).

But the Predators love his size – a “monster,” one scout called him – and his ruggedness. Nashville took him in the third round with the 64th pick in the 2013 draft.

Since then,  the former Victoriaville Tigres defenseman has bounced between the Milwaukee Admirals, the Preds’ AHL affiliate, and Cincinnati Cyclones, Nashville’s ECHL farm team.

The son of a soccer player from the Ivory Coast, Diaby is scoreless in five AHL games this season but has 21 penalty minutes. He has 1 assist and 11 penalty minutes in 17 ECHL games.

“I just want to show more consistency and show that I’m more poised and more in control of the game,” Diaby told The Tennessean during the Predators’ training camp in September. “As a hockey player, you come to training camp, you want to make the team, but it’s a learning experience. I’ve still got a lot to learn and a lot to improve on. The AHL’s a great league.”

 

 

 

 

 

Blake Bolden stars at Outdoor Women’s Classic

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The Game That Almost Didn’t Happen became a happening Thursday afternoon for Boston Pride defenseman Blake Bolden.

Bolden scored the tying goal of the first Outdoor Women’s Classic presented by Scotiabank, an abbreviated running-time match between the professional National Women’s Hockey League Pride and the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League Les Canadiennes that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Despite the game being a last-minute addition to the the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic festivities at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and despite USA Hockey not making several Pride skaters available for the game because they were engaged in the last day of training camp ahead of a world championship competition, those who played and watched the outdoor game enjoyed themselves.

Perhaps none more than Bolden, a former Boston College women’s hockey team captain and the first African-American to play in the NWHL and the CWHL.

Thursday’s game almost didn’t happen because of tension between the NWHL, a first-year league that pays its players, and the more established CWHL, which doesn’t offer its skaters salaries.Think pre-merger National Football League-American Football League or National Hockey League-World Hockey Association hate.

Throw in USA Hockey’s stance on not releasing national team players for the classic, and the odds of the women’s outdoor game coming off looked dim.

Talks between NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan and CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress and intervention by the NHL helped make the game a reality.

“I think this was a great first step. I would say that the NHL was standing in the middle, holding our hands, as we walked to Gillette, so to speak,” Rylan told Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy blog. “But it was a good first step.”

Still, things weren’t ideal. The ice conditions for the afternoon game were problematic. Pride forward Denna Laing suffered an injury when she stepped on a stick and crashed into the boards.

The historic game wasn’t televised or streamed online. And instead of three 20-minute periods, the game was two 15-minute periods played in running time.

Three women of color played in Thursday’s game: Bolden, Pride forward Rachel Llanes and Les Canadiennes forward Julie Chu, who carried the U.S. flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I think that this was an incredible first stepping stone for all of us,” Chu told reporters after the game. “Hopefully, next year we’re introduced into the game a bit earlier so there’s more promotion of the event. We always have to start with one step and hopefully take the next step and continue to move forward and grow.”

 

Same city, different Kane involved in sex offense investigation

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Sabres forward Evander Kane.

Sabres forward Evander Kane.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane is the subject of an investigation into an alleged sex offense.

The allegation comes more than a month after an Erie County district attorney announced that Chicago Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane, a Buffalo native, wouldn’t face criminal charges following a three-month sexual assault investigation.

The Sabres, the National Hockey League, and law enforcement officials didn’t say much about the latest investigation Monday. Kane spoke about it briefly with reporters in Buffalo.

The Sabres issued a statement Sunday, saying “We take the allegation made today against Evander Kane very seriously.”

“We are gathering facts and have been in touch with the NHL and Evander’s representatives,” the organization said.

Even though little has been said officially, much has already been written about the investigation, including calls not to rush to judgment about those involved in the Evander Kane matter.

 

Women’s pro hockey leagues to square off as part of NHL Winter Classic festivities

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Women’s hockey is ending 2015 on historic high notes.

The Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League and Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will clash Thursday in the first outdoor women’s professional game.

The Outdoor Women’s Classic presented by Scotiabank  is part of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic festivities that will culminate on New Year’s day with an Original Six outdoor match between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the National Football League New England Patriots.

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“A new year signifies a new chapter and we look forward to sharing the ice for the first time with two professional women’s team’s on the (NHL’s) biggest stage,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

The women’s game features teams from the first-year, four-team NWHL, which pays its players, and the more-established, five-team, CWHL, which doesn’t offer salaries to its players.

“We are humbled and honored to be part of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic festivities at Gillette Stadium,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. “This wonderful stage for women’s hockey wouldn’t be possible without the tireless dedication of (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and many others behind the scenes at the National Hockey League.”

Rylan also thanked CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress and her lieutenants who’ve “been part of this collaborative process since the beginning.”

The women’s game in the Patriots’ stadium has been somewhat of a football involving the NWHL, CWHL and USA Hockey, the governing body for the sport in the United States.

USA Hockey said U.S. women’s national team program members, like Pride players Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker,  won’t be available for the Women’s Classic because they will be attending the last day of training for the World Championships.

Still, Pride defenseman Blake Bolden, the first African-American to play in the WNHL and CWHL, said the outdoor showcase is another milestone for women’s professional hockey.

Boston Pride defenseman Blake Bolden, left, calls the Women's Classic outdoor game between NWHL and CWHL teams a boost for women's hockey (Photo/NWHL).

Boston Pride defenseman Blake Bolden, left, calls the Women’s Classic outdoor game between NWHL and CWHL teams a boost for women’s hockey (Photo/NWHL).

“I think it’s really cool that the Boston Bruins and the Canadiens are playing and we’re playing Les Canadiennes,” she told me. “People are starting to respect the  women’s game more and more. I just hope that it’s televised on Thursday and the nation can see how much effort we put into this sport that we love to play.”

Shannon Szabados isn’t a member of an NWHL or CWHL team, but she’s a pro hockey player who is ending 2015 in style.

Szabados, a goaltender for the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Columbus Cottonmouthsdefeated the Huntsville Havoc, 3-0 in Alabama on Saturday, becoming the first female goalie to record a shutout in a men’s professional match.

Szabodos, an Edmonton native, is in her second season with SPHL. She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning Winter Olympics women’s hockey teams in 2010 and 2014.

 

 

Blake Bolden, Jessica Koizumi bask in a pro league of their own

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It’s in a picture frame hanging on a wall in Blake Bolden’s Boston apartment, the historic and happy reminder that she is indeed a professional hockey player.

Bolden looks at her first paycheck for playing for the Boston Pride of the first-season National Women’s Hockey League from time to time and still can’t believe it.

Boston Pride's Blake Bolden (Photo/Meg Linehan courtesy Blake Bolden)

Boston Pride’s Blake Bolden (Photo/Meg Linehan courtesy Blake Bolden)

Elite female hockey players with professional aspirations finally have a North American league of their own in which they play and get paid. The league consists of four teams –  the Pride, Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, and the New York Riveters.

“It’s still kind of like a pinch me-type feeling,” Bolden said of her paycheck and the league’s inaugural season. “It’s an awesome little reminder of how far we’ve come and the dreams you have when you’re a little girl. It’s surreal.”

At 24, Bolden is a perpetual hockey history-maker. The defenseman was the first African-American player in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League – which doesn’t pay salaries to its players –  as a member of the Boston Blades in the 2013-14 season.

After two seasons with the Blades, Bolden became the NWHL’s first black player when she signed on with the the Pride as a free agent.

“My family likes to kid around, they say ‘Blake, you like to do a lot of firsts.’ I say ‘I’m trying over here,'” she said. “I love when younger black girls come up to me and talk to me. I always give them my contact information because it is a responsibility. I strongly encourage black girls to pick up a stick because hockey consumes me. It’s my favorite thing to do, it’s my home, essentially.”

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Bolden starred for Boston College from 2009-10 to 2012-13 and wore the captain’s “C” for the Eagles women’s hockey team in her senior year. She tallied 27 goals and 56 assists in 138 NCAA hockey contests, ranking her third all-time in scoring among Boston College’s women defensemen.

Bolden said one of the joys of being at BC was playing with Kaliya Johnson, an African-American defenseman who grew up in Los Angeles and Arizona. Johnson is a senior at BC this season and will be eligible for the 2016 NWHL Draft.

Defenseman Blake Bolden is the NWHL's first African-American player and was the Canadian Women's Hockey League's first African-American player (Photo/Meg Linehan courtesy of Blake Bolden)

Defenseman Blake Bolden is the NWHL’s first African-American player and was the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s first African-American player (Photo/Meg Linehan courtesy of Blake Bolden)

“People used to say ‘Oh, the twins,’ not in a disrespectful, racist way,” Bolden said. “It was just funny that we both decided to go to the same school. I love that she went to BC and I was able to play with her for a couple of years.”

Bolden said she never would have become a hockey player had it not been for her mother’s boyfriend, a man she considers a father. He was a hockey enthusiast who worked part-time for the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the old International Hockey League.

“I used to go to all the IHL games in Cleveland,” she recalled. “Because he worked for the team, I used to get to go into the locker room, they (Lumberjacks players) would come to my birthday parties, the mascot would show up everywhere, and I was just totally enthralled. Hockey became my life ever since.”

Forward Jessica Koizumi is another hockey-lifer and NWHL player who framed her first pro paycheck as a keepsake. Probably the best professional hockey player born in Honolulu, she captains the currently undefeated Connecticut Whale.

“I never thought a paid professional hockey league for women would happen in my lifetime and I feel blessed every day I get to put on our jersey,” said Koizumi, who picked up the sport when her family moved to Minnesota and later to California. “Being a part of history in the making is special and I am having a blast.”

Koizumi, aka “Tsunami,” has a prominent place in the NWHL record book as the player who scored the league’s first goal, a power play tally against the Riveters in October.

“Knowing what it stood for was very emotional for me,” she told me. “The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto just asked me to send my stick that I used to score the first goal a few weeks ago. It makes for a very fun trivia question and a neat memory to have.”

Not that Koizumi, 30, is short on hockey memories. She was a member of the United States team that won the Gold Medal at the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championship in China.

She captained the University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s hockey team and is seventh on the school’s career scoring list with 84 goals and 71 assists in 132 NCAA games from 2003-04 to 2006-07.

She helped power the UMD Bulldogs to the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championship game in 2006-07, a 4-1 loss to the rival Wisconsin Badgers.

Like Bolden, Koizumi gravitated to the CWHL after college, playing part-time for the then-called Montreal Stars and the Boston Blades.  She helped lead the Blades to Clarkson Cup championships in 2012-13 and 2014-15.

When not leading the Connecticut Whale, forward Jessica Koizumi is an assistant women's hockey coach at Yale University.

When not leading the Connecticut Whale, forward Jessica Koizumi is an assistant women’s hockey coach at Yale University.

Still, Koizumi views the NWHL as the perfect vehicle to take professional women’s hockey to the next level, especially if the league raises its $270,000 team salary cap to better enable players to devote all their time and energy to the game.

With practice twice a week and one game a weekend, NWHL players juggle hockey with full-time jobs to make ends meet. Koizumi works as an assistant coach for Yale University’s women’s hockey team.

Bolden is employed by Inner City Weightlifting, a non-profit program that provides education and job training in the physical fitness field for Boston’s at-risk residents.

“I would like to see more investors and sponsors supporting our league and keep growing the fan base to make sure it’s sustainable,” Koizumi told me. “I don’t need to get too greedy, but it would be nice to have our salary cap grow so that in due time we can be paid full time and not have to supplement our income with another job.”

Koizumi represented the U.S. at the 2008 IIHF World Women's Championship in China.

Koizumi represented the U.S. at the 2008 IIHF World Women’s Championship in China.

And with success on the ice and at the gate, Koizumi envisions the NWHL expanding to other cities in the not-too-distant future.

“I see franchises growing in Minnesota, Chicago, and possibly Vermont,” she said. “I hope one day we can merge with the CWHL because that would make the most sense having a few Canadian cities in our league.”

The league already embarked on an international adventure when the Riveters traveled to Japan earlier this month to play games against Smile Japan, the country’s national women’s team that competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Smile Japan goaltender Nana Fujimoto, who was named top goaltender at the IIHF tournament, is on the Riveters’ roster.

“This league has built a platform for young girls to aspire to,” Koizumi told me. “It certainly is fun for us players to have fans and young girls aspiring to be like us.”

 

 

 

 

 

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