In professional sports, star-studded all star games usually do not matter very much.
Saturday’s inaugural Canadian Women’s Hockey League All Star Game in Toronto was the complete opposite.
More than 6,800 people attended the game (even more watched on Sportsnet and the NHL Network), which featured 19 Olympians and National team players from all five teams in the CWHL. Team captains were decided by an online vote, and Charline Labonte and Jessica Campbell won the C’s on their sweaters. They held a draft for the first five picks of their teammates, and the rest of the teams were decided by a random stick pull.
Labonte’s red team edged Campbell’s white team, 3-2. All six goaltenders – Labonte, Christina Kessler and Erica Howe for red and Sami Jo Small, Delayne Brian and Genevieve Lacasse for white – each played one period for their teams in the game. Goal scorers included Natalie Spooner and Kelli Stack for white, and Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, Jamie Lee Rattray and Rebecca Johnson scored for team red.
More important than the score of the game, however, was what the game meant for the sport as a whole. The event was an effort to celebrate how far women’s hockey has come, promote the sport, and remind people still how far it has yet to go.
Hilary Knight, two-time Olympic silver medalist and a forward for the Boston Blades, had to take a minute to let the true meaning of the game sink in.
“This All-Star Game is phenomenal for our sport and the CWHL is a great place to compete, especially in a non-Olympic year, to be able to jump in after the Olympics and play. It’s a great competitive spirit and it’s been fun to be part of the All-Star Game,” she said.
Her vision for the future of the sport, Knight said, is that the next generation of women hockey players can cash a paycheck for playing the game.
“I hope that little girl at home watching us is like, ‘I want to be like them, I want to play in the CWHL’ and hopefully by the time she’s this age they get paid the big bucks, those million dollar contracts. But it’s fortunate to have a league to play in and have this high caliber competition.”
Boston Blades Goaltender Genevieve Lacasse agreed with Knight, hoping some young girls were inspired watching the game.
“I hope that a little girl at home sees us, wants to play and when she’s older, she’s getting paid,” said Lacasse. “I hope they think that it’s possible.”
The game also provided an opportunity for the players to have fun and play side-by-side against women they normally consider rivals. It certainly was a rare occasion for Knight to call someone like Natalie Spooner her teammate.
“The best part was being able to play with players you usually go head-to-head against, and having fun. It was a fun atmosphere to compete in,” said Knight. “I think it’s great when, as a U.S. player, you can play with the Canadian girls you’re usually playing in the corner with. It was fun to play with them and I appreciate their skill.”
Lacasse got to support both her Boston Blades teammates and fellow Canadian National Team members between the pipes. It was a time for her to see so many familiar faces join together to celebrate the game.
“Being out there during the Canadian National Anthem was pretty special, hearing the crowd join in, it was a huge moment for women’s hockey,” she said. “There are still a lot of steps to take but it’s a step in the right direction and hopefully we can build on this every year.”