From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

How ice skating and ice hockey helped me become the happiest version of myself

From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

People who live within reach of ice often find themselves at odds with its creeping, heat-sapping fingers. Ice isn’t the most hospitable. Or the most helpful. Or even preventable. In truth, ice is quite a nuisance.

I suppose you could say people have a complex relationship with ice. I, for one, certainly did.

Growing up in Southern California, ice activities were a kitschy luxury — something you did when you wanted to avoid the pretense of enjoying the beach. Figure skaters were folk tales, and hockey was just something Canadians did, maybe.

When I arrived at university in the heat of August, I had no idea of the icy wonderland Toronto would become. As it turned out, ice was waiting patiently for me on the periphery. With a dangerous combination of my friends, the True North Strong and Free, and some sheer dumb luck, ice moved from the sidelines to straight under my sweaty, nervous feet in skates.

One fateful week in late November, my friends, as good, Instagramming university students, formally requested we go to Nathan Phillips Square. Any normal Art History specialist might have jumped at the photo op, but me? I was scared stiff.

In the past, my wide feet and more mediocre friends had made me feel as though I could not be ‘good’ at ice skating. It’s difficult to ignore old insecurities, and my anxieties tripped into a conviction that I just couldn’t do it. I told myself that I was going to fail before I even tried, but both my friends and the ice were having none of that.

Even though I could barely balance without someone holding me up, my friends ever so gently took my fear in their hands, ripped it straight out of my chest, and made me skate over it, again and again. By the end, I couldn’t imagine not being on the ice. Frozen water had actually convinced me that I was good enough.

This was my first change to who I was in years.

From there, it all just snowballed perilously out of control. I saw my first Varsity Blues ice hockey game against the Queen’s Gaels — and got a puck, no less! — and fell in love instantly. The 2017–2018 school year then became both my first year in university and my first year as a hockey fan. Who knew sports could be fun?

Just like ice skating, I had always told myself sports weren’t my thing. I was never very athletic or physical. Soccer, volleyball, and — God forbid — baseball, never really did it for me. But when I watched my first ice hockey game?

Oh, man.

Remember the first time you listened to your favourite song? Or how it feels when you see someone you really love? Or when a movie makes you weep tears of joy? I felt like a little kid again. It had highs and lows, drama, fights, passion, and some sick jerseys. And plastic discs flying at the speed of cars in school zones!

And my new friend, ice.

Ice skating had instilled a sense of confidence in me that I didn’t know I could have, and ice hockey provided me with a community that I didn’t know I could belong to. In an odd way, ice allowed me to become my favourite version of myself.

Ice is that annoying little sibling that we wish to get away from but also can’t stand to leave entirely. Of course, it might cause you to slip in the middle of Queen’s Park right in front of a really cute guy, but it can also turn your lemonade into a delicacy and a boring winter’s day into a crystallized miracle.

So, if you’re in the area, take my advice and stop by some ice. Shoot the breeze! Live a little! Who knows, it might just change your life.

Take it from me, ice certainly isn’t all it seems to be.

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union offer helping hand

Sarnia’s Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen hockey team receive support

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union offer helping hand

All it takes is one phone call. Earlier this month, the annual Little Native Hockey League took place in Mississauga. The league, which is for First Nation youth, consists of 209 teams and approximately 3,000 players. One team in particular caught the attention of the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) at the University of Toronto: Sarnia’s Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen.

The Hitmen are a hockey team based out of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario. As a youth hockey team, they don’t receive a lot of funding. One of their coaching staff made a call for support, prompting the ISSU to take action. One of the union’s coordinators, Joshua Bowman, decided to lend a helping hand.

“They reached out to us for community connections and financial stability to see if we could make something happen,” said Bowman. With the help of the ISSU, the boys were able to afford teamwear and even have a party after the tournament.

As long-time fans of the Little Native Hockey League, Bowman and the members of the union felt that supporting the Hitmen was more than just an act of kindness. They hoped their actions could have an impact on Indigenous youth and groups in Canada.

“It’s a great opportunity for Indigenous children to flourish in an environment that’s designed for them,” said Bowman. The tournament seeks to provide players with skills such as fair play and sportsmanship, which will bring success on and off the rink. “It also makes the Indigenous youth proud to be from their communities and a culture that has historically been disenfranchised from them,” he added.

Bowman described the union’s collaboration with the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen as a success. “I just remember when I was a kid playing sports, getting a team jacket was like no other feeling quite like it. Walking around my school and showing everybody my team I played with, the group of friends that I had, just means that much more,” said Bowman.

For Bowman and his peers, bringing a little light to the kids’ day was a great reward. “In the end the impact was seeing the smile on their faces.”

Bowman added that this positive impact can help create pride in the kids’ identity, because in “a lot of educational institutions, such as ours, people have been made to feel ashamed of their identities.”

The ISSU, which is a course union under the Faculty of Arts and Science Students’ Union, strives to foster “respectful relationships within and beyond the membership in the spirit of the Indigenous values of friendship and community.” They provide services and support students who need a helping hand on campus and hold events, such as the annual Pow Wow, which brought in more than hundreds of spectators and volunteers. One of their goals is to make the University of Toronto a place where Indigenous peoples can feel accepted.

The ISSU exemplifies how people can come together and appreciate one another’s cultures. Still, there’s a lot of work yet to be done in order to create true equality. “There are media outlets everywhere that love to paint Indigenous people in a negative light, and it’s because of this Indigenous people are politically, socially and economically marginalized,” said Bowman.

Giving students, and more importantly, children, a chance to showcase their talents is necessary first step.

“We are just providing a platform for those voices to be heard, so by helping the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen and doing more events like these it’s a step in the right direction.”

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Blues women’s hockey captain talks memories, advice, and moving on

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Fifth-year Varsity Blues women’s hockey captain Rebecca Bourgeois recently completed her last season and played her final game in a blue and white jersey. As a Blues field hockey player, I was interested in learning her perspective on the student-athlete experience, being a role model, and moving on from her varsity team.

Bourgeois started this season knowing it would be her last. Five years felt like both a long and a short time for her. “I came in knowing I was going to do five years,” she said. “I don’t look back at being a rookie and think [that was] yesterday because that was a long time ago, but I’ll think back to instances like my first goal, or like a time in playoffs, or something that we did I’ll be like, ‘Oh wow, that was three years ago.’”

Over her five-year career, Bourgeois saw many of her close friends and teammates graduate, experiences she said helped her prepare for her final season. She remembered playing in her first grad game and the motivation she felt to play hard for her veteran teammates. “You see the emotions of them through those experiences, so it does prepare you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less nostalgic or bittersweet when it does come.”

Though she knew her varsity career would end this winter, “it’s still a shock, and it’s still sad.”

Playing Varsity Blues hockey was about more than just athletics and academics. Especially in her upper years, she realized her position as a role model for her teammates and also for the community. She looked up to varsity players while growing up in Ottawa. “I remember going to university games… and being like, ‘Wow, these are pretty much professional athletes’ and getting signatures — and now kids come and we sign papers for them. It’s cool to have that platform to be able to do meaningful things.”

This year, Bourgeois and her teammates cooked a meal for Ronald McDonald House. Through this experience, she saw the impact her team could have on the community. “It was nice that we had a group… We had the resources of twenty-five people and our coaching staff and Varsity Blues program.”

As one of the captains of the field hockey team, I was curious about what Bourgeois thought of her position as captain on the ice and how her leadership role impacted her. She explained that as one of two graduating players, she felt she was in a leadership role anyway since she’d “been around the block a few times.”

For Bourgeois, being captain allowed her to “take on a larger role and responsibility.” She noted that at first it was a bit difficult to strike a manageable balance, “making sure you still take care of yourself while you’re trying to take care of other things, facilitate other people, and other plans.” The opportunity helped her get closer to her teammates, coaches, and support staff while learning about all the work that goes into a successful team.

Over time, Bourgeois became more comfortable wearing the ‘C.’ She added that it’s the thing her parents are most proud of and joked that her dad always tells people, “My daughter is captain of the U of T hockey team.” Even though she appreciates the honour of her title, she said she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Letter or not, captain or not, I think I would have done the exact same things and still have been just as involved with the team.”

Since I still have two seasons left to play, I asked Bourgeois if she had any advice on making the most of my final seasons with the Blues. She told me never to wish anything away, especially the hard times, “because at the end of the day you would give anything to get back to that.” She explained that sometimes, especially during difficult moments like midterms or fitness testing, it’s easy to just try to get through it. “Appreciate even the things that are tougher to appreciate. Take it all in and soak in as much as you can from the experience and be ready to transition out of it at the end.”

Looking ahead, she’s excited to take her next step. She explained that though she doesn’t like to plan things too heavily, she will be continuing her studies in archaeology at graduate school. She’s “excited to have the time to figure out exactly what [she’s] going to do with [her] life.” Though hockey won’t be the focal point of her week anymore, she will continue to play recreationally.

Bourgeois plans to stay involved with her team even after she graduates, keeping in touch with her teammates, watching games, and visiting on alumni nights. “I know the support I felt from our alumni that I played with. They all came back for my last game and it was really special — I hope I can do that for my teammates in the future.” When asked about a hope she has for her team, she explained that though winning championships would be great, those are superficial wants. Overall, what she really wants for her team is “to be able to live the experience that they want while they’re here.”

On our team, we always say, “You want to leave the team in a better spot than you found it.” Though her team doesn’t express it the same way we do, the desire to make a positive impact was always on her mind. “If you’re there and you’re committed, then you want to make an impact. I think that was my aim and I hope I accomplished it,” she said.

Overall, Bourgeois’ varsity hockey career has been extremely important to her. She achieved her lifelong dream of playing intercollegiate hockey while also discovering all the other things she wants to do. She’s also met “some of [her] best lifelong friends” in what she calls “the most pivotal chunk of [her] life.”

Bittersweet final regular season home game for Blues women

Blues women’s hockey team falls to Gaels 3–1

Bittersweet final regular season home game for Blues women

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team surrendered a close 3–1 match against the Queen’s Gaels on Friday night.

The last home game of the regular season marked grad night, a special occasion for graduating players Rebecca Bourgeois and Katey Teekasingh. Both players were honoured in a pre-game ceremony.

The Blues drew first blood as Breanna Berndsen found an open space in the slot and capitalized, scoring in the first period and giving Toronto a 1–0 lead. The Gaels still managed to create more opportunities on offense, leading 10–7 shots on goal after the first period. Blues goalie Madeline Albert finished the night with a save percentage of 0.905, stopping 19 of 21 shots.

Despite scoring on Gaels goalie Stephanie Pascal in the first period, the Blues failed to get the puck past her for the rest of the game. Pascal was sensational, saving an impressive 22 of 23 shots.

The second period turned sloppy for the Blues as they committed unfortunate penalties, providing the Gaels with the chance to take the lead. Blues player Stephanie Ayres was called for holding, which Queen’s capitalized on. The Gaels’ Katrina Manoukarakis, who is the Ontario University Athletics’ second leading scorer, immediately scored just six seconds into the power play, tying the game. Late in the second period, Manoukarakis found the back of the net again to give the Gaels their first lead.

Toronto failed to score in the final period despite having five more shots. Queen’s forward Jessica Wakefield scored an empty netter that went off of Blues defender Julia Szulewska, extending the lead to 3–1 and ending any hopes of a comeback.

“I loved every minute of it,” said Blues captain Rebecca Bourgeois when asked of her time as a Varsity Blue. “I’ve sat through a lot of these grad ceremonies and I’m so thankful that I had all my friends here for this one. I really enjoyed my five years here and everyone who has come through during that time.”

“We’re really just focusing on playing the full 60 minutes. Queen’s is a good team and I think we‘ve had a good run, but… we just need to focus on the little things and I think we’re well set-up for the future,” said Bourgeois.

With the loss, the Blues drop to a 13-8-2 record and fall to the fifth seed in a tight playoff race.

“I think definitely we want to make a run at it as far as we can. We’re aiming for that OUA banner… We’re going to go into it with pride and hopefully we’re going to play that way and come out successful,” said Bourgeois.

Toronto will finish their regular season on the road against the York Lions on February 16.

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

Blues head coach talks coaching and Olympics

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

As the 2018 Winter Olympics draw near, University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey head coach Vicky Sunohara reflects on the highs and lows of competing in the Olympics.

Twenty years ago, as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team, Vicky Sunohara lost to the United States in the inaugural women’s hockey tournament during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Sunohara says she was devastated after losing that hockey game, a combination of not only the magnitude of the event but the personal importance playing in Japan meant to her.

Sunohara’s first Olympic experience brought her closer to home in a familial sense. The extended family of her late father — who passed away when she was only seven — lived just 80 kilometres away from where the games were being held.

“I encountered many family members and relatives [who] I didn’t even know existed. It was just pretty special to be there and it’s just funny how things happen,” says Sunohara.

Sunohara rebounded four years later, as Canada beat the United States in the gold medal game in Salt Lake City. The lead up to the 2002 Winter Olympics was a challenging one for Canada — who lost eight straight exhibition games to the Americans, not to mention that the games were held five months after 9/11, adding to the already heightened importance of the event. The taxing journey, however, made the end result all the more special for Sunohara.

“There were so many things that were a part of our journey that were difficult to manage,” recalls Sunohara. She describes the experience of beating the defending champions at home, as “a great experience, and very special.”

Sunohara returned with Canada for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, an Olympics she knew, deep down, would be her last. That year, she played on a line affectionately nicknamed the ‘Old Dogs’ alongside Cassie Campbell and Danielle Goyette, two other veteran players and Canadian legends in their own right. The fact that it was her last Olympics made everything feel all the more special.

The tournament marked a big year for the growth of women’s hockey; Canada defeated Sweden for gold, breaking up the prospect of a third consecutive Canada-US gold medal final, as the United States instead earned bronze.

In Italy, Sunohara was surrounded by her teammates and family. While her last Olympics would be memorable no matter what, Canada winning their second consecutive gold medal was the perfect ending to her Olympic career.

“I wanted the moment to kind of stand still,” she explains.

Sunohara brings the lessons learned from her Olympic experiences with her everywhere she goes, from her hockey camp in Whitby, Ontario to her current role as head coach of the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. “Those Olympic values are what we hold here at the University of Toronto,” she says.

Sunohara believes in teaching what she defines as “Olympic values,” naming integrity, accountability, and commitment as a few key traits. “It’s more than just teaching a wrist shot or slap shot; it’s teaching the team, it’s teaching anybody that I have the opportunity to be in contact with those Olympic values.”

It’s a big responsibility to pass these values on, but it’s one that she’s happy to have. Being able to share her experiences with young players is one of the reasons that she became a coach. As she got older and felt less able to compete at the highest level, she turned to coaching and found that she loved it. “It was a whole different side of how I looked at the game and what I’ve done and what I can do.”

Sunohara has coached and mentored players at a variety of ages and skill levels, from national-level camps down to kids who just want to make their local rep team, and she finds it all gratifying.

“I felt it rewarding, being able to give back and to help these younger players possibly experience the dreams that I lived.” She tries to instil in her players more than just skills, and through Olympic values also endeavours to “teach them to be better people.”

The Blues have had an up and down season. Despite this, Sunohara feels that by pacing themselves, they’ll have a shot at the playoffs.

“We’re talking about having a playoff mentality right now,” she adds. “Every game is important.”

With the NHL opting not to send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, there is potential for more focus to be centred on the women’s hockey tournament. Media coverage can be hugely influential in sports — Sunohara remembers what it was like following the inclusion of women’s hockey in the Olympics in 1998 and the boom of female registration that this inclusion in the media created. “I want to say 200 per cent or something, registration grew.”

As women’s hockey continues to grow, the focus turns to keeping girls involved in the game as they get older. For Sunohara, the key to continued involvement lies in creating opportunities for female coaches and mentors in the game.

Since Sunohara has started coaching in Ontario University Athletics, she believes that more female coaches have become involved, a step in the right direction. For her, it all comes back to the league creating the opportunities.

“The opportunity to teach, an opportunity to coach, to teach skills. I think that that definitely will keep females involved in the game.”

Recent Varsity Blues captain and U of T graduate Alessandra Bianchi highlights the success of the Blues women’s hockey program. Bianchi was selected by the Toronto Furies in the 11th round of the 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Draft.

Sunohara takes pride in Bianchi’s growth but understands that playing hockey at the next level won’t be the case for all of her players.

“It’s really cool,” comments Sunohara. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of it… it’s not just playing hockey at the next level, it’s seeing what they do and how they’ve gone on and started their careers.”

Ahead of Pyeongchang, Sunohara is excited by the prospect of the tournament. She highlights Canada’s decision to play in a midget-triple A boys’ league in Alberta as a key part of the team’s preparation, especially for the United States. In order for the team to win their fifth straight gold medal, Canada must first deal with the speed and skill of America’s high-powered offense, led by Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel. Sunohara notes that goaltending has been one of the team’s biggest strengths, a key factor that may prove the difference for Canada.

“From goaltending up, they’ve got speed, talent, depth. I think they really think that in the exhibition games they had to figure out the speed and the skill of the Americans… and their offense.”

Women’s hockey has grown exponentially since 1998, and Sunohara, who sits on the board of directors for the CWHL, is looking toward the future. This year, the CWHL is paying its players a salary, something that Sunohara says the league is trying to implement in the right way. In terms of the future, she is optimistic that there are enough players and talent to create one professional league where currently there are many, with the CWHL and the US-based National Women’s Hockey League among them.

“We’ve got to find a way to have all the best players playing, and I think that we could have a very successful professional league, and perhaps be part of the NHL.”

“I think that those things are coming… I believe that it’s a matter of time.”

Blues defeat Voyageurs for fourth straight win

Chao, Straatman, and Roache all score to beat Laurentian

Blues defeat Voyageurs for fourth straight win

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team skated out with a win on Friday night at Varsity Arena after defeating the Laurentian Voyageurs. Many Toronto players displayed strength and skill in the 3–0 victory, with goaltender Madeline Albert gaining a shutout. But their teamwork was also key: the Blues’ ability to rely on each other made all the difference.

Toronto took the early lead, finding the back of the net seven minutes into the game. Defenseman Cristine Chao scored the power play goal, and Gabrielle De Serres earned the assist.

After Toronto took the one-goal lead, both teams had some great scoring chances, but no further goals were scored by the end of the first frame. Toronto’s defense kept the puck under control and after the first period allowed only four shots on net. Laurentian came out strong in the second period and changed the pace in search for the victory. The Blues quickly matched their level with outstanding plays and saves.

Toward the end of the second period and with 21 seconds left, Toronto’s leading scorer, Kassie Roache, committed a penalty putting the Voyageurs on power play that would carry into the third period. Toronto’s work ethic as a team prevailed even while one player down. Although under pressure, they were able to keep the 1–0 lead as they ended the second period, with thanks going especially to rookie goalie Albert, who made key saves.

Despite being a player down at the start of the third period, the Blues fought hard to keep their lead, and once the fifth player was out of the penalty box and back on the ice, most of the game action was spent in Voyageur territory. The nerves behind having only a one-goal lead showed in the energy of the crowd and in the Blues’ work ethic and strategies. It was evident that they wanted the win as they fought down to every last second.

The Voyageurs subbed out goaltender Dolighan for Karen Collins, while captain Ellery Veerman continued her team’s strong defensive play to prevent the Blues from scoring in the opening minutes of the third period. However, the Blues eventually found their way around the Voyageurs’ defense as Lauren Straatman added a second goal eight minutes into the third.

Following the second goal, the Blues found their confidence and dominated possession of the puck. Collins carried Laurentian’s defense, making some key stops in the period, but Toronto’s forwards continued to string together scoring opportunities and quickly found the back of the net, less than two minutes after Straatman’s goal. This time it was Roache who scored, finding Collins’ weak spot to increase Toronto’s lead to 3–0.

Toward the end of period, possession evened out and the two teams were neck and neck with their shots on goal. With two minutes left in the game, Laurentian continued their attack, although they were still unable to score on Albert. They fought hard, but it was evident that they had run out of time, despite the valiant comeback effort they attempted. Now, almost in the last minute of play, Voyageurs forward Annie Sheridan committed a crucial slashing penalty, providing the Blues with a power play and effectively ending any hope the Voyageurs had of making an improbable comeback.

With seconds left, Toronto was able to maintain complete possession of the puck, and when the final buzzer went off, the team had succeeded. After launching 20 shots on goal, the Blues won with a final score of 3–0, sending the Voyageurs packing with nothing.

Blues men’s hockey triumph in third straight home ice win

Ryan Kirkup nets game-winning goal

Blues men’s hockey triumph in third straight home ice win

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey’s 4–3 win against the Ryerson Rams on Saturday marks the team’s third straight home ice victory. Toronto lost an early lead but came back to beat the Rams for the first time this season.

The Blues took the lead two minutes into the game, when defenseman Corey Jackson registered a quick slap shot from high slot. Halfway through the first period, the Blues looked to improve on their power-play — ranked 19th in the OUA — after the Rams were called for too many men.

Failing to score on their first power play due to Ryerson’s speed and ability to close down space, Toronto went back on the power play with four minutes remaining in the first period. A shot from Blues forward Matt Campagna was robbed by the stick of a diving Rams goaltender Taylor Dupuis with only a few seconds left in a one-man advantage.

Campagna opened the second period scoring off a scramble in front of the Ryerson goal in the second minute of play, marking his third goal of the weekend. Following the goal, the physical game opened up, with hits from Charlie Connell, Justin Brand, and Corey Jackson exciting the players on both benches.

Eight minutes into the second period, Ryerson forward Erik DeLaurentis fired a shot over the shoulder of first-year Blues goalie Frederic Foulem to open the scoring for the Rams. Ryerson then added two quick goals later in the period: in the 13th minute, Steven Harlan dogged a sprawling Blues defender and rifled the puck into the top of the net and, two minutes later, Aaron Armstrong capitalized on a scrambling Toronto penalty kill to put the Rams up 3–2.

Nearing the end of the period, Blues forward Connor Bebb rushed the Rams net, narrowly missing but drawing a penalty. On the power play, Hunter Atchison beat a sliding Dupuis to tie the game at three with two minutes remaining in the second period — a key goal for the Blues, disrupting the Rams’ momentum heading into the second intermission.

The third period began with quick end-to-end passing and strong defense by both teams. Seven minutes into the period, the Blues stole the puck and in a four-on-two rush, Hunter Atchison dropped the puck to Ryan Kirkup, who found the net with a shot under the arm of Dupuis.

As the clock wound down, Ryerson rallied to find a goal; Blues defender Willy Paul made a clutch shot block with three minutes to go. Rams head coach Jonny Duco pulled Dupuis with 50 seconds to go, but the Blues held on to win the game 4–3.

The Blues return to home ice this weekend hosting the Guelph Gryphons on January 26, and they will also host a rematch against the Rams on January 27.

The journey of a professional women’s hockey player

Toronto Furies forward Danielle Gagne talks her life on and off the ice

The journey of a professional women’s hockey player

The faint scent of stale hockey equipment emanates from Danielle Gagne’s bag. It’s an aroma that, while generally unpleasant, can trigger memories of past victories and dressing rooms. Gagne admits the smell could be far worse, alluding to her swollen left ankle visible above her low-top sneaker.

“I wish I would’ve hurt it doing something cool, it was the stupidest thing, we were doing a warmup for CrossFit, we were doing hurdles, and I was clearing them all no problem,” she says. “I didn’t jump as hard, and it was just that stupid thing that my toe clipped it, it landed, and I landed and I immediately felt like I was going to throw up because it hurt so bad.”

“I’m tough, I don’t cry,” she adds.

In mid-November, the Toronto Furies boasted a .500 record ahead of their two-week trip to China. The 2017–2018 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) season marks the first time in the league’s history that players will be paid, a step forward made possible by an influx of cash from new sponsorships and the league’s new Chinese teams, the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays. Still, the salaries — ranging from $2,000–$10,000 — don’t provide a livable wage. As a result, Gagne works full-time at a software company in her hometown of Bolton, Ontario.

In her second season with the Furies, Gagne has steadily grown into her role, developing a brand of confidence that only comes from hard work and overcoming adversity. Her first CWHL career goal came in a 4–2 loss to the Boston Blades. “I still can’t believe it took me that long to score, but I’m glad I finally broke down that mental block in my head,” she says.

The journey that changed her life

Despite hockey’s place at Gagne’s core, it’s not everything in her life. She defines the 4K for Cancer bike ride across America she endured in 2015 as the most important moment of her life. Gagne began the ride with the intention of honouring her late grandfathers, who both died of cancer. That all changed eight months from the start of her trek, when she learned her then-three-year-old cousin Otis Spencer had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

“My cousin Alex, they have three kids… and ended up having [another child] Darius when Otis was in the hospital going through chemo,” she says. “It’s always nice to celebrate him because he’s an amazing kid and my inspiration.”

The daunting ride presented Gagne with a daily opportunity to triumph over adversity. The Baltimore to San Francisco route saw her bike up and over the Rocky Mountains and sleep on an air mattress on various church floors in Nebraska. She even got lost for eight hours in the Oregon desert.

“We were so dehydrated, I felt drunk for the next two days and I got so sick, but that was the worst part. Everything else was awesome,” she adds.

“Everything we ate for the whole trip was based on donations, so we’d go to restaurants and asked if they’d give us food,” she says. “Utah was beautiful… I remember the biggest incline was 15 per cent, and you’d have to keep moving because you’d fall over.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE GAGNE

“The day that my bike ride ended, [Otis] was said to be clear as of that day, which was the weirdest coincidence ever,” she says. “I just started bawling my eyes out.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE GAGNE

Teammates that inspire

Each CWHL franchise has felt the effects of Hockey Canada’s Olympic centralization ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. Natalie Spooner, Erin Ambrose, and Renata Fast are all absent from the Furies. A combination of factors contribute to the Furies’ 11-game winless streak, but it mostly stems from their inability to score — the team is second from last in the league in goals scored.

Toronto has also struggled to find the back of the net in the absence of Spooner, the team’s leading goal-scorer with 13 in the 2016–2017 season. Alongside Olympic captain Marie Philip-Poulin and fellow alternate captain Brianne Jenner, Spooner serves as one of the faces of women’s hockey in Canada. This time of year, Spooner’s image can be found on cereal boxes as Canada’s women’s hockey team is poised to earn its fifth consecutive Olympic gold next month.

Spooner’s talent and leadership isn’t new to Gagne, who played alongside her during her freshman year at Ohio State. “She’s just unbelievable,” recalls Gagne. “I remember being at U18 tryouts for Team Canada and she was U22 at the time, and she had the highest score for strength and one of the highest scores for cardio. That’s unheard of.”

The college experience

The warmth in Gagne’s voice increases as she reflects on the people she’s played with during her collegiate career. “God, she’s so fast,” she whispers, referring to the speed of Amanda Kessel, the former Minnesota Golden Gophers star who routinely terrorized Ohio State.

The only time Gagne defeated Minnesota was via a nine-round shootout in early 2014, a miraculous result that upset a high-ranking program. The win earned her team a shoutout from ESPN’s SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross and a place on the network’s top 10 college plays of the week.

The Buckeyes celebrated with ice cream and milkshakes at Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown, while Kessel — absent from the Minnesota roster — was training with the US national team ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

“We were pumped, I don’t think we got undressed for about 45 minutes we were just running around the dressing room,” she laughs. “Minnesota was always the worst because you always thought, ‘Yeah we’re ready,’ and they’d just come and kick your ass so bad.”

Gagne says that every game against the University of North Dakota (UND) was competitive, mentioning in particular her experience battling against the Lamoureux twins.

“One time I went for a Hail Mary breakaway pass, [one of the twins] caught it and tried to bring it down, and I should’ve gotten a penalty for this, but I two-handed her in the arm and the puck went through her legs, and I picked it up went on a breakaway and scored, so that was unreal.”

She questions UND’s decision to cut its women’s hockey program last March, a program that developed a wave of Olympians, including the Lamoureux twins, who contributed to its initial stardom both transferring to UND in 2010 and after their freshman season at Minnesota.

“Again that goes toward helping women’s hockey grow, just kidding, we don’t want you at our school anymore,” adds Gagne. “[UND] women’s hockey is top five in the nation every year but they had to cut it… But the men’s program is still there.”

Gagne couldn’t imagine a life without hockey. She admits she cried when she visited Ohio State’s campus in early November, overwhelmed by the incredible memories she made over her four years in Columbus.