Guardians of the Game

Guardian: a defender, protector, or keeper.

History is being made every time you see these two archrivals take the ice. 

That longtime rivalry has taken on entirely new meaning given the circumstances revolving around the state of the women’s game.

When Team Canada and Team USA do battle it’s always memorable.

Archrivals on the ice, teammates off of it that’s the current dynamic for all these women trying to grow the game and leave a lasting legacy for the next generation. 

The bond and shared responsibility between these two teams is truly awe-inspiring. 

This generation of players like no other have become guardians of the game. 

More Than Just a Rivalry

The impact of Tuesday nights Rivalry Series game in Moncton will be felt for years to come. 

Young aspiring girls from this region watched the best in the world compete at the highest level. 

Game 2 of the Rivalry Series was more than just a rivalry; it was more than just another game. 

Tuesday night’s game will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy on the game in this region.

Five to ten years from now or even sooner, the next generation of young female hockey players may find themselves donning the Maple Leaf for the first time and look back on this series and their time in the Avenir Centre as a monumental moment along their journey.

They will always remember the night they saw their hockey heroes.

The night the torch was passed. 

Team Canada stalwart Natalie Spooner believes events like the Rivalry Series truly transcend the game.

“I think it’s amazing coming out here seeing all the fans,” Spooner said of having the game in the Maritimes.

“To see all the little girls in the stands, that’s really what’s it’s all about,” confessed Spooner.

Team Canada forward Natalie Spooner (24)

“Obviously, we don’t have a women’s professional league right now, but these girls are still able to see us play and dream of being on Team Canada,” admitted Spooner.

“Hopefully they are inspired to play hockey when they get older whether it’s club, or going to university and maybe playing for Team Canada, I think that’s something super special.”

Spooner fondly remembers her experience as a young girl watching the Four Nations Cup in 2001.

That event and experience inspired the kid from Toronto to believe anything is possible in the game.

“That event helped spark my dreams,” Spooner said.

“Hopefully we were able to do that tonight,” confessed Spooner after a tough 2-1 loss to the Americans.

“It’s not every day that these girls are able to watch female hockey players, but it makes it even more exciting being able to come here and play in front them.”

The honour to continue to wear the Maple Leaf isn’t lost on the gritty, skilled veteran power forward. 

“I think every time you put the jersey on it’s an honour, Canada is the best country,” Spooner said. 

“It almost gets sweeter when you put it on and know you are representing Canada,” admitted Spooner. 

“There’s so many girls now that I play with that are so good and so amazing, so it makes so much fun.”

“To see how far women’s hockey has come from when I started on the the national team until now it just keeps getting better and better.”

“That’s the most exciting thing is that hopefully everyone comes out and watches because I think they will be pleasantly surprised just how fast, how physical and skilled the players are.”

How does Natalie Spooner feel about carrying the torch for the game and the next generation?

“There were so many other role models that came before me like the “Caroline Ouellette’s”, the “Hayley Wickenheiser’s” and Jayna Hefford that really did so much for women’s hockey.”

“We are at kind of fork in the road really with women’s hockey and where we can go.”

“I think it’s a scary time, but it’s also an exciting time. Just trying to put that time in and show people how good of a product we have and how amazing athletes are, not just as athletes, but as people as well.” 

“I think that is something that is really special and I hope that’s something that I’ve able to do whether being on some really cool experiences to people to see me as a real person not just a hockey player and to realize that’s more to us.”

“There’s a lot more to us and I think that  people enjoy seeing that and I hopefully that brings more people to the game to see what’s it’s all about and help grow the game of women’s hockey.” 

Spooner and Team Canada teammate Meghan Mikkelson starred in Amazing Race Canada while Spooner was the runner up in this seasons Battle of Blades.

 A Shared Vision and a Changing of the Guard

Amanda Kessel has certainly made a name for herself in the women’s game and is well on her way to super stardom on a very talented and deep United States Women’s National Team. 

Kessel is no stranger to carrying the torch for the women’s game and continues to takes great pride in it. 

“It’s super important,” said Kessel on showcasing the game across North America. 

“I’ve seen the girls that have come before me and all the hard work that they put in to get us to this point,” admitted Kessel. 

“We just have to keep pushing for the generations below us.”

What about the rivalry and the effort to grow the game? 

“There’s a lot of friendships between the teams, but definitely not when it comes to these series. There’s definitely not a lot of talking out there,” Kessel added.

In Kessel’s mind the work is never done. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done. There’s a solid foundation and a lot of people pushing for us and want more, but it takes time so we are doing everything we can as players to continue to grow it,” stressed Kessel. 

Kessel’s journey in the game was definitely shaped by the inner competition between her brothers Blake and Phil.   

 “I think like any other family it was a competition.” 

“It didn’t matter what it was,” admitted Kessel.

“I was lucky to have two older brothers to look up to.” 

“I always wanted to be as good as them and they were older, so I was never quite good enough, so I always pushing to better,” confessed Kessel. 

The competition and rivalry is as fierce as ever between Canada and the United States, but the competition is equally challenging within both squads leading up to the all important World Championships in March which will be another incredible opportunity showcase for the women’s game. 

“It’s a battle,” Kessel said. 

“You can’t really take a day off.” 

“There’s a lot of talent and the margin of error and the difference between one player to the next is very small once you get to this level,” explained Kessel. 

“It truly is a full-time job and commitment, so if you don’t have that passion and work ethic for the sport you’re not going to make it too far.” 

How difficult is it to stay in the present with the World Championships a few months away? 

“Honestly, I’m not thinking about Worlds,” said Kessel. 

“For us the Rivalry Series is a big series for us, it’s made into something and we are super excited to have the opportunity to play five games against Canada outside of Worlds and playing for a trophy and the pride for our country.” 

Team Canada’s Sarah Nurse is part of the next generation of young players who have stepped into the spotlight and truly embraced their role and responsibility to grow the game.

“The crowd here in Moncton was absolutely incredible,” Nurse said. 

“Tons of fans stayed in their seats until we did our salute.”

“It feels great to be home and play in front of our home crowd and it was so loud in here.”

Nurse’s journey to the National Team level has been very memorable. 

“I think wearing the Maple Leaf is such an honour and privilege, but it’s also a responsibility,” confessed Nurse. 

Sarah Nurse (20), of Canada, and Russian athlete Yekaterina Nikolayeva (76) battle for the puck during the first period of the preliminary round of the women’s hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. A seven-year-old Sarah Nurse was at her grandparents’ house watching the Canadian women’s hockey team play for Olympic gold in 2002 when inspiration struck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Frank Franklin II ORG XMIT: CPT501

“We are setting up the next generation to be fantastic hockey players, so we are so excited to have that opportunity this year coming here for the Rivalry Series and coming back to Halifax for World’s.” 

Nurse being one of the younger players on the team is quick to credit all the veterans for their guidance and leadership.

“Coming into this team in 2017 I was kind of behind the eight ball, I was kind of that kid that they didn’t know what they were get or get out of me,” explained Nurse. 

“I’ve been so lucky to have so many veteran players like Meghan Agosta, Marie-Phillip Poulin, Haley Irwin and Laura Fortino were all incredible to me and they have given me the confidence I need to be the player I can be.” 

“They all have made me realize that there is a reason why I am here and there is a reason I have been brought on this journey, so they have been nothing but encouraging and positive influences and incredible leaders,” explained Nurse. 

Similar to the American’s, Team Canada has a fierce inner competition between players that can’t be denied. 

“Absolutely, that’s really the complex thing about the position we are in and I don’t think people realize, but when we go to event to event like this the team changes.” 

“We are constantly trying out, even at the World Championships which is kind of like the end of our season, we are still trying out, because they are looking to build their team for each Olympic quad,” said Nurse. 

“That’s the complex thing, as we go through this year we need to the little positives out of every experience.” 

“We came into this event and we lost two games, it’s kind of unacceptable and we want to be better, but they are positives that we can take out of this game.” 

“Our last forty minutes of hockey was great and we need to have our first twenty minutes match that.” 

As for Nurse and her journey with Team Canada, what does she feel she has to do to continue to be effective and contribute? 

“For me it’s about consistency and having confidence.”

“I’ve really blossomed as a player in these last few years and I think I’m a pretty versatile player, you can put me up and down in the line up.” 

“I think I can play in any role, and I think that’s pretty valuable to any coaching staff so I’m just looking to contribute in any role that they want to give me,” explained Nurse. 

Talented and versatile on and off the ice. That’s Sarah Nurse.

The well spoken mature twenty-four year old continues to embrace the role as an ambassador for the game and role model for young girls.

Where does Nurse see the game going with so many players carrying the torch and the changing of the guard so to speak in the women’s game? 

“It’s absolutely on the upswing,” Nurse said confidently. 

“The momentum coming out of the 2014 and 2018 Olympics we are going up.” 

“It’s been absolutely amazing with all the support and the visibility we are starting to get, it’s better than it’s ever has been and we only want to increase that, we want to bring the game to absolutely everybody.”

“We want the game to touch everyone or at least have the opportunity to see it.” 

“It’s hard when we are playing these games and people don’t see it and they don’t get to understand what we are doing.” 

“We want to bring the game, all over the world.” 

Spoken like a true young guardian of the game. 

United States Asst. Captain Hilary Knight said it best when asked about the current dynamic between archrivals and a shared responsibility to grow the game.  

“I don’t think that dynamic is difficult,” Knight said. 

“I think we are all in the same position, obviously when the puck drops we are on different sides of the ice and we need to do our job to make sure we come out with the “W” at the end of the night, but away from the ice we are all ambassador’s of the game and guardians essentially of the next generation.” 

“We really want to push the game and leave it better than when we found it.”

The Rivalry Series and upcoming World Championships in Halifax in March are larger than the game. 

History is being made every time you see Team USA and Team Canada take the ice. 

The Rivalry Series and the World Championships are an opportunity for these amazing athletes and guardians of the game to showcase their talents while representing their country. Nevertheless, these protectors, defenders and keepers of the game continue to use every platform available to elicit change for the next generation of young girls dreaming of their own professional hockey glory. 

Guardian: a defender, protector, or keeper

Guardian(s): Team Canada and Team USA 

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