Hayley Wickenheiser at CFB Halifax

Hayley Wickenheiser, a former member of the National Women’s Hockey Team and 5 time Olympic medalist, stands with members of the CFB Halifax Women’s Hockey Team for a picture before the 15th Annual Sports Recognition Breakfast on May 17.
Photo : Cpl Tony Chand, FIS Halifax

Hockey hero Hayley Wickenheiser says athletes can learn from the CAF

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

As a five-time Olympic medallist and Canadian hockey icon, Hayley Wickenheiser has reached the peak of the athletic world on numerous occasions through her 23 years on the ice for Team Canada. But as she spoke to a room of MARLANT athletes and other DND community members on May 17, she explained how the CAF has been a surprisingly consistent presence through her athletic career.

From her first Olympic experience in 1998 through to her final season with Team Canada, Wickenheiser said she’s become a veteran of “boot camps” held at CAF bases across the country to help whip the team into shape. The athletes benefit not just from the intense exercise, she said, but also from the exposure to the men and women of the military and being able to draw inspiration from the CAF culture.

“A big part of what’s shaped us at Hockey Canada and what we’ve been able to do with the women’s team has come from the experience we had being in the military environment, with the structure, teamwork, rigour and discipline that goes into your job. That’s what we’re trying to do with hockey.”

And now, that military connection seems set to grow even stronger, with her teenage son Noah, already a dedicated Army Cadet, planning to apply to RMC and pursue a career with the CAF. Noah hasn’t always been the biggest hockey fan, but she said they connect through a shared appreciation of the CAF and that she’s immensely proud of the path he’s chosen.

“It’s very personal for me to be here today, and even a little bit emotional, because I look out at all of you in uniform and think about the potential of my son being in that same place a few years from now.”

The Olympian was the special guest at the CFB Halifax Sports Recognition Breakfast, held each year to recognize the achievements of MARLANT’s top athletes, as well as to honour the support of those who help make CAF Fitness and Sports programs a success. She delivered a keynote speech and stuck around for chats and gold-medal selfies with hockey fans afterward.

Wickenheiser was a presence on the national team for more than two decades, but the most vivid memory in many minds comes from her role on the 2014 team that took gold at the Sochi Winter Olympics, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win in dramatic overtime fashion against the United States. There are lessons in tenacity and perseverance to be learned from Canada’s fourth-straight Olympic win, she said, describing a tough preparation for the games that involved the women’s team suffering multiple injuries, losing their head coach, and racking up losses through the year as they prepared for Sochi.

Despite all that, and despite being down two goals with only 10 minutes left in regulation time, the team pulled together for the gold-medal victory.

“I’m a big believer in being able to win under any circumstances and in any conditions, that you don’t need ideal conditions and perfect resources to have success and get the job done. We learned that in Sochi and I think it’s something the people in this room might know better than anyone,” she said.

Sports Breakfast award recipients and nominees
For Formation Sports programs, the COTW award went to NFS(A), formerly CFNES, for the second year in a row, while the COTF award went to the currently deployed HMCS St.John’s. For Shearwater, FDU(A) continued their streak of victories, again being awarded the Wing Cup for 2017. Awards were also handed out for Intersection Hockey, being awarded to RPOS(H) in Division C, FDU(A) in Division B, and Fleet Club Atlantic in Division A. The Fleet Club Slackers were also recognized for their 24-3 victory over the Wardroom at the 47th Annual Mini Grey Cup in 2016.

Base and Wing teams were recognized for their work and time commitments competing at Regional and National Championship tournaments, with Formation Halifax teams taking 8 of 11 regional titles for the 2016/2017 season in ball hockey, men’s slo-pitch, men’s soccer, old timer’s hockey, men’s basketball, women’s hockey, and women’s volleyball. The Halifax ball hockey, men’s basketball and men’s soccer clubs also each went on to win silver medals at CAF National Championships.

At the individual level, a number of athletes were honoured for representing MARLANT at national CAF events, including WO Charlene Arsenault and Lt(N) Michael Bergeron for CAF National Running – 1st place female senior half marathon and 1st place male open marathon, and Capt Zachary Zeiler and Capt Stephanie Dennis for CAF National Swimming – Capt Zeiler took gold in the Open 100m Breaststroke, while Capt Dennis won gold in both the 200m IM and 400m Freestyle events.

For the CAF Sports Hall of Fame Honour Roll, two individuals were honoured for being inducted at the 2016 ceremony in Ottawa. Lt(N) Will Sarty was inducted for his arm-wrestling accomplishments, including 15 national titles, while LCdr (Ret’d) Ivor Axford was inducted for his important role as part of the champion Shearwater Flyers Football Team from 1952 to 1957.

The nominees for Environmental Awards, with a chance to be nominated for this year’s National CAF Sports Award Ceremony, were also revealed at the breakfast. The MARLANT Male Athlete of the Year was Lt(N) Cody Brown, a standout on the men’s basketball team, while the female Athlete of the Year was PO2 Beth Fellows for her success in military and civilian triathlon events. The Coach of the Year honour went to CWO Vincent Bazinet, coach of the Shearwater Men’s Slo-Pitch team, Shearwater Men’s Hockey Team, and Formation Halifax Women’s Hockey team in 2016. Sgt (Ret’d) Jean-Yves Caouette was named Official of the Year, after serving as CAF Atlantic Region Umpire in Chief for both slo-pitch and curling, and also officiating a number of civilian events in 2016. The 2016 MARLANT Team of the Year was the Halifax Men’s Soccer team for their gold-medal Regional win and silver medal at Nationals.
 Another team award, the Alexander Keith’s trophy presented by Labatt Breweries, went to the CFB Halifax Men’s Basketball Team, winners of multiple National medals in recent years, and undefeated in CAF Regional play for an astounding 15 years in a row.

And finally, the CFB Halifax Dedication Award was awarded to longtime PSP Halifax staff member Rocky Thorne, a former PO1 in the RCN. Thorne has spent his civilian years giving back to the CAF sports community, notably coaching the CFB Halifax Women’s Hockey team and running his free Saturday night hockey clinics for CAF members, along with his duties as a front desk attendant at Stadplex.

Organizers of the Sports Recognition Breakfast thanked the many generous sponsors who provided draw prizes for attendees and helped make the event happen, including A.P. Reid Insurance, Atlantica Hotel Halifax, Babcock, Canadian Linen, Canadian Springs, CANEX, Center Plate, the Halifax Mooseheads, Harding Real Estate, Labbatt Breweries, Lasik MD, Nova Scotia Crystal, Print 101, Q104 Radio and the Scotiabank Centre.