Skip to main content

 

TRAILBLAZERS

By Paul Mawdsley | Photos courtesy of Dave Holland/Calgary Inferno

There was a lot of star power at the recent NHL All-Star Game.

But it was the women who created the most buzz.

Many fans were impressed by how well they performed in various skills events and their Twitter feeds blew up with people discussing what took place in San Jose and what it meant for the growth of the women's game.

"We went into the weekend with zero expectations, honestly," said Calgary Inferno forward and US National Team member Brianna Decker.

"Obviously the weekend went for a little twist and we created a little more publicity than we ever thought we would have. We couldn't be more thankful to the NHL for letting us come and join their event."

Decker (left) and Calgary Inferno teammate Rebecca Johnston (right) snap a selfie during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.

NWHL star and Minnesota Whitecaps forward Kendall Coyne Schofield started the night by dazzling the crowd with her speed as she put up a time of 14.346, which was faster than Arizona Coyotes all-star Clayton Keller and less than a second slower than Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

Coyne Schofield was the only female skater to officially participate in an event. However, Renata Fast of the Toronto Furies in the CWHL showed off her accuracy as she took aim in the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting, Calgary Inferno star Rebecca Johnston demonstrated the Gatorade NHL Puck Control challenge, and Decker showed off the Enterprise NHL Premier Passer contest.

"It was an amazing opportunity," said Johnston. "When I was asked a few weeks ago, I couldn't turn it down. It was a great opportunity for us, but also for women's hockey in general.

"I did not expect any of this media attention. Before it all happened, we got there and we just expected to go on the ice, demonstrate a skill and that was about it.

"All of this stuff happened afterwards and there was quite the buzz about everything. We didn't have times on the ice, so we didn't expect it. That was a big shock afterwards for all of us to see how much buzz there was and what times we put up.

"I guess since we did well on the ice, it's just a good thing for women's hockey and now everyone's talking about it. It's really great exposure for us and women's hockey and how much talent we have in this league. I'm really hoping that people see this and want to come out and watch our games, or watch women's hockey, or I hope little girls sign up to play and learn to play because it's a great sport for everyone."

Johnston, a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner, got a chance to see how she fared against Flames superstar Johnny Gaudreau in the Gatorade NHL Puck Control challenge, setting the bar high for No. 13.

 

 

"I only saw Johnny briefly at the end, he was on the other side during the competition, but I knew I was demoing his event," she said. "I knew he was really good at it, obviously, so I wanted to ask him for advice, but I was a little bit nervous.

"It was cool for both of us to do the same competition because my nickname on our team is Johnny, so everyone says I'm the Johnny Hockey of female hockey. It was kind of funny that we got to compete in the same event and we were both on the ice together."

Gaudreau, Johnston, and Decker didn't get to spend much time together over the course of the NHL All-Star weekend, but they were able to snap a picture together.

 

🔄 from @bdecker1814: Your on-ice Calgary All-Stars ⭐️

A post shared by Calgary Flames (@nhlflames) on

 

The two Inferno stars enjoyed conversations with many of the other NHL all-stars, including some special moments that stood out.

"Before I went, Patrick Kane was right beside me and I was joking around and asked him for some tips and he was really nice and just told me that I'd go out and kill it," Johnston shared. "Claude Giroux was also doing the same drill and he came by and tapped my shin pads after I did it and said good job and that he's going to have to follow that now."

"For myself, I spent more time interacting with Auston Matthews," said Decker. "He's a fellow American, so it was nice to talk with him for a bit.

"But when I told them I was doing the premiere passing competition, all of them told me that it was a tough event. They were like 'Good luck with that one.'

"We look up to those guys. Our goal as the national players is to be able to be role models for the younger generation and we still look up to those NHL guys. They're top in their sport and they prove it every night on the ice. To be able to hang out with them, interact with them and ask them questions, that was the most fun part of the event."

While the NHL All-Star Skills Competition is a fantastic event meant to showcase the superb hockey talent of the NHL players, this year's NHL All-Star event did wonders to show an international audience the skills possessed by the stars of the NWHL and the CWHL.

"I think it helped for us to perform well on the ice and for people to see it," admitted Johnston. "Women's hockey is still a new sport, it's not very old; men's hockey has been around a lot longer. We're still developing and it's gotten so much better even in the last eight years that I've been in the National program or in the CWHL. I don't think people are aware of the talent that women's hockey is. There are great games and there are a lot of really talented players and I think this helped people realize that.

"It was a really big step for us moving forward and trying to develop the women's game and getting more recognition."

Having it in San Jose also added a nice touch for them.

"It was pretty incredible," Decker said. "Last year we played a game against Canada in San Jose and it brought a lot of young fans and a lot of fans to our event. To come back to the same city and have fans recognize us, it's pretty special. It's showing that were doing what we can to grow the game and it's a huge deal for us.

"For me, I really enjoyed going to the fan fair and interacting with the fans, signing autographs and participating in the Q&A panel that we went on. The very first day we were there, people came up to us and recognized us and that was pretty special."

Johnston and Decker returned to the Inferno line-up this weekend in a battle for first place with Les Canadiennes Montreal.

They won 5-4 on Saturday and fell 3-0 on Sunday.

"Every time we play Montreal, they're really tough games and it's like a playoff final," Johnston said. "It is a good test for us. These games will be great steps in the right direction to keep getting better as we head into the playoffs and hopefully a Clarkson Cup."

After a quick two-game series in Calgary on Feb. 9-10 against the winless Worcester Blades, the team goes on their longest road trip of the season - a three-game series in China at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center.

"This is our first time going to China," said Decker of herself and Johnston. "But I've heard nothing but great things from the other girls on the team who went last year. You can create a lot of memories and it's usually a good time, so we're looking forward to it.

"Whatever team the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays are playing, they get a sold out crowd there, so that's a huge part in growing the game. We'll be fortunate to be a part of that type of scene and that type of arena. We're looking forward to that, but also being able to create memories and sight see while we are there. That would be awesome."

 

VIEW MORE FLAMES EXTRA ARTICLES

Check out more of our in-depth, long reads on your team, published every Saturday or Sunday during the season.