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The Clarkson Cup is named after former governor general Adrienne Clarkson. The cup is awarded annually to the champion of the Canadian Women's Hockey League. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Clarkson Cup is named after former governor general Adrienne Clarkson. The cup is awarded annually to the champion of the Canadian Women's Hockey League. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Women proud to be part of hockey history with another Clarkson Cup up for grabs Add to ...

Only 25 years old, and already she is thinking ahead two generations.

“It’s so neat to be part of hockey history,” Brianne Jenner says. “To be able to tell my grandchildren that my name is on that trophy.”

Jenner is captain of the Calgary Inferno, which on Sunday will meet Les Canadiennes de Montreal at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre to determine this year’s winner of the Clarkson Cup.

A year ago, in this same rink, Jenner led the Inferno to their first national championship in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, scoring twice in an 8-3 win over these same Les Canadiennes.

For the Montreal team – led by captain and Olympic hero Marie-Philip Poulin – Sunday’s game will mark Les Canadiennes’ sixth appearance in the final over the past eight years, and the third Clarkson Cup final in a row. Poulin and Jenner – along with Jess Jones of the Brampton Thunder – were finalists for this season’s most-valuable-player award, which was to be given out at a Friday banquet at Carleton University.

Poulin scored the “golden” winning goals at both the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was Jenner’s goal in Sochi that launched the Canadian comeback and set the stage for Poulin’s overtime heroics.

Les Canadiennes reached the final by a two-game sweep of the Thunder, while the Inferno advanced after winning two out of three games against the Toronto Furies.

Sunday’s event – played in an NHL arena and nationally televised – demonstrates not just how far the league has come in its 10-year history but how very far women’s hockey has come since 1990, when the very first World Cup of women’s hockey was played in this same city.

Since then, women’s hockey has become an Olympic event and an annual IIHF world championship. According to Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development at Hockey Canada, total registration in Canadian women’s hockey has exceeded 85,000 now for nearly a decade, with 86,925 official registrants in 2015-16 and uncounted thousands more playing women’s recreational hockey and, in many instances, men’s beer-league hockey as well. Today, there are more than 2,300 women officiating in the game.

Though that first World Cup was played before Brianne Jenner was born, she knows all about it, from Canada’s 5-2 victory over the United States in the final, to the controversial pink uniforms worn by the Canadian women. When Jenner played for the under-18 national team, each player was given a small book about the 1990 tournament so that they would appreciate where it all began and how far it has gone.

“It’s a great story,” says Jenner, who is taking a master’s degree program in public policy at the University of Calgary.

The idea of dressing the Canadian players in pink uniforms was the invention of Pat Reid, then a vice-president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. The suggestion outraged several CAHA executives but then president Murray Costello bought into Reid’s argument.

“There were no iconic players’ names to sell the sport when the team assembled,” Reid says from Calgary, where he is completing his PhD in sport management at the University of Alberta on the legitimacy of women’s elite hockey. He is also completing a book on the 1990 tournament.

“The team had no identity and the event didn’t resonate with the media. Afraid the event would slip by unnoticed, I struck on the idea of pink jerseys to ignite the press. The rest is history.”

The pink uniforms certainly “ignited” media coverage. Some in the media, and even some players, were offended, but the city embraced the idea of “pink power,” packing the Civic Centre with pink-wearing fans. One of the pink jerseys today hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Women’s hockey received a second huge boost, ironically, following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, when then Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson led a battle to have women play for the idle Stanley Cup, which had, after all, been given to the people of Canada to honour the championship hockey team of the Dominion. If the men weren’t going to play for it, she argued that the women should.

That didn’t happen, but the issue led to the inspired idea of a new Governor-General’s sports trophy that could annually be given to the best women’s team in the country. The Clarkson Cup, featuring Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and marine animals, is now revered by women players.

“When I was growing up,” Jenner says, “the dream was winning the Olympic gold medal. I was lucky enough to do that. Now the Clarkson Cup is something for all women hockey players to strive for. It’s our Stanley Cup. It’s such an honour to know my name is on that Cup.”

“It has become a great reality in the minds of women who play hockey and there’s nothing like a reality made from a dream,” Clarkson said this week. “I’m thrilled that many people refer to the Clarkson Cup as something that has always been and will always be.”

Clarkson does feel, however, that much remains to be done in women’s hockey. If men’s hockey can become a multibillion-dollar success at the NHL level, surely there should be money for women’s hockey, given its popularity at the Olympic and grassroots levels.

“You have to ask why these women can’t make a living playing hockey,” she says.

The CWHL, established in 2007, still does not pay its players, though the players get a per diem and their travel covered. The U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League does pay, but very little. The Canadian women who are on the national team get some funding from Sport Canada and some help from Hockey Canada. The rest are on their own, forced to juggle work with their hockey commitments.

“Everyone does it for the love of the game,” Jenner says. “It’s a chance to be part of women’s hockey history.”

A growing history that will add another chapter this Sunday in Ottawa. And which one day may well become, as the namesake of the Clarkson Cup says, a truly professional sport of its own.

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