Professional players call area home, help promote sport among its youth
It’s your typical night at Leaside Memorial Community Gardens. Young women are doing dry land practice in the area around the Dr. Tom Pashby Play Safely Rink.
“Car Wash” by Rose Royce is playing on a speaker. One young lady, whose parents were probably in their teens when Richard Pryor and George Carlin starred in the movie of the same name, says, “I love this song.” I smile.
The ice surface is freshly Zambonied. And a junior game is about to take place. It’s the Wildcats who are playing and, judging by their spirits while listening to ’70s funk, they’re game. Their opponents, Brampton, better look out.
I’m waiting for Kim McCullough, one of the founding members of the National Women’s Hockey League, later named the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. McCullough is a big player in hockey development, and she teamed up with Sami Jo Small, Jennifer Botterill, Lisa-Marie Breton, Allyson Fox and Kathleen Kauth to bring women’s professional hockey to Canada.
McCullough’s also the coach for the Wildcats’ junior team. She arrives and plants herself in a chair beside the glass looking out onto the ice surface. We talk about her roots in Leaside. She started playing when she was 13 — a late start, she says — but she wound up earning a scholarship to Division 1 school, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Hockey is engrained in the Leaside community and McCullough is very aware of it.
“There’s a tradition here, certainly you see it on the men’s side with all the guys who played in the NHL and that’s something I’d like to see on this side. I’d love to have our first junior player represent the national team.”
On the women’s side, there are plenty of current and former CWHLers grinding it out in the seven-team league. That league dips into the United States and China. But here in Leaside are Melissa Wronzberg, Karolina Urban, Chelsea Purcell, Kori Cheverie, Jessica Hartwick and league president, Jennifer Smith who is the former Director of Marketing and Communications.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit community,” McCullough admits.
There’s a deep sense of pride and a drive to develop the young girls into potential Olympians. That would be great. What also would be great is if the CWHL would be on the same level with the NHL as the WNBA is to NBA.
It’s part of the reason why McCullough started Total Female Hockey almost 10 years ago. She wanted to help develop Leaside players. Now that the hard work is coming to fruition, there’s a warm feeling in McCullough’s heart.
It’s Leaside where she was raised. It’s Leaside where’s she’s raised her own family with husband, Andrew Smith.
On that same changeroom door there are the names of 30 young women who have gone on to college hockey.
“We haven’t been around that long but we want to build a tradition and a legacy,” McCullough said. “We always say we want to be a team that players want to play on and dream of playing on.”
That kind of spirit continues to keep Leaside competitive at all levels of sport.