(photo credit: AdrienneClarkson.com)

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps of Team Canada hasn’t played hockey in her hometown of Markham in several years. So when a ceremonial Clarkson Cup flag was unfurled at Markham Civic Centre last Sunday in front of fans braving sub-zero temperatures, the towering 6-foot forward was all smiles. “I started my hockey career in the Markham-Stoufville organization, so it’s nice to come back”, said Apps who plays for the Brampton Thunder in the five-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League. “I never get to ever really play around here, so it’s an exciting time.” Annually the CWHL champion is rewarded with the coveted trophy named in honour of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

2013 marks the fifth year of the Clarkson Cup tournament with previous hosts since 2009 including Kingston, Richmond Hill, Barrie and Niagara Falls. The four day event runs from March 20-23. Apps was nostalgic when recalling childhood memories of being introduced to the game, supported by mom Anne and father Syl who had a 727 game career in the National Hockey League. “My parents live walking distance to Toogood pond, so I grew up skating on that pond and Crosby arena on the Main Street,” she said.

Apps’ national teammate Tessa Bonhomme of the CWHL Toronto Furies was also on hand at last weekend’s kickoff ceremony. The two women have been teammates on four gold medal winning teams for Canada (2010 Olympics, 2007 and 2012 World Championships, 2010 Four Nations Cup), but will be rivals when competing for the biggest prize in the world’s most prestigious women’s hockey league. “As a defenceman it’s not a fun thing looking over your shoulder and seeing Gillian Apps coming down chasing you and hearing those footsteps,” said Bonhomme “Those are the times that I’m thankful that she’s Canadian!”

The Montreal Stars will be vying for their third consecutive championship and fourth in 5 years, while Toronto, Brampton, Alberta and Boston will each be seeking their first title. The now defunct team from Minnesota who were crowned champions at the 2010 tournament are the only other Clarkson Cup winners.

The tournament provides fans with the opportunity to watch some of the best international players who will be competing at the Women’s World Championships scheduled to begin in Ottawa in the first week of April. “The City of Markham has welcomed us warmly, and we look forward to fans filling the stands at Centennial Arena to take in the top female players fight for the right to be called CWHL champions,” said league commissioner Brenda Andress.

A win by Brampton would vault Apps and three of her teammates – Jayna Hefford, Lori Dupuis and Cherie Piper – into an exclusive group of women that have won a Clarkson Cup, a World Championship and an Olympic gold medal. Currently only seven women have accomplished the feat.

Heading into March, Apps and goaltending teammate Liz Knox – a Markham native – will have their hometown support behind them.

(pictured: Brad Morris CWHL Chair gives thanks to Markham. Tessa Bonhomme – far left back row, and Gillian Apps – second left back row, welcome young fans.)
Markham CWHL kickoff

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

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