Chasing the Dream of Women’s Pro Hockey: Preparing for Draft Day

As seen in The Epoch Times on July 19, 2011.

Part 2 of a series in which Melissa Boufounos, a 22-year-old from Montreal, Canada talks about her journey to play women’s professional hockey

Melissa Boufounos is pursuing her dream of playing women's pro hockey. (George Teichert)

With only a few days to go before the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) draft, anxiety and excitement are kicking in full force. On Thursday night, I will learn my fate—which team I will be trying out for in September.

While there are six teams in the league, I have indicated the Greater Toronto Area for my preference on where to play. This means I will most likely be drafted by Toronto, Brampton, or Burlington.

Leading up to the draft, I’ve been training for the upcoming tryouts, which has been no easy task. Whoever said athletes had it easy, has never been an athlete.

Juggling a full time day job, coaching a 3-on-3 team of teenage girls, playing in a men’s league, on-ice development, and fitting in two-hour sessions at the gym in between doesn’t leave much time for a social life. My best friend, and neighbor, hasn’t even seen me in over a month.

Unfortunately, this struggle is something female hockey players have to deal with. They do not have the luxury or chance to make millions of dollars a year to play professional hockey. They have to hold full time jobs in order to support themselves and their families.

“I think it is a tough juggle for the players to balance the training, practice, and especially the travel schedule with their real life,” said Dan Lichterman, former Toronto coach. “Many players make a huge sacrifice to make it to practice late at night or have to leave for a road trip on a Friday morning and not return until late Sunday night. The commitment level of the players is huge.”

Training Regimen

Melissa working out at Total Package Hockey, doing push-ups on a Bosu Ball (Nick Petrella)

Once I was cleared to workout again after my back injury, I started doing sessions once a week on a skating treadmill at the Skating Lab in North York to regain the strength I had lost in my legs after a month of being idle.

Not only was the cardio aspect intense—I threw up after six of the eight sessions—the 15-minute warm up off the treadmill was all geared towards enhancing speed, agility, and quickness. Also, the trainer watches your stride as you skate and corrects your form so you learn how to get the most out of every single stride

After eight sessions on the treadmill, it was time to add more off-ice training to my weekly routine. I went to Total Package Hockey in London, Ontario where I met up with Nick Petrella, a strength and conditioning coach. Nick put me through a grueling two-hour evaluation so he could create a specially designed training program for me.

“Based on the evaluation it was apparent that we needed to work on your endurance and strength, but at the same time be mindful of previous injuries and try to improve the strength of the muscles affected by the previous injuries in order to avoid developing muscle imbalances,” said Nick.

“In reference to the endurance, we needed to improve your aerobic endurance, focusing more on your anaerobic power.”

Nick created a four-day program for me with each day focusing on a different area of my body. The overall goal of the regiment is to improve my athletic performance through power.

“Power is a combination of speed, quickness, and strength. If you are able to be more powerful, you will likely have improved your speed, strength, and quickness,” explained Nick.

“In order to prepare you for the upcoming season we develop a training plan in phases. Each phase has a different goal, but the ultimate goal is improving your power. Phase 1: Endurance, Phase 2: Strength, Phase 3: Power.”

Melissa prepares to do a squat while extending one leg back to mimic a skating motion. (Nick Petrella)

Right now I am in Phase 1. Day 1 consists of 45 minutes of cardio on the bike followed by a circuit of leg resistance training: 50 leg curls, 100 squats, and 100 lunges (and a few other exercises in between). After I’m done, I’m practically crawling out of the gym.

Days 2 and 3 are my upper body workouts. After a quick 10 minute warm-up of core exercises is a 30-minute cardio session on the bike followed by resistance training. I perform two different circuits (going through each circuit three to five times) consisting of a variation of push-ups, shoulder and bench presses, bicep curls, and pull-ups.

Day 4 is a whole body workout. While it’s a challenging to perform the entire circuit three times, I get the added bonus of no cardio. I’ve never been a big fan of cardio, I find it boring compared to resistance training.

“To improve endurance, strength, and power I like to use exercises that require the most number of muscles and joints in the performance of the exercise,” Nick says.

“The goal is to constantly challenge the neuromuscular system and overload the sensory systems to keep the body guessing.”

As much as my muscles hate me for putting them through this training regimen, the difference is already starting to show on the ice just three weeks into the program. Teammates in my men’s league say they’ve noticed an increase in my speed and endurance since the first game 10 weeks ago.

“All hockey players should train off of the ice as well as on the ice year round. It is imperative in order to improve,” Nick explains. “With the speed of today’s game, skill is often not enough. There are very few players in the world that do not participate in off-ice training in and out of season.”

Nick suggests players do two to four days of off-ice training during the season and five to seven days during the off season.

“I can’t say for sure how often players trained off-ice,” says Lichterman about his team last season. “We did not have any set sessions, so it was up to them individually. Some players were very committed off ice and some were not.”

Draft Logistics

The draft will take place with the CWHL commissioner and the general manager and head coach from each team in a phone conference call and at the Delta Meadowvale Resort and Conference Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.

“After the League’s most successful season ever, with new partners and sponsors, an increase in registered game attendees, and the addition of a sixth team from Calgary [the first from Western Canada], the draft is more positive and promising than ever,” stated Brenda Andress, the CWHL commissioner in a press release.

“We are proud and excited by our accomplishments, which would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors and passionate fans, and now we look forward and continue to build the future of women’s hockey in North America.”

Once the players have been drafted, the teams will contact the players they have selected and will be responsible for setting up a local press conference to present their tryout roster to the public.

All players (last year’s players and 2011 draftees) will then go through team tryouts in September with their respective teams.

Chasing the Dream of Women’s Pro Hockey

As seen in The Epoch Times on July 12, 2011.

Part 1 of a series in which Melissa Boufounos, a 22-year-old from Montreal, Canada, talks about her journey to play professional hockey

Melissa Boufounos preparing to take a face-off as a member of the Etobicoke Dolphins Intermediate A team. (George Teichert)

For 12 years I have been waiting for this opportunity – the chance to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL).

With only a few weeks left to go before the 2011 CWHL Draft, my stomach is going through a rollercoaster of emotions as my anticipation mounts.

The CWHL, which was founded in May 2007, is a not-for-profit organization run by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Amateur Women’s Hockey. With only six teams (Boston, Brampton, Burlington, Montreal, Toronto and now Calgary) it is a league where the best female hockey players train and compete.

When the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) folded after the 2006–2007 season, olympians and world champions were left without a league to play in. Canadian gold medal-winning Olympians such as Sami Jo Small, Jennifer Botterill and Jayna Hefford, and American player Mandy Cronin along with a handful of others took the lead and met throughout the summer to figure out a way to create a new league.

With the help of Michael Salamon and Birch Hill Equity for financial backing and a solid business model, the CWHL was born.

Because the players are not paid to play and have to hold full time jobs to support their families, practices and games take place on evenings and weekends. Most teams have two practices during the week and games are usually held on weekends to also accommodate the travel time.

The CWHL is the most professionally run women’s hockey league in the world and gives elite players a competitive environment to showcase their skills.

Early Start

My first pair of skates was strapped on my feet the winter after I learned to walk. After a few years of figure skating and a short stint playing ringette my parents suggested I sign up for hockey. I still remember arguing with my parents at 10 years old that hockey was stupid and all I wanted to do was play ringette.

My step dad wanted me to give hockey a try since I could have more of a future (NWHL and Olympics) as opposed to playing ringette. I didn’t have much say in the matter because when we went to register for ringette, we found out the league had folded.

Melissa Boufounos is pursuing her dream to play women's pro hockey. (George Teichert)

Looking back, I take that league folding as a sign. Since then I have never thought twice about ringette. Hockey is my passion, my life. My parents spent countless hours driving me across Ontario to practices, games and tournaments. My second home was a hockey arena.

After playing four years of house league in Brampton, I played two seasons of rep in Etobicoke (B, BB) followed by a season of Midget A in Orangeville before returning to Etobicoke to play three more seasons of Intermediate A.

Along the way I also played for a few travel select teams (the best players from house league), my high school team and the men’s team at Seneca College.

This past season I played for the York Buds Senior B team in the Golden Blades Women’s Hockey League. Heading into Provincials weekend at the beginning of April my anticipation for preparing for the CWHL draft was heightening.

After my team went 3-0 to start the provincials we headed into our fourth game in under 30 hours – the quarterfinals. The game ended in a tie and went to a double overtime where our team was handed a penalty and I scored the game winner on a short-handed breakaway.

Our semifinal game also went to overtime where we lost a heart breaking match on a goal that deflected off one of our own player’s skates. We still had a berth in a championship game though, for the bronze medal.

Early in the second period of the championship game I went into the boards awkwardly with an opposing player and threw my lower back out. I came off the ice and my teammates sent me back out to play, they weren’t going to let me miss the rest of this game.

Once again my team would face the familiar threat of sudden death overtime in a do-or-die game.  I took a pass from the left-winger who was at the top of the faceoff circle and put it through the goalie’s legs. The provincial bronze medal was ours.

Back Injury

In the days following provincials I went to physiotherapy for my back where I was told I had slipped two of my lower discs and all of my muscles had gone into spasm and locked in order to protect the injured spine.

Right away fear crept into me – would I be able to skate in time for the draft? Would I even be able to train in the upcoming months until the draft?

Since I had absolutely no movement in my lower back I was told to stay off the ice and away from the gym until my muscles relaxed and unlocked. The time frame was at least a month.

Needless to say, an entire month of sitting around, not playing hockey and not hitting the gym was not what I had in mind as a way to prepare for the CWHL.

Finally, the second week into May and over a month since my injury occurred I was cleared to skate and train again. I was given a leg workout to regain the strength I lost and was advised to do a ton of abdominal and back exercises to rebalance and strengthen my core and avoid injury in the future.

Since my recovery I have been extremely focused on getting back into shape. I am playing summer hockey in a men’s league in Brampton, I attended eight skating treadmill sessions at the Skating Lab in Toronto and am now set up on a six week workout regimen from Total Package Hockey and will be driving to London for some on ice skating sessions with their development coaches.