Calgary

Women's hockey goes viral following impressive display at NHL All-Star Game

Two Calgary Inferno women's hockey players were part of a quartet of women who upstaged NHLers Saturday night during a skills competition at the all-star game in San Jose.

CCM pays Brianna Decker $25,000 for epic display of premier passing

Calgary's Rebecca Johnston (#6) in action as the Calgary Inferno host the Shenzhen KRS Venke Rays in a Canadian Women's Hockey League game at Winsport's Markin McPhail Centre in Calgary, Alberta on October 21, 2018. (Calgary Inferno)

That'll grow the game.

Saturday night in San Jose, a group of Calgary Inferno women's hockey players hacked the NHL All-Star Game skills competition, dazzling northern California hockey fans — and fans across North America — with an impressive display of skating, shooting and puck-handling.

Women's hockey has always flown pretty much under the radar, even in hockey-mad Canada, but judging by the buzz generated on social media about players such as Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston, Kendall Coyne and others, those days may be over.

Back from San Jose, Decker and Johnston spoke Monday to Doug Dirks on the Homestretch about their experience in San Jose — they weren't part of the official competition but rather demonstrated — and how they hope it will generate an increase in fan enthusiasm for the Inferno, Calgary's other first-place team.

At 17-3-1, the CWHL's Inferno are riding high as they prepare for their next game, on the road against the Montreal Les Canadiennes this weekend, before returning home Feb. 9 for a 3:30 p.m. matchup against Worcester at Winsport.

Calgary Inferno hockey players Brianna Decker, left, and Rebecca Johnston, right. (Ellis Choe/CBC News)

Premier Passing

Decker demonstrated the Premier Passer event, where fans on social media speculated that she outskated eventual winner Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. That turned out not necessarily to be true, but generated so much buzz that Decker added 4,000 Instagram followers.

When the Internet raised an outcry, in the form of a #PayDecker hashtag, over the fact that Draisaitl won $25,000 for his Premier Passing, equipment manufacturer CCM announced it would pay Decker the same amount.

That was followed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announcing that the NHL would donate $25,000 to the charities of choice of women's participants Decker, Johnston, Coyne-Schofield and Renata Fast.

Sunday, Adidas announced it had signed a multi-year partnership with all four women.

Brianna Decker, pictured at the 2018 Olympics, saw her Intragram following grow by 4,000 after her performance this past weekend’s NHL all-star skills competition. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Johnston meanwhile, demonstrated puck handling, the same demonstration Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane participated in.

She wasn't competing against them, but that didn't make it any easier.

"I was so nervous," Johnston said. "I was joking around saying I was more nervous for that than the Olympic final. But it's just a different event."

Brianna Decker, shown in this 2017 file photo, put on a show at the NHL All-Star Skills event in San Jose, Calif., on Friday night, and now fans are clamouring for her to be compensated for her performance. (File/Getty Images)

"It's a single event and all the attention is on you, so it's just a little bit different … because not only were you competing for yourself, but you felt like you were competing for female hockey players everywhere as well and you wanted to do a good job for them.

"I mean, we wanted to showcase women's hockey — so we want to show the talent [we all know we have]."

Passionate fans

For the American-born Decker, what stood out after her stellar performance on the ice was the zeal of fans.

"We had played a two hour game there last year right before the Olympics, and it was awesome to see the amount of fans that came back and supported the NHL guys and interacted with us. It was just neat to see how much support they have for hockey there."

There were girls in Sharks jerseys who knew exactly who Decker — who played for the U.S. Women's Olympic hockey team at Pyeongchang — was.

"Definitely that was a pretty cool experience just being able to step in the fan fair and they're like 'Oh! Brianna Decker, Kendall Coyne, Rebecca Johnston!'

"It's pretty cool to hear our names and fans went up to us [to talk]."

Dream season

All of it comes as a bit of a public relations bonanza for the Inferno, who are in first place this season, but have played to small crowds.

Johnston said the high profile turn at the all-star game might be just what women's hockey needs to set turnstiles spinning.

Two Calgary womens' hockey players are in the spotlight after a skills competition against some of hockey's best players in San Jose over the weekend. Brianna Decker and Rebecca Johnston, with the Calgary Inferno, have just returned from taking part in the event, held just before the NHL all star game. They join Doug in studio. 8:55

"This past weekend was definitely a step in the right direction for us and the more exposure the more media attention we get the more people come out," Johnston said.


With files from the Homestretch

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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