The CWHL All-Star game is tomorrow, and there will be three coaches behind each bench: Glenn Healy, Curtis Joseph, Charline Labonté, Cheryl Pounder, Ana Bucsis, and Gerry Dee. To run that down, it’s two CWHL alumna, two NHL alum, and two celebrities as coaches.
The last All Star game, in 2016-17, had a full CWHL alumna coaching roster of Lisa-Marie Breton, Tessa Bonhomme, Becky Kellar, and Pounder.
The switch is an interesting one. Ana Bucsis is a retired Olympic speedskater. To my knowledge she’s never played (or coached) hockey. Gerry Dee, a comedian who filmed a video about the All-Star Game, actually has coached hockey and played some in college, too.
But why not nominate two outstanding coaches from the CWHL to stand behind the benches? The NHL All-Star Game has NHL coaches behind the bench, and it would be a nice way to recognize coaches who have put in hard work throughout the season.
My nominees: Toronto Furies’ Courtney Birchard and Shenzhen’s Bob Deraney. The Furies, who are a very young team, have managed to win some games against the always-tough Inferno this season which speaks to Birchard’s presence on the bench. Shenzhen lost some key players this offseason but has managed to remain a threat, with 11 wins (nine in regulation). This would also be an opportunity to showcase coaches of teams who may be overlooked when compared to the attention that Les Canadiennes and the Inferno tend to get. Birchard would also be behind bench at an All-Star game hosted in her team’s city.
Given the location of the ASG and the nature of the partnership between the Leafs and Furies, I can understand wanting to incorporate former NHL players in some way. However, the CWHL is already having Doug Gilmore drop the puck, and neither of the other former NHLers, Healy and Joseph, have much, if any, coaching experience or connection with women’s hockey. Why not bring in some retired women’s hockey players with coaching experience and ties to the area?
Gillian Apps, formerly of the Brampton (now Markham) Thunder, spent two years assistant coaching at SUNY-Canton before she moved on to be an assistant coach with Boston College in 2016-17. She’s a native of the GTA, a CWHL alumni, and a recognizable name in the sport. Plus, if ties to the Leafs are important — I would argue they shouldn’t necessarily be — her grandfather Syl Apps spend ten years with the Leafs (many of them as their captain). Another GTA local and retired player with coaching experience is Vicky Sunohara. She has been the head coach of the Toronto University Varsity Blues women’s team since 2011, and has three Olympic medals (two gold, one silver), eight World Championship medals (seven gold, one silver) and a Clarkson cup under her belt as a player as well.